Data Science

Information Architect vs. Data Architect [Difference Explained]

Information Architect vs. Data Architect [Difference Explained]
Data architects focus on back-end database structures. while information architects focus on the user experience. The former are more like technicians, the latter more like storytellers. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella April 26, 2021

If you're deciding between data and information architecture, money likely isn't the primary factor—six-figure salaries are common to both data science specializations. However, skill and education requirements can differ significantly.

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On the surface, information architects and data architects seem pretty similar. Among the common characteristics they share:

  • Candidates may need years of experience in a lower-level data science job
  • Graduate education can qualify you for top positions—though it may not be required
  • Technical skills like programming and data modeling are essential
  • Salaries can reach over six figures

Still, there are significant differences between these two professions. According to University of Washington – Seattle Campus, “Information architecture (IA) is the art and science of organizing information so it is accessible, usable, and relevant to the end use.” Information architects are essentially visual storytellers.

In contrast, data architects are better described as technicians with strengths in statistics and software engineering. Per the University of Virginia – Main Campus, data architects “conceptualize and visualize data frameworks” and “provide knowledge and guidance in handling disparate data sources from varied databases.”

Though these explanations provide an easy distinction between the careers, there’s more to learn before deciding which is suitable for you. This article covering the information architect vs. data architect question evaluates both to make your decision easier. It covers:

  • What are computer architecture, information architecture, and data architecture?
  • How to become an information architect
  • How to become a data architect
  • Which career is right for you?

What are computer architecture, information architecture, and data architecture?

Of the three careers, computer architecture is most deeply embedded in computer science. The other two careers rely on computer architecture to make their work possible.

According to Oklahoma State University – Main Campus, “a computer architect utilizes detailed knowledge of hardware and software to design computer systems.” Computer architects may create original systems or develop programs and technology to adapt to new developments. These professionals may specialize in hardware or software, but they must understand both. Computer architects often hold a PhD.

Computer architecture covers several specializations. Computer systems architects focus primarily on programming systems to streamline business processes. Alternatively, they may develop hardware, such as microprocessor chips. Research positions exploring topics like system improvement are common in computer architecture. Carnegie Mellon University researchers sub-specialize in areas like spatio-temporal memory streaming (STeMS), wearable computers, and scalable server architecture.

Information architects discriminate between relevant and irrelevant information to build narratives and enhance user experience (UX). The discipline combines computer science, psychology, and design principles. These professionals may have a degree in information technology (IT), computer science, or even library science.

The information architect:

  • Collaborates with businesses to enhance user experience
  • Designs customer-focused websites
  • Identifies and promotes collaborative tools
  • Streamlines processes like document sharing
  • Tests usability

Data architecture is a specialization within enterprise architecture. Data architects build and manage databases with the focus of helping organizations make better decisions. These professionals typically have five to seven years of experience as junior architects. They need advanced skills in multiple programming languages, commonly C++, Python, SQL, and Java. Data architects can specialize in a subfield like big data and may hp;d a master’s degree.

Data architects:

  • Create models to visualize information
  • Develop and maintain database frameworks
  • Translate technical language for management
  • Manage data flow
  • Research and implement emerging technology
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How to become an information architect

As with any tech career, it’s possible to become an information architect with just a bachelor’s degree (or an impressive amount of experience). However, having a master’s can make you a more attractive hiring candidate. There’s no single path to becoming an information architect; several positions can prepare you for the career.

Education

Because information architects need coding experience, many earn an undergraduate degree in:

  • Computer science
  • Computer software engineering
  • Data analytics
  • Information science

Common master’s degrees for information architects include:

  • Computer science
  • Information science
  • Information systems
  • Information technology
  • Library science

Because there can be so much crossover among degrees, job listings often include language like “master’s in computer science or a related degree preferred.” There are technically focused MIS and theoretical CS degrees, depending on which school you attend. Certain MBA programs offer information systems specializations, which can lead to jobs like IT project manager and chief information officer (CIO).

Institutions often combine library and information science, though not always. Indiana University – Bloomington offers two distinct degree paths, Master of Information Science (M.I.S.) and Master of Library Science (M.L.S.), each with an option to specialize in information architecture. Both tracks offer courses like:

  • Evaluation of Information Systems
  • Information Architecture for the Web
  • Information Systems Design
  • Representation and Organization
  • Workshop in Library and Information Science

MIS degrees typically include coursework covering:

  • Data analytics
  • Database creation
  • Database management
  • Information organization
  • Information security policy and practice
  • Network administration
  • Strategic IT management
  • Virtualization and cloud computing
  • Web app development

Core computer science courses typically include:

  • Advanced algorithms
  • Computational theory and practice
  • Data compiling and network/Internet protocols
  • Data warehousing and storage
  • Database design
  • Operating system analysis
  • Network architecture
  • Software theory

As you can see, the two specialties overlap significantly.

Listed below are top schools with degree programs that can prepare you for a career in information architecture. These lists rely primarily on US News & World Report* rankings and include online programs when applicable.

Top in-person MIS programs include:

Top online MIS programs include:

Top library and information science programs include:

Certifications

Information architecture certifications can be useful to start and advance your career. Those trying to learn about the field or transition careers may benefit from courses through organizations like Udemy or Coursera.

Those looking to round out their skillsets should consider certifications like:

Skills

According to listings on the job search website Indeed, top skills for information architects include:

  • Data modeling
  • Facilitating communication between IT and business players
  • Fluency in multiple programming languages
  • Leveraging advanced metadata for architectural designs
  • Data engineering

These professionals typically have at least a few years of experience in information technology and data management, including working with data lakes and systems.

Salary

According to PayScale, the average annually salary for information architects is around $100,000 per year. The top ten percent can earn more than $144,000, while the bottom ten percent can earn less than $61,000 annually.

Career trajectory

Information architects commonly start as information architecture analysts or UX designers.

There’s no “traditional” advancement path for information architects, though earning certifications or a master’s degree can be essential to increasing your pay and responsibility. Information architecture may be a step towards upper-level management for certain professionals. Others may view it as a terminal position and continue honing their skills. Requirements for tech positions like information architect may differ based on a company’s needs; specialization and degree play a significant role.

Common advancement opportunities for information architects include: user experience director, senior UX designer, lead UX designer.

Other potential careers for those with a master’s of information science, a common degree amongst information architects, include:

  • Computer network defense deputy team chief
  • Data scientist
  • Freelance UX and IT consultant
  • Full-stack developer
  • Machine learning lead
  • Software development engineer
  • UX designer
  • UX librarian

How to become a data architect

Data architects work with data packaging, which requires both technical skills and communication abilities. Having a master’s degree and strong computer science background is helpful. However, that’s about where the similarities end between data and information architects.

Education

A bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology, or computer engineering can jumpstart your data architecture career. Those who want to continue to a graduate degree should consider a master’s in:

Applicants to the Carnegie Mellon IT program typically have at least three years of relevant experience. Students can be from IT or non-technical fields, such as finance or healthcare.

While a data background isn’t always necessary for an IT program, it’s useful. Fordham University encourages its applicants “to have a basic awareness of the role of IT in supporting organizational processes and strategy.”

Master’s in IT programs cover topics like:

  • Advanced programming
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Business intelligence
  • Data management
  • Data modeling
  • Database design
  • SQL query design
  • Systems analysis and design

Common data science master’s coursework includes:

  • Algorithms
  • Data management
  • Data mining
  • Data warehousing strategy
  • Information visualization
  • Machine learning
  • Statistical methods
  • Visual analytics

Undergraduate majors that can prepare you for a relevant master’s program include:

  • Business
  • Computer science
  • Data analytics
  • Finance
  • Information technology

Top information technology programs include:

Top online IT programs include:

Top computer science programs include:

Top online computer science program include:

Certifications

According to the IT magazine CIO, top certifications for data architects include:

Remember, you don’t need every certification, or even any, to be a good data architect. However, they can help, especially if you decide to specialize.

Skills

Data architects focus on data flow, meaning they ensure data efficiently reaches its definition. These professionals use advanced programming and software skills (often in Hadoop and Cassandra) to build and maintain data systems. They also communicate ideas to non-data professionals through accessible data modeling and visualization techniques.

According to Indeed job postings, valuable skills for data architects include:

  • API design abilities
  • Data analytics skills
  • Database design
  • Data cataloging
  • Data governance
  • Effectively communicating your needs to other IT professionals
  • Managing or operating a data warehouse
  • Sector knowledge (for example, finance or renewable energy)
  • Strategic communication

Salary

According to PayScale, data architects earn over $120,000 in base salary every year. The bottom ten percent of the profession earns $77,000 or less and the top ten percent earn $157,000 or more.

Career trajectory

Experience tracking and making raw data usable for business solutions is beneficial for a data architecture career. Data architects typically start out as business analysts, data analysts, enterprise architects. Another common path is to begin as a front-end developer.

With experience, you may move into positions like senior data engineer, data scientist, or lead software engineer. Each job comes with higher pay and more responsibilities.

Other top positions for master’s in IT holders include:

  • Computer and information systems manager
  • Computer and information research scientist
  • Computer network architect
  • Software developer
  • Information security analyst

Some of these jobs may pay less than what you’ll earn as a data architect.

Which career is right for you?

It can be challenging to distinguish between these two high-paying careers. Professionals in both specialties benefit from graduate education and certifications. Similarly, each requires a blend of technical know-how and people skills. You need to explain developments in simple language and craft solutions to meet business goals.

Ultimately, data architects need even more technical skills and business acumen. They rely heavily on data models to create new systems and improve a company’s business functionality. Information architects focus on user-end development, often communicating directly to the consumer. If you enjoy operating behind the scenes and taking a big picture view, you might like building infrastructure as a data architect. If you prefer blending technology and social sciences to consolidate information for a user-focused experience, you may opt for information architecture.

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