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On the surface, information architects and data architects seem pretty similar. Among the common characteristics they share:
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:
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:
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 science professionals can use their knowledge and skills in many ways and in almost every industry. You might specialize in business intelligence or robotics or healthcare informatics. There are almost too many options.
90 percent of data scientists hold master’s degrees, and 47 percent hold doctoral degrees. ( )
The Bureau of Labor Statistics sets median data scientist annual pay at just over $100,000. Top-paying sectors include ( ):
- Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing ($148,290)
- Semiconductor and other electronic equipment manufacturing ($142,150)
- Specialized information services ($139,600)
- Data processing, hosting, and related services ($126,160)
- Accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, payroll services ($124,440)
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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.
Because information architects need coding experience, many earn an undergraduate degree in:
Common master’s degrees for information architects include:
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:
MIS degrees typically include coursework covering:
Core computer science courses typically include:
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:
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:
According to listings on the job search website Indeed, top skills for information architects include:
These professionals typically have at least a few years of experience in information technology and data management, including working with data lakes and systems.
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.
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:
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.
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:
Common data science master’s coursework includes:
Undergraduate majors that can prepare you for a relevant master’s program include:
Top information technology programs include:
Top online IT programs include:
Top online computer science program include:
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.
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:
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.
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:
Some of these jobs may pay less than what you’ll earn as a data architect.
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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