Data architects work in many different settings and industries, with finance and insurance organizations accounting for 13 percent of all employment as of 2021. Other top industries include computer systems design; information systems; state, local, and private educational services; and management of companies and enterprises.
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Katy McWhirter
Katy McWhirter

November 29, 2022

Several pathways lead to a career in data architecture. All include training, education, and experience; advanced certifications can't hurt, either.

In today's computing age, we are all data managers. We need to keep track of passwords, financial accounts, appointments, birthdays, and important documents. It can be a bit overwhelming.

It's nothing, however, compared to the amount of data businesses produce and track. And that's just a small fraction of all the new data created each day by all data producers around the globe. It doesn't take much consideration to realize the importance of data management in the modern world.

Data management allows individuals, companies, governments, non-profits, and countless other entities to effectively receive, store, organize, and utilize data in valuable ways. Think about the bygone folder system for managing patient records in hospitals and clinics. It allowed medical professionals to easily access patient data by the patient's last name. But what if they wanted to comb all patients' data for useful information? Without digging through every file, they couldn't easily ascertain the average age or most common ailment of patients. An effective data management system, however, makes it possible to search for this information in seconds.

Data management teams encompass varied roles, including data engineers to ensure data is in usable forms, data analysts who maximize data usefulness, and data architects who create and maintain secure, responsive data management platforms.

This article discusses the steps to become a data architect by exploring:

  • What is a data architect?
  • How to become a data architect
  • Master's degree or certifications?

What is a data architect?

Data architects are IT professionals tasked with designing and providing upkeep for data management systems. Their responsibilities are wide and varied, including developing data storage policies, introducing new data management systems, problem-solving issues, and acting as a conduit between IT and other departments to ensure data systems meet organizational objectives.

Data architects work in many different settings and industries, with finance and insurance organizations accounting for 13 percent of all employment as of 2021. Other top industries include computer systems design; information systems; state, local, and private educational services; and management of companies and enterprises.

In-demand data architects possess advanced skills in areas of computer engineering, programming languages, database management, machine learning, data visualization, and business intelligence. They also understand how to communicate effectively, juggle multiple projects simultaneously, and troubleshoot issues as they arise.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, data architects earned median annual salaries of $123,430 in 2021. For those in the top 10 percent of earners, salaries reached more than $169,500.

How to become a data architect

Prospective data architects go through several educational and training steps to qualify for their jobs. We review each in this section.

Step 1: Earn a bachelor's degree

Data architects need at minimum a bachelor's degree in information technology, computer science, computer engineering, data management, or a related subject area. During these four-year programs, students complete coursework in network and security foundations, cloud computing, data mining, systems analysis, data modeling, scripting and programming, advanced data management, data analytics, data wrangling and visualization, IT leadership, and general business skills.

In addition to classroom learning, many programs provide the opportunity for students to participate in a semester-long internship that allows them to build real-world skills. Internships also allow learners to network with data management professions, build connections, and potentially even find a job after graduating.

Step 2: Gain work experience

Graduates typically need to work in the field for a few years before gathering enough experience to qualify for data architect positions. Working as a computer programmer, computer systems analyst, or network and computer systems administrator can help build the skills needed to advance to these mid-level roles and garner higher salaries. If you know you want to work as a big data architect or in technology architecture, for instance, tailoring your first jobs out of college to these areas will make you more competitive in the future. By thinking about your career path and creating blueprints as a student or recent graduate, you can navigate yourself into preferred roles.

Step 3: Seek certifications or credentials

Another highly popular option for helping yourself stand out from other candidates involves seeking certifications. Many different organizations offer certifications; it's important to consider which options best suit your professional aspirations. A popular option is the Certified Data Professional certification provided by the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP). The organization also offers Data Governance & Stewardship Professional, Public Sector Data Governance Professional, and Big Data Professional certifications. Another popular provider, Data Management Association International (DMAI), confers Certified Data Management Professional status at associate, practitioner, master, and fellow levels.

Data architects can also complete certification programs from popular options such as Javascript, Python, Java, Google, Linux, Microsoft, and Amazon Web Services (AWS). Some professionals also participate in bootcamps to quickly build skills in particular areas of the discipline.

Step 4: Consider further education

Many students start thinking about whether they should pursue advanced education after working in the field for several years. Some individuals may find they want to move into managerial or leadership positions, while others decide to leave the business side of things and move into faculty positions at a college or university. Learners can select from both master's and doctoral degrees, depending on their interests.

__Master's degree or certifications? __

For many, earning a master's degree provides the qualifications needed to draw higher salaries, take on senior-level leadership roles, or even transition into other roles, such as computer and systems information manager. That said, completing an advanced degree may also come with some drawbacks. By considering both the pros and cons, prospective students can look at their options from every angle and make an informed, confident decision.

PROS

  • Earning a master's degree helps you build advanced knowledge in data architecture and signals to employers your commitment to continued education.
  • Qualifying for a role as a computer and systems information manager, one of several senior positions commonly sought by data architects with master's degrees, provides an average salary of $159,010. Earners in the top 10 percent receive more than $208,000 each year.
  • Many colleges and universities now provide online master's in data science, making it easy for busy working data architects to find balance when working, studying, and keeping up with personal responsibilities. Both Tufts University and Stevens Institute of Technology provide M.S. in Data Science programs.
  • To teach the next generation of data architects, nearly all colleges require faculty to possess at minimum a master's degree—and prefer several years of experience. Even if you don't see yourself teaching now, it's nice to know you can in the future, whether that turns into a full-time job or an occasional adjunct role.

CONS

  • It's no secret that higher education is expensive. CollegeBoard reports that master's degrees at public institutions averaged $9,150 per year during the 2022 to 2023 academic year, while those at private colleges topped $30,650 per year. - That said, earning an advanced degree typically results in higher earning potential. Given the rate at which information technology and technical skills evolve, what you learn may seem outdated in a few years. That's where degree programs outperform certificate programs. By offering more, and more in-depth, instruction, degree programs teach you fundamental principles that don't change and equip you with the skills to identify and learn important emerging technologies.

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