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Data Model Bloggers: NULL

By   /  February 5, 2014  /  8 Comments

by Karen LopezGet Blogging Title Slide

Last year I hosted a session on Getting Started in Blogging for Data Professionals at Enterprise Data World. I had a great turnout considering the topic and time (I think 50+ people). We had a good discussion about blogging, social media and how most of the discussions on the Internet had moved from closed mailing lists like dm-discuss and the ones I host at InfoAdvisors to other homes on the Internet.

But over the past year I haven’t seen many people in the data architecture and modeling space pick up a keyboard and start blogging. Yes, we have a great crew of bloggers here at Dataversity.net, but how many blogs have you seen about core data modeling and architecture topics outside of Dataversity?  How many people are active on other social media to respond to data modeling questions? I feel as if there fewer than a dozen of us actually sharing tips and insights in a public forum on the core topics of data modeling. And much fewer are blogging and sharing tips about how to make data modeling tools do what they are supposed to do.

They Want Our Help

When I attend IT events that are on the edges of data modeling (database, coding, IT administration), I hear all kinds of frustration from new data modeling tool users that there’s just no place to connect with users who actually understand the tools and how they should be used.  It’s incredibly frustrating for them, as other IT professionals are used to going to Dr. Boogle to get around an obstacle or to figure out where to find a feature.  Other communities do this naturally.  So most of the people I’ve talked to give up and go back to Visio and PowerPoint as their data modeling tools.  Or they give up on data modeling.

They want our help.  They can’t find us in our cubes and conference rooms or on that closed mailing list.

People Are Learning Data Modeling from the Internet…and We Aren’t There

That scares the crap out of me.

We have a chance to influence and mentor accidental data architects.  But we aren’t.  We are leaving them to help files and vendor support calls.  Or random tweeters to advise them to just use surrogate keys and then it won’t matter what the business key is.  Or that they should just drop a bunch of database constraints instead of tuning their queries. Really. When I answer questions on other forums and networks, my advice is drowned out by others telling people how to solve data problems. And these people don’t love data at all.  It’s painful to watch.

Data Modeling, Time and Bloggers

I know that you are thinking “BUT I DON’T HAVE TIME“…and you are right.  You don’t have spare time.  None of us do.  Neither do those other communities.  They contribute to a blog to give back to their communities because they know sometime this week they are going to need others to be there for them. When SQL Server DBAs have trouble figuring out an error code they don’t head to microsoft.com first; they head to a search engine. Or the #SQLhelp hashtag on Twitter. They might end up on a Microsoft site, but the also might end up reading a blogger’s take on what the error code means and explains what should be done next.  Or at least points to knowledge base articles that actually help.  That one blog might save others thousands of hours of painful work in the community.

It seems to me when a DA runs into a problem, she calls her vendor. Not because we love chatting with tech support (Hi Mary! Miss you…Hugs!), but because we know there is a very tiny chance that someone else has blogged about this issue. We sometimes go to a vendor support forum, which can be helpful.  But only if other people on the forum have taken the time to post there….and have received an answer that works.

State of the Union of Data Modeling

In last month’s State of the Union of Data Modeling, my panelists Anne Marie Smith and Sue Guens talked about this missing-in-action data-architect-blogger-tweeter and how the IT profession is suffering because we aren’t there.  We also talked about our status of influence in our IT organizations, something I’ve been talking about on panels for the last 25 years. I wonder if these two things are related:

  1. we don’t share our tips for making other data modelers more productive and more valuable
  2. and we suffer from not being productive and valued in our shops.  


So I’ve given you the number one reason why data modelers don’t want to share…what are the other reasons?

About the author

Karen Lopez is Sr. Project Manager and Architect at InfoAdvisors. She has 20+ years of experience in project and data management on large, multi-project programs. Karen specializes in the practical application of data management principles. She is a frequent speaker, blogger and panelist on data quality, data governance, logical and physical modeling, data compliance, development methodologies and social issues in computing. Karen is an active user on social media and has been named one of the top 3 technology influencers by IBM Canada and one of the top 17 women in information management by Information Management Magazine. She is a Microsoft SQL Server MVP, specializing in data modeling and database design. She’s an advisor to the DAMA, International Board and a member of the Advisory Board of Zachman, International. She’s known for her slightly irreverent yet constructive opinions and rants on information technology topics. She wants you to love your data. Karen is also moderator of the InfoAdvisors Discussion Groups at www.infoadvisors.com and dm-discuss on Yahoo Groups. Follow Karen on Twitter (@datachick).

  • Good topic (as always!). Could it be that they don’t think they have anything to say that isn’t already known? For modelers who have been around a while, some of what we do,and how we do it, seems to be common sense to us. So who would be interested in that?

    We forget that there are new people joining the industry all the time and what is obvious to us is not obvious to them. I know I get the best responses on my blog from basic stuff, common mistakes, and above all, how to use basic features in my favorite modeling tool (Oracle SQL Developer Data Modeler). So that has encouraged me (along with prodding from @thatJeffSmith) to keep writing whenever I can find the time. 😉

    See you in Austin!

  • Great points, Kent. I hear this all the time in other communities, too. “I have nothing else to say”. Well, the best blog posts, in my opinion, aren’t just regurgitations of support documents but are writings where bloggers are sharing their thoughts and approaches to how they would solve a problem.

    So you and I could both blog about the same modeling tool feature and come up with posts with similar content but still be unique posts.

    I also think that a good many people suffer from imposter syndrome, where they feel they aren’t good enough to write about a topic because someone else out there should write it.

    We kinda have the same thing going on the data architecture speaking circuit, too. People don’t want to speak because they think the have to say something that no one else has said.

    I’m looking for ideas on how to get people sharing.

  • Karen,

    Nice post! I find our community to be adverse to social media. When I get a change, I sell the concept. I am usually met with blank stares. As you point out, the response is often, “I just don’t have the time.” I ask people to just try spending 15 minutes a day on social media. There is such a power in social networking that can help develop a person, their knowledge and career. However, we need to reach a certain critical mass where the synergy is working. I think we are far from that today. Thanks for the discussion.

    I did change my blogging platform earliethisis year to makthete blog more visible. You can check my new blog out at http://danglingrelationships.com/


    • “Adverse”. Yes, that’s a good word for it. It’s not apathy, it’s an actual dislike of it. And I think you have hit the nail on the head there. Because few of us are blogging/tweeting, it’s hard to show them the value of their participation. It’s a real catch-22.

  • Funny to see you posting here Kent. We spoke briefly last week at the RMOUG conference (Conroe and the Boy Scout camp). I was unable to attend your session due to a prior outside commitment on Friday.

    I am astounded at the number of clients I see that do no data modelling at all. Perhaps I am too visually oriented. I need to SEE the data model to really understand it. Especially when the number of tables involved goes into the double and triple digits.

    With regard to blogging I tend to focus on ETL topics for my posts. But I have a couple topics that are data model related that I’m kicking around. I think I’ll move them up the priority list.

  • Richard Ordowich

    There is little new in data modeling is perhaps a reason there is little interest in the topic. Tomes have been written, conferences have been given, blogs have been filled with a repetition of the same approaches, which in my opinion have not stood the test of time Sprinkling in of the latest buzz words; HADDOP, Big Data etc. have done little in advancing data modeling.

    Most data modelers don’t really understand the data they are modeling. Are data modelers proficient in semantics, ontologies and taxonomies? Do data modelers understand all the various contexts of use of the data and design the data (not models) to satisfy all the various contexts? Are they modeling data or just filling in the blanks for tables, columns, relationships and tables?

    We need a new curriculum for data modelers and for that matter CIO’s. Data Literacy! Learn about the philosophy of data, the semantics, syntax and other factors that can help data modelers become Data Literate.

    Take data modeling out of the hands of IT. Create techniques which non technical folks can use to create their own data. They already do it in spreadsheets ( many organizations operate with hundred’s of thousands of spreadsheets – do they understand data modeling?) but we have not provided them with the tools to create good data models.

    How do you “model” text data? How many databases still contain text or notes fields? What are the best practices for designing (or eliminating) textual data (notes fields are a curse in databases)? How to design a code list (reference data)? Most codes lists are incomprehensible as they were not designed but “mashed up”.

    Remove the “T” from “IT” and focus on the “I”.

    Challenge the status quo. Then start blogging with something new to blog about!

    • Some good points there, Richard. But I think there are a significant number of topics that are bloggable. I’m familiar with the classic books on the subject and none of them are good “how-to” resources. They are primarily books about the theory of data modeling and normalization, which is important to understand. But a new modeler has almost no resources for getting started.

      And don’t get me started on how to do modeling with modern tools. The vendors are doing a better job at creating rich content to support tool use, but the community in general is not sharing how to use them correctly…or even competently.

  • Ted Hills

    Karen, you give good evidence that the blogosphere is an unreliable source for good data modeling advice. In my opinion, it’s like listening to talk-radio for sound political opinions. 🙂 So, yes, we should address that deficiency by blogging more. I hear you, and I’m going to work on that. But I do think there is something to be said for curated Web sites rather than depending on the opinions of the vocal minority.

    I want to share that, in my own quest for answers, I have found tdan.com to be a great source of high-quality answers about lots of data questions, including modeling.

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