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Data Architect Interview

14 Questions and Answers by Helen Lee
| Helen Lee is a freelance data analyst and writer with over 15 years of experience in marketing.

Question 1 of 14

A company's data needs are constantly changing and improving maintenance and accessibility of data is an ongoing process. Describe a time when you made changes to a company's data management systems and the impact the change made on the company overall.

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Data Architect Interview Questions

  1. 1.

    A company's data needs are constantly changing and improving maintenance and accessibility of data is an ongoing process. Describe a time when you made changes to a company's data management systems and the impact the change made on the company overall.

      Inevitably, companies' data needs will change and hiring managers would like to understand how well you adapt to these types of changes. Even more so, they are interested in hearing about how you may have taken the initiative to implement these improvements. If you are earlier in your career as a Data Architect and you have not yet had the opportunity to initiate or be a part of any changes, share how you would have improved the data management systems at your company and what impact those improvements would have had.

      Helen's Answer

      "While working for one of my first employers, I was part of an initiative to make data more accessible to the company overall. Each department's data was siloed and inaccessible to team members in other departments. Obtaining data outside one's own department was a long and tedious process that prevented the completion of timely analyses. I actively contributed to a project that made data sharing possible without data security being compromised. As a result, analysts were able to complete their projects in a timely manner using a robust dataset. This allowed senior management to make well-informed strategic decisions quickly."

  2. 2.

    Have you been involved with the improvement of a company's existing data architecture? If so, explain your role in the process and the impact the change had on the company overall.

      Although it is important to complete routine tasks and maintenance, it is also vital for Data Architects to be viewing current environments with a critical eye. Hiring managers would like to hear how prospective hires took the initiative to question current processes and structures with the purpose of increasing efficiency and productivity. Present yourself as someone that continually views the 'big picture' and does not get absorbed in only the routine tasks.

      Helen's Answer

      "In my experience, marrying external data with internal data within corporate systems can bring about possible issues of data integrity. I initiated a project where I developed a process that carefully screened our 3rd-party purchased data using several detailed steps. I also established a close relationship with our data supplier who agreed to run several checks on the data before sending it over to us. This increased our data reliability and reduced database errors by 34% over a span of a year."

  3. 3.

    What kind of challenges have you faced as a Data Architect with regards to security and ensuring the integrity of a company's data is not compromised?

      Data security should be a priority for all company employees regardless of their job title or the department they work in. Because of its high importance, hiring managers would like to understand your experience with data security issues. As you answer this question, reinforce that, although your background is not concentrated in data security, you understand its importance in your role as a Data Architect.

      Helen's Answer

      "At times, it can be difficult to come to a consensus on what should be deemed a security risk. There was an instance where some team members wanted to make changes to the process we used to upload franchisee data to our system. I believed these changes would create security risks, and to support my theory, I quantified the cost to the company if security was compromised. This information helped the team members view the situation from a different perspective and they revised their plan to reinforce data security measures."

  4. 4.

    What challenges have you faced working with others in your company who may not have a technical background? How did you overcome these challenges?

      It is understood that, in order to make a positive impact on a company overall, Data Architects cannot remain in their own bubble. Undoubtedly, you have had experience working with different departments across the companies at which you have worked. Moreover, it is likely that you have worked with several people who are less technically inclined. Interviewers want to hear how you interact with these people and, in doing so, what challenges you faced. If you have difficulty thinking of specific challenges, consider what helped you avoid them.

      Helen's Answer

      "I have found that to be a successful Data Engineer you have to understand the needs of the company overall. This has required me to work outside of my comfort zone with others who do not fully understand my role and responsibilities. In addition, because they many did not have a technical background, they did not fully understand the limitations of our data systems. Therefore, I received many requests for deliverables that were not possible to produce which led to much frustration on their part. Overcoming these challenges was not an effortless process. After much planning, we agreed to invest in time to learn about each other's work, and thereby gained a better understanding of needs and limitations. This led to productive brainstorming sessions that produced a variety of possible solutions that we could test. Overall, I believe remaining open-minded and being willing to take the extra step to educate myself and others helped me to overcome this challenge."

  5. 5.

    Many companies' data originate from both internal and external sources. Have you faced any obstacles in the past when trying to integrate a new external data source into the existing infrastructure? If so, how did you overcome these obstacles?

      Bringing external data into a company's data systems can present challenges as the data may be coming from a source using different systems and data formats. Data architects and their colleagues must ensure that the data is in a format that is readable and useful before it is stored in the company's data warehouse. Hiring managers would like to see that you have problems solving skills specific to external data integration.

      Helen's Answer

      "In my experience, external data integration issues have usually stemmed from differing systems that created data in a format different from that of our company data. It would be ideal if we could all have the same systems to avoid this issue, but that was cost prohibitive. Instead, I created a script that ran before the data was uploaded to our data warehouse tables. This script changed the format of the external data and ran tests to ensure that it was in a format compatible with our systems."

  6. 6.

    As a Data Architect, it's important to stay well-informed on new developments and technologies. How do you keep yourself abreast of the newest industry developments related to data architecture and data analysis?

      While working in a corporate environment, employees in technical fields may need to proactively seek out information on industry trends and new technologies. It is relatively easy to get consumed with the work in your company's current environment, while missing out on the changing industry trends. When answering this question, include industry news resources you may subscribe to or conferences and training sessions you may attend on a somewhat regular basis. Hiring managers will likely appreciate that you set aside time from your work schedule to educate yourself.

      Helen's Answer

      "I do my best to set aside some time in my work week to learn about new trends and technology in the industry. In doing so, I learn things that may be applicable to my job or the company overall. I subscribe to news feeds including InfoWorld and Computer Weekly. In addition, if my schedule and budgets allow, I attend two conferences per year where I can network with others in my field and attend training seminars."

  7. 7.

    An important part of your role as Data Architect will be to understand how the company's stored data is being used across the different departments. What steps have you take in past positions to understand the data needs across these various users?

      Because most departments across a company have data needs, it is vital that Data Architects have the ability to work with people with varying backgrounds to understand how they use data. Interviewers want to know what steps you have taken in the past to educate yourself on how different groups use the data available to them. This is important as this information will help you do a better job serving the company's data requirements.

      Helen's Answer

      "In my role as a Data Architect, I understand the importance of learning about the work completed by different departments in the company and ultimately recognizing each of their data needs. As my schedule would allow, I attempted to meet with the groups on a regular basis to learn about current projects and plan for what their immediate and future data needs might be. Sometimes team members from other groups may approach me proactively with data questions or needs. When this occurred, I asked a plethora of questions to verify I understood the work and needs of their group. I have found it helpful to inquire and never assume when dealing with projects I am less familiar with."

  8. 8.

    What is your experience with open source technology? What challenges have you faced using it?

      If interviewers ask this question, the company either currently utilizes open source technology or is considering it for the future. If you do have experience using it, mention the specific ones you have worked with. In addition, be sure to also indicate if you have experience modifying the open source programming code. In the event you have not personally faced challenges using it, mention any potential cons you know of to using open source technology.

      Helen's Answer

      "My experience using open source technology has been positive. I have used both MySQL and Hadoop without facing major challenges. However, I understand that using open source technology can have some general disadvantages including the lack of formal user support, as sometimes you have to rely on advice from user forums to address any issues you may have. Also, in most cases, open source developers don't put a lot of resources into the user interface, so some may find it difficult to learn how to use it."

  9. 9.

    What modeling tools do you have experience using? Of these, which do you find the most useful or powerful?

      Data Architects should have a solid understanding of data modeling whether or not it is one of their main responsibilities. If you do not have experience using modeling tools, indicate the ones you are aware of and which you know to be the most useful. Interviewers will appreciate that you have at least a basic knowledge of modeling tools.

      Helen's Answer

      "My experience with data modeling tools has been primarily with Oracle SQL Developer Data Modeler. I also have had very limited exposure to PowerDesigner. I found Oracle Data Modeler to be more than sufficient for my needs with its forward and reverse engineering capabilities. However, I have learned that PowerDesigner offers valuable features such as the ability to support a substantial metadata repository and a variety of output formats. One of the more valuable features seems to be the ability to use different modelling techniques that are targeted to different audiences. Of the two tools, I believe PowerDesigner is worth a try for its abundant features and user friendliness."

  10. 10.

    Explain in detail your experience with batch and real-time data processing.

      Each of these data processing methods provide distinct advantages and disadvantages and both could be used within a company depending on the business case. If you have experience with one and not the other, give examples of cases where the other processing method would be better suited. This will indicate your familiarity with both types.

      Helen's Answer

      "I have had exposure to both types of data processing, but am more familiar with batch processing. My experience includes writing programs to process billing data. I wrote programs that captured, processed and produced output for our billing department. Although my company did utilize real-time processing, I have had less experience with it. I understand the value of it when dealing with our stores' POS systems as it allows for immediate action on the data collected."

  11. 11.

    Describe any metrics you may have created or used as a Data Architect in order to measure quality and consistency of new and existing data.

      Having a protocol to ensure data quality and consistency is an important component to any company's data infrastructure. Your experience in this area is valuable as it proves your are knowledgeable about assessing the value of the data.

      Helen's Answer

      "In my career as a Data Architect, ensuring data quality has always been a part of my job to some degree. There were a number of dimensions we monitored to validate the data quality and consistency. These dimensions included Duplication and Completeness. Duplication measured the percent of records that were duplicated in a given data set, while Completeness measured the proportion of records that had all the necessary data fields populated. By monitoring these particular dimensions we could be alerted to data inconsistencies that could negatively affect the work of data analysts in the company."

  12. 12.

    In order to effectively manage a company's data infrastructure as a Data Architect, it is important to have a solid understanding of the business and its strategic challenges. What steps have you taken in past positions as a Data Architect to ensure that

      As a Data Architect, you can easily get lost in the technical details of your job while losing sight of the bigger picture of the business. Hiring managers would like to know that you proactively take steps to not lose sight of the overall strategy of the business, since ultimately, this will help you be more effective as a Data Architect.

      Helen's Answer

      "As I deal with different groups with different needs as a Data Architect, I fully appreciate how important it is to understand the overall strategy of the company. I have been fortunate enough to have employers who continuously communicate the company's short and long-term strategies. If any of the aspects are unclear to me, I make it a priority to attend additional internal corporate training or direct questions to the appropriate people."

  13. 13.

    Data Architects take ownership of a company's data infrastructure and may lead teams to build data/database strategies. What challenges have you faced leading teams tasked with data/database strategy development? Describe how you overcame the challenges.

      Any team environment can provide challenges whether it is a technical or a non-technical team. Your answer to this question may be more general and similar to issues many other teams face or specific to those facing technical teams. The main point to communicate is how you handled and overcame the challenges you faced. If you have not led a team tasked with this, talk about any challenges you may have faced working on this as a team and how the team overcame them. This will illustrate your exposure to these types of situations.

      Helen's Answer

      "During my career as a Data Architect, I have participated actively on teams where we were tasked with developing short and long-term changes to the database systems in our company. As in many team environments, members come in with different experiences and viewpoints, and therefore have differing priorities. I have found that it becomes a challenge when team members are not open minded and willing to compromise. When team members share well-researched thoughts and evidence and have the willingness to learn, coming to a consensus on next steps becomes much easier."

  14. 14.

    Data accessibility and data security is a balancing act for Data Architects. Have you ever had to deny data access to a group/individual in the company? What factors contributed to that decision and how did you communicate your decision?

      At times, ensuring both data security and data accessibility puts Data Architects in difficult situations. Employees usually want to be granted access to as much data as possible, but security issues prevent Data Architects from allowing that in the best interest of the company overall. Unfortunately, Data Architects are sometimes put in the difficult position of denying or limiting access to data which, at times, is met with disgruntled reactions. Dealing with people in difficult and uncomfortable situations becomes a valuable skill for Data Architects to have.

      Helen's Answer

      "There have been many situations where I have had to deny direct access to data. If given the opportunity, people would gladly accept access to all the company data. However, it is not wise to grant open access like that as it compromises the security of the entire corporate data system. In addition, we have found that employees will misinterpret data that they are not familiar with, negatively impacting analyses conducted. In many of the companies I have worked with, we have implemented some requirements that must be fulfilled before data access is granted. The most important part of it is education. Employees must go through specific training to get data access. If there is data that we still are unable to grant them direct access to, we offer our services to work closely with them to get the information they need with our help."