What is your job title?
I am called a Data Manager in my formal job description. However, in other places the job might haveslightly different titles such as Data Architect or Data Scientist. The key word, as you might have noticed, is “data”!
What are your main responsibilities?
To work with everyone across the organisation to ensure that we look after the data that is collected, analysed, and reported in the form of scientific papers, reports, advice, and online content. This includes making sure we can find data to include in new analyses, and let others know what we hold. Data management spans from large scale data bases and metadata management to ensuring that we have the right balance of backing up the many terabytes of information collected by Marine Scotland. It is about managing what we have right now, ensuring that we keep up with new data coming in and improving the ways we work with data as the collections grow.
What skills do you need to be able to do your job?
The data management job is, perhaps not surprisingly, quite a technical job. I need to understand the technology used both in hardware and software to store, integrate and locate data assets. However, I also have a lot of contact with users on very different levels. Sometimes I am simply helping individuals improve the way they manage their own workspace. Other times I am representing the business at national and international meetings making steps towards bringing together data from many institutions and countries. Because of the technical aspects that often needs to be relayed to staff and managers without a technical background,I need to be good at communicating and presenting the issues in a way everyone can understand.
In addition, it really helps to be curious! I talk to people across all parts of the business. That includes people who advise ministers, laboratory analysts, staff who spend many weeks per year at sea, administrators, data analysts and scientists – they all have slightly different needs, but often from the same collection of data. So I need to find ways of making the data available to the right people in the right way – and I need to understand different ways of working and different ways of making the data work.
What qualifications do you need to do your job?
Data management as a discipline is reasonably new, so there are not very many places where you can get a degree directly in this discipline. However, that is changing with the “Big Data” concept, and some universities are now starting to introduce degree courses. You can enter this type of work from the IT side or from the business side (all depending on what the business is – this can mean very different sets of qualifications). You will need to develop skills no matter which side you come from. If you come from the IT side, you need to work and develop to understand how the people on the business side work, and if you come from the business side, you need to develop and understand, not just the data bases, but also how IT works to ensure that data are kept safe and business can continue to work in most cases. My route into data management was via business, doing a degree in Biology (MSc) and zoology (PhD) first, and working as a research scientist. Parallel to this, I worked on developing my technical skills, as well as staff and project management, before stepping into this job.
What are the highlights of your job?
Since the job really is both about technology and people, there are two highlights in my opinion. Getting into a really big technical problem, and solving it in a way that allow you to harvest the data for any use, including some ways you have not even thought of yet.
The other highlight is working with people who are really passionate about their data. Making that data work better and harder for them gives some really interesting and amazing insights to the diversity of things that goes on in Marine Scotland.
And any low points?
Again, there are technical low points- most often to do with the rate of change. In a big business like Marine Scotland forming part of Scottish Government, there is a lot of layered technology and considerations to make. This often means you can’t change things anywhere near as fast as you would like. From the people and management perspective, the low point is no doubt that it can be difficult to get people to engage.
When you are introducing completely new concepts or ways of publishing data, it can often be met with scepticism.
What advice would you give to someone interested in your line of work?
You need to be someone who is interested in bringing people and technologies together. Being aware of new technology and solutions is important, but only if you can translate it into something that will work for your workplace.
A deep interest and passion for understanding new things is important. This is a field in rapid development, so you are bombarded with new technologies, developments, initiatives, and requirements. You then need to harness what you have learnt and see if you can turn it into something useful for the business.
What interested you about your line of work?
The challenge of making data more available and open. Having worked in the science area I was used to working with large data sets, but could see that there was a need for a more generic approach that would allow data to be found, not just by myself, but everyone else. The mix of technology, science and people is the best and most interesting part of the job. At the same time, it is a rapidly evolving area of work, not just in Marine Scotland, but right across the business landscape.
I like having a set of different challenges – it forces you to stay on your feet, and it makes it necessary to turn problems and solutions upside down, sometimes to look at it from all angles.
How long have you worked with Marine Scotland?
10 years, but it’s been split across many different projects. Typically, projects last 2-3 years, and then you start something new. This means it feels like you are changing jobs on a regular basis. You might have multiple projects moving forward at the same time – so there’s usually no shortage of things to do!
How did you get started with Marine Scotland?
I was based at the Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen while doing my PhD on larval fish ecology. At one point, temporary jobs on a large multi-institute research consortium were advertised. I applied and got the job, and ended up finishing my PhD while working full time. In the first days of my job, I began introducing a database for historical data, and was soon collating a lot of the data for quick turn around, to support different types of research.
What would be your advice to your younger self when making subject, study and career choices?
Education is essential to equip yourself with the right baseskills, but also allow yourself to find something you are passionate or deeply curious about. Use time to take on challenges, work with other people, and learn to accept differences in what motivates people.
Never stop learning – there is always(!) something new to learn and find out about.