Debbie Collins, a consultant with First San Francisco Partners, has more than 20 years of experience as a data modeler and data architect. We asked Debbie to share highlights from her background and professional experience and what it means to work in her specialty area.
Q&A With Debbie Collins
(Melanie with FSFP) What early experiences shaped your desire to get into the information management industry? (Debbie) Growing up, I was that nerd who loved math. When I got to college, I took a database class where we were taught how to normalize data — and I really enjoyed it! Then, as a business major, I was required to take a Fortran programming class. This might sound strange to some, but it was a lot of fun. I started looking into Information Systems and saw that I could make a good salary doing work I considered both appealing and challenging.
I continued my studies in this focus area and graduated from college with a business degree in Computer Information Systems and Accounting. I didn’t know at the time how much the accounting part of my degree would benefit me today in the business world — and personally, too — and I’m glad it was part of my educational focus.
What type of work did you do before we met you at FSFP, Debbie? After college, I took a job doing programming for a Denver-based phone company. Through the years at other firm, including Charles Schwab and Comcast, I grew my enterprise-wide data modeling and data base administration expertise. I’ve now spent many years performing data modeling for extremely large data warehouses. I also found time to get my Oracle OCP Certifications in Database Administration and PL/SQL.
How would you describe the work that you do for our FSFP clients? I work as a data architect — and that can entail quite a few things! Sometimes, it’s data modeling work. Often, it’s helping our clients truly understand and get value from their data, by organizing it to maximize their competitive advantage.
I work with clients to create a blueprint of a data environment that helps the enterprise with both operations and analytics. For example, most clients have customer data in many disparate applications, and it’s difficult to recognize the same customer across all applications. A business user can’t easily see the customer’s journey, which includes all experiences that customers go through when interacting with the enterprise. I get involved to help with these types of challenges.
I’m connected to client projects that use data catalog tools from IBM, Informatica and Collibra. When I have spare time at FSFP, I’m helping to build out our team’s Collibra training repository, along with our Director of Innovation Malcolm Chisholm.
What do you like about working for a virtual company with a remote team? This is my first full-time, remote role — and I absolutely love it. I tell my friends who still work in a traditional office that, working from home, you have to be self-motivated and responsible for getting your work done. I couldn’t do what I do without Zoom to keep me connected to clients and my teammates. And, of course, Slack helps with internal communication and building camaraderie.
It seems that everyone these days knows something about the world of data, with data privacy being in the news. But not everyone knows there’s an information management industry. If you met someone at a social event, how would you explain your job to them? Most of my career has been helping companies recognize trends, such as which customers are likely to quit doing business with them, what products are best sellers for each state, who are their best sales reps, and what recurring problems are they having in operations. When I share examples like these, I usually get a response like, “Oh … I think I get what you do.”
Data-focused jobs are often included in “fastest-growing jobs” lists. With so many opportunities in our industry, what type of person do you see being a great fit, Debbie? Someone who is interested in math, yet extroverted and highly articulate, would make a great data architect or analyst. They need great writing skills and must be comfortable working with people from all levels of an organization. Also, I’m always an advocate for people who are positive and enthusiastic about work!
Do you have a favorite industry-related blog, influencer or podcast that you like to follow? I tend to follow DATAVERSITY because of the variety of content it offers — webinars, blogs, conferences, etc.
When you’re not focused on work, what do you do in your off hours? The career that I chose has afforded me great opportunities to travel. I’ve hit all the continents — some several times — except for Antarctic. Traveling to India and Nepal was just amazing.
I play outdoor pickleball several days a week, which can be done throughout the year in my state of Florida. I also work as a hospice volunteer, typically playing a role as patient companion. This is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
Any parting thoughts to share with our blog readers, Debbie? Intelligence and a strong work ethic stand out in the corporate world, but tact and diplomacy are equally important. Getting along with co-workers may not seem quite as important as the actual work we do, but relationships are the things we’ll remember in the future.