Good Attitude, Long Memory Key Traits for Data Steward of Year

Loraine Lawson
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I'll let you in on a little secret: The best part about covering data integration - and all its related parts - is the people.

It's true. Security techies are intriguing, CIOs are astute, CTOs are frank and honest, but nobody's quite as much fun to interview as the data heads. They're all of those things, plus they know the good gossip. And they have an awesome sense of full-on geek humor. Check out my lists on Twitter - I enjoy following them so much, I often check in even when I'm supposed to be off-duty.

They're also much under-appreciated, even in - perhaps especially in - IT.

DataFlux is trying to change that - bless their hearts. The data management company proclaimed Oct. 11, 2011 as International Data Steward Day. (10.11.11 - get it? Yeah, it made me feel like Penny on the "Big Bang Theory," too. What can I say? They think it's funny.) And to mark that day, the company ran a contest and picked a 2011 Data Steward of the year.

This year, that honor goes to Barbara Deemer, chief data steward for Sallie Mae.

I'd like to point out a few things about Ms. Demmer.

First, she works for Sallie Mae - as in college loans, not Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac of the housing loan fiascos.

Second, you'll notice she's not some big-wig superstar who obviously makes a ton of money and is more flash than substance. I hate to judge someone based on looks, but I think you'll agree she looks approachable, friendly, very down-to-earth and, well, real. Just what I would expect out of someone who works with data, to be honest.

She was chosen by a panel of data management experts, many of whose name you'll recognize if you spend any time reading about data issues. She joins the "Data Steward Hall of Fame," which includes people like Zenodotus, Tim Berners-Lee and Thomas Jefferson. So what won her a place among such lofty companions?

First, she helped established Sallie Mae's formal data quality program, which, her colleagues said, bridged the data gap between the finance and credit departments. In the contest application, they called her a "data governance champion" and cited her ability to understand business processes and her institutional memory.

"She's the Bo Jackson of data stewards at Sallie Mae," the application said. "She brings a professional and up-beat attitude that is tough to rival."

Good attitude. Long memory. Years of dedicated service. Commitment to data quality. Understanding of business processes. That's quite a checklist of credentials, and well worth keeping in mind the next time you need to recruit a steward for a data quality project.

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