Certainly the ETL functions are important and necessary components of an overall healthy DW architecture, but by no means THE MOST important. There is really no real MOST important part. Consider your internal organs for a moment. Is the heart the most important? The Lungs? Brain, circulatory system, digestive system?
The DW architecture needs a solid data architecture, data acquisition strategy, ETL architecture, DBMS, BI architecture, technology infrastructure, network architecture, etc.
However, if you would like to pursue a career as an ETL architect I recommend you gain practical experience with the following:
DW data architecture design principals (Data modeling skills including 3NF, data vault and data mart design)
Strong, strong, strong SQL skills. ETL is about leveraging the DBMS supported SQL and extending those capabilities with the ETL prioritary data manipulation functions. You need to understand SQL to fully appreciate what your ETL code is really doing. (If you've been around for 20 years, odds are you have some mainframe background. Us old COBOL programmers needed to understand the Assembler code that was produced to be good developers and debuggers. Same holds for the ETL tools)
DBMS skills. You don't need to be an Ace DBA, but you need to know your way around the DBMS's your working with (source and target), now how to create, alter, drop tables, apply & drop constraints, know when indexes will improve the performance of your ETL jobs, know when partitioning is warranted, know about database table spaces, and various indexing schemes.
Business analyst skills. I prefer my ETL architects don't code in a vacuum. Always strive to understand the business problem being solved and the information needs of your business sponsors. This will help you produce better processing streams and help you challenge the data models provided to you from your data architect.
There are many public and private training providers out there that can give you a solid foundation of data management and CIF architecture disciplines. Then approach your boss and let him/her know your desires.
This was first published in January 2005