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DBA profile: From financials to the FBI

David Marco is a meta data specialist who is helping the FBI track down terrorists. In this interview, he warns younger programmers of the need to specialize their skills in a scary economy.

For many years, David Marco, a data warehousing and business intelligence expert, used his expertise to help businesses make strategic financial decisions. These days, Marco is using his expertise to track terrorists instead of helping corporate executives analyze spending patterns.

At his Chicago-based Enterprise Warehousing Solutions Inc., Marco worked on a number of Department of Defense projects, but he never imagined he'd have a direct role in fighting terrorism --- or a job that was so top secret.

FBI meta data expert
David Marco

"There isn't much I can say about it, but it is a big undertaking," said the 36-year-old consultant who last year was chosen by Crain's Chicago Business newspaper as one of the Top 40 executives under the age of 40.

A new FBI data warehouse currently receives information from multiple government databases in an effort to uncover potential terrorists. Previously, the data was evaluated separately by multiple agencies and often went overlooked by authorities. But combining the information and connecting suspicious activities may trigger alarms that might not previously have been detected, Marco said.

A lot of programming work is being off-shored right now. The impact on the programmer is devastating.
David Marco
meta data specialistFBI

Although he remains tight-lipped about his role in the FBI project, Marco can talk about how he got his start, and how young programmers and consultants can survive the current job market.

He said he gained valuable experience as a 24-year-old senior consultant on a meta- data project in New York. Meta data is used extensively by businesses to track inventory, monitor individual customer buying habits and to try to influence consumer buying.

Marco managed a team of experienced programmers who streamlined computer systems to connect data warehouses.

However, a lot has changed in the world of programming. In the current market, Marco said, it's very difficult for a young programmer to prove himself on a multi-million dollar project.

"A lot of programming work is being off-shored right now. The impact on the programmer is devastating," Marco said.

Programmers need to develop a specialty, he said.

"It's an area where knowledge is king," Marco said. "If you're good at what you do and you're at the top of your game, you're always going to have a job."

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Marco, who also works with database administrators, said the job market for DBAs remains strong for good DBAs. Good DBAs are those who are proactive and locate and resolve problems rather than wait for problems to arise, Marco said.

Marco got his start writing video game programs in high school. A graduate of DePaul University in Chicago, his first job was as a consultant at El Segundo Calif.-based Computer Sciences Corp., where he used his programming skills to work on data warehousing projects.

"Most of the jobs I had in college were in computers," Marco said. "I made sure I got the experience and worked with a lot of smart people."

He is the author of several books, including the recently released "Universal Meta Data Models," a collection of meta data fundamentals and case studies on data warehousing projects.

As he works on his data warehousing projects today, Marco said a common challenge for private companies and the federal government is understanding massive amounts of data drawn from multiple sources.

"You cannot manage what you can not measure, and you can not measure what you don't understand," Marco said. "Meta data provides the context to the content of data and the context to the business and the industry that a corporation or organization may be in."

To provide feedback on this article, contact Robert Westervelt.

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