Job profile: Become a metadata specialist
Posted on
March 21, 2023
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What does a metadata specialist do?

A recent search at IT employment facilitator Dice found that there are more than 2,700 jobs (including more than 1,800 with full-time hours) available to anyone seeking employment as a "metadata specialist." What do employers want out of a metadata specialist? Let's find out together.

Metadata defined

First, what is metadata? It's important to understand what metadata is and why it is important. Simply put, metadata is data about data. Data that is used to represent other data is known as metadata.

For example, the index of a book serves as metadata for the contents in the book. In other words, we can say that metadata is summarized data that helps us find and interpret detailed data. Business that want to find something inside a data warehouse look at metadata, not the data itself — that would take too long.

Creating metadata involves keywords, summaries, tags, definitions (such as defining data ownership), and more. Metadata is all of the data about data that lets individuals or organizations compile specific sets of data.

The importance of metadata cannot be overstated. Metadata helps in driving the accuracy of reports, validates data transformation, and ensures the accuracy of calculations. Metadata also enforces the definition of business terms to business end-users.

The work

What does a metadata specialist do?

Taking all of that into account, what does a metadata specialist do exactly? Their primary role is to tag and organize metadata for a company. Think of a metadata specialist as being like a combination librarian and historian.

Let's imagine a company that has a large number of records or photos. They want to have those files uploaded into a database and be able to sort them. They would need a metadata specialist to sort, tag, and shape the way people look for those particular items of data.

Given the extraordinarily high volume of data that businesses and organizations generate, employers are increasingly eager to find people who can categorize these reports and data into a searchable structure. Data doesn't serve a business purpose unless it can be referenced, analyzed, and interpreted.

As noted above, metadata is structured, additional information that classifies and describes data. Metadate can also be applied to objects. For an item of clothing, the size, color, fabric, and so forth are relevant metadata. A digital photo might be enriched with additional information noting the place and time it was taken, or the name of the photographer.

Sometimes metadata compilation happens as a function of creating something. A music file may be tagged with information about the artist, title, or genre as it is created. A digital document often includes information about file size, name, and format — as well as the last modification date, and when the file was created — by default. Websites also have metadata, such as keywords, metatags, or alternative texts, like descriptions of the images used.

Metadata can therefore exist in many different areas. Depending on the nature and makeup of the source object, the metadata can vary quite a bit. Think back to the days when we first had Microsoft Word and the metadata was simple:

You could look at the author, the date the file was created, its size, and so forth. Some of these characteristics were not editable, so you could make a file and no one the internet could overwrite the fact that you created it.

A metadata specialist has to be able to deal with the fact that there are now ways to adjust or alter some of the metadata assigned by software. Many hands often touch various types of data, just inside the business or organization where it originates.

Job responsibilities

What does a metadata specialist do?

While job duties will be varied, you will be primarily working with data. So your main job duties will be to categorize data and tag it with appropriate tags so that various users can find the data easily.

Some other job duties include building a warehouse that is easily searchable for all the history of files, photos, reports, or content for the end-users of the company. It's important to be meticulous and thorough.

The metadata information pertaining to a website, for example, helps that site to become visible to Google and other search engines, because it describes the site and its contents. A skilled metadata specialist can improve a website's visibility and increase traffic.

A metadata specialist will often work with a digital asset management (DAM) system. DAM software helps companies store all digital content centrally. Especially media files — such as photos, graphics, videos, music, or text files — can be managed more easily via a DAM system with the help of metadata.

Keep pace

One of the bigger areas of specialization for metadata specialists is in digital media. Since we are now able to edit and alter photos and other digital media to produce so-called "deep fakes," the ability to tag files and store them as "unaltered" is of growing interest.

Training and certification

What does a metadata specialist do?

Since this profession deals with data, it is very helpful to have a background in data and analytics. A master's degree in analytics and being formally trained in information science or data science will be a good start.

Other key skill areas include data governance and data storage. The deeper your understanding of databases, the better off you will be.

There are few if any direct certifications for metadata specialists. I would advise focusing on certification that address data warehousing, such as Oracle Data Warehous Administrator, or Oracle Data Mining Techniques Administrator. Data management software provider Snowflake has a line of SnowPro certifications that could also be of benefit.

Go for IT

If you are meticulous and have a data-driven mindset, then you may well be successful at this job. Full-time metadata specialist work is not for the faint of heart — it requires attention to detail, repetition, and completion of task that may seem mind-numbing to some. For those who feel at home with data and data management, however, this is definitely a career path to consider.

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About the Author
Nathan Kimpel

Nathan Kimpel is a seasoned information technology and operations executive with a diverse background in all areas of company functionality, and a keen focus on all aspects of IT operations and security. Over his 20 years in the industry, he has held every job in IT and currently serves as a Project Manager in the St. Louis (Missouri) area, overseeing 50-plus projects. He has years of success driving multi-million dollar improvements in technology, products and teams. His wide range of skills includes finance, as well as ERP and CRM systems. Certifications include PMP, CISSP, CEH, ITIL and Microsoft.

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