What’s an Informatician?

21 February 2015

Informatician /ˌinfərˈməˈtiSHən/

(n): a practitioner of information science.


Well, that’s anything but informative. An informatician deals with information. Okay…but don’t we all? Information science is an interdisciplinary field involving the collection, analysis, storage, retrieval, protection, dissemination, and more of information. That’s a lot of information. But what does it mean?


In a broad and contemporary sense, the information field is related to computers. If you’re an informatician telling your screen-phobic grandmother what you do, tell her its “computer stuff” (apologies to all techy grandmas out there). If you’re telling your e-friendly uncle what you do, tell him its “Internet stuff.” If you’re telling your tech-savvy sister what you do, tell her its “top secret.” Or you can try to explain this blog post. By the end, I hope to have a distilled definition.


Put simply, an informatician does a lot of things. And it’s important to know that an informatician is never called an informatician–practitioners hold a cornucopia of diverse titles and they’re always changing to sound more important or marketable. But at the end of the day, they are all informaticians. It’s an interdisciplinary role that requires a decent balance of left- and right-brained thinking. It takes creativity, critical analysis, immense flexibility, a wide perspective, and a bravery to organize chaos.


But how does this “top secret” work manifest itself? At a high-level, all of this sounds great and employable, but it’s not clear at a working level. That’s because the work is always changing. New technology is introduced and your hard skill-set is forced to adapt. For this reason, informaticians are not designed to be doers. They aren’t supposed to know the ins and outs of software development, graphic design, accounting, or marketing. They aren’t experts. They may have some specialty, but they’re intended to be generalists. They’re clever and adaptable jacks-of-all-trades. Most seem to have a particular knack: UX design, web development, project management, information architecture, data science, stakeholder analysis, digital strategy, communications, contextual inquiry or many others. These skills differentiate them from traditional IT drones: troubleshooters and glorified secretaries. The informatician is not a middleman between business and engineering, but rather a facilitator throughout a problem-solving process. The informatician uses his diverse skill-set to help make decisions and design solutions.


A good informatician is not technologically-deterministic. She is empathetic and human-centric. She seeks to gather information and determine avenues toward a solution. She may find herself building a website: mapping out the architecture, coding the infrastructure, designing the interface, or collecting user-feedback. Or she may find herself speaking with community members to arrange a gathering to discuss neighborhood problems. She may reach out to politicians to make decisions about public policy or encourage citizen engagement. She is open to many types of solutions and is skilled at planning and implementing them.


But most importantly, an informatician should be organized–both in her work and mind. A strategy to organizing a large amount of information is reductionism. The most common form is embodied in a list. So, let me define an informatician in this manner.


An informatician is a professional that

1) analyzes a problem,

2) gathers information relating to the problem,

3) weighs stakeholder interests,

4) and designs a solution using his or her social and technical skills.


The information field is dynamic and exciting, and those trained to adapt will be the future leaders.