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Inspiring "Aha" Data Moments: Lester Knutsen

Republished blog post from Mastering Data Management

One of our inaugural IBM Champions, Lester Knutsen, summed up his Informix work in a single sentence: "I like building databases." While working at Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1983, one of the first Unix boxes arrived, bundled with Informix — and Lester marveled at how quickly he could get into it.

This passion drives everything he does. Lester is president of Advanced DataTools, an Advanced IBM Partner that focuses on Informix consulting, training, support and software. Lester is also a founding member of IIUG (the International Informix Users Group), president of the Washington, DC area Informix Users Group and an IBM Gold Consultant.

Lester and his Advanced DataTools team engage users in every step of the data warehouse process. Lester explains, "End users don't really know what they want until they see it. Anybody who thinks you can just design a project on paper and then go implement it, unchanged, is dead wrong. You've got to have user involvement — and that's the key part of agile development."

Starting with user requirements, the team loads the data and builds a prototype that lets clients "kick the tires" and see how their data actually works within the warehouse. Clients are often surprised at what they find in the prototype. For the first time, they can identify their biggest customers or find missing transactions.

Even more important, though, is the ability to change direction as clients have "aha" moments about their data. Sometimes, seeing the prototype in action inspires an even better idea.

Besides building databases, Lester and his team spend a lot of time helping clients navigate an ever-changing regulatory environment. While regulations are important, Lester has noticed that some very large organizations use them as "an excuse not to get things done." These organizations often lack a truly cooperative team or a clear mission.

In contrast, Lester is proud of his team, noting he's built, "the best pool of Informix talent in the world, outside of IBM." The team includes two additional IBM Champions, Cindy Lichtenauer and Art Kagel, with whom we did a follow-up interview. (Stay tuned.) Lester firmly believes that, "Good people attract good people," and he's committed to developing talent. Advanced DataTools has a unique internship program for high school seniors and college students who show promise in technology. Several participants have come to work for Advanced DataTools after graduation.

Through it all, Lester tries to foster an environment that's "fun, interesting and challenging." His team works hard, but they also list their passions on the company's website. In Lester's case, he travels extensively to scuba dive and take underwater photos and videos. You can view his incredible collection at Currently, he's using his database skills to organize his growing video library before heading to Indonesia this summer.

Listen to our interview for more from Lester, and be sure to watch this space for our follow-up conversation with the trio of Champions from Advanced DataTools. You can also follow Lester on Twitter @LesterKnutsen.