A career in information technology offers growth, stability, and the opportunity to be analytical and creative. Working as a data engineer is one of many possible career paths in the IT industry. If you like the idea of designing how others access and use information, this job might be the one for you.
You may, however, be wondering what a data engineer does and what you need to do to become one. Similar to other tech jobs, data engineers are in high demand, and various organizations employ them. Well-known high-tech companies, entertainment conglomerates, big-box retailers, and government agencies all need data engineers.
To meet the demands of the role, candidates will need formal training and education, knowledge of programming languages, and people skills. Data engineering doesn’t just involve sitting in front of a computer screen, cranking out code or running tests on databases. The field is highly collaborative and involves understanding the perspectives of users and stakeholders.
If becoming a tech and communication master doesn’t scare you off, here are five things you need to know to become a data engineer.
1. Learn the Basics of the Discipline
First off, you’ll need to have a solid grasp of programming languages, databases, and data storage practices. You’ll also want to know how to create and automate scripts and become familiar with ETL tools. ETL — or extract, transform, and load — systems are what engineers use to sync and move databases into a central location.
Knowing the ins and outs of relational and nonrelational databases will provide you with a foundation in database management. You’ll gain knowledge about creating functional databases and storing information. Both are critical to the role.
Other basic data engineering knowledge and skills include cloud computing, machine learning, data management tools, data pipelines, and data security practices. The range of skills you’ll use as a data engineer will depend on how each organization designs the position. Some have their data engineers handle security responsibilities and only use cloud-based servers. Others employ separate cybersecurity teams and use a combination of physical and cloud-based storage.
2. Acquire Formal Training and Education
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics and some experts advocate for an undergrad IT degree, others say it’s unnecessary. These industry advisors argue that online boot camps or courses that teach the basics are enough of a foundation. Because employers’ requirements vary, your goals will help you decide to pursue a formal degree or take the online path. However, some organizations may also prefer graduate degrees in IT or database management.
Getting a bachelor’s degree in computer science or information technology could open up more future employment opportunities. The degree will also give you a broader understanding of the industry and how various IT professions work together. A bachelor’s degree may be essential if you want to pursue positions with high-tech companies or well-known organizations.
Regardless of whether you go the traditional or nontraditional route, you’ll also need to obtain industry certifications. Requirements for certifications can vary by employer, but the IBM Certified Data Engineer qualification is among the more common ones. Google Cloud Certified Professional Data Engineer and Associate Big Data Engineer are others.
3. Develop Human-to-Human Skills
Whether you call them soft skills, people skills, or human skills, they are often more important than technical ability. Many job seekers equate people skills with service-related professions or functions like marketing and management. However, some may be surprised to learn that tech careers are also highly dependent on working with and understanding others.
Communication, collaboration, and presentation skills are instrumental to a data engineer’s responsibilities. So is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and work through conflict. After all, it’s not only you who will use the databases and information in them.
If you’ve ever heard household appliance installers complain about engineers’ designs, you know how different perspectives can get in the way. Data engineers create and manage databases for others, which requires strong communication capabilities. Knowing how to ask probing questions, understanding what nontechnical stakeholders mean, and translating technical jargon into English all help develop useful data solutions.
4. Build a Project Portfolio
Companies want to hire people who are passionate about what they do. It requires dedication and hard work to get a degree and a bunch of certifications. Yet some people don’t always want to do what they learn.
Building a portfolio of completed and current side projects shows you truly want to practice data engineering. Your projects say you’d pursue data engineering even if you couldn’t get paid for it. A portfolio also gives employers a sneak preview of your skills and performance. You’ll demonstrate that you can turn knowledge into practice and produce high-quality work.
Some data engineer candidates include links to open source projects they’re working on with others. Other candidates include links to finished school projects and ones they’ve pursued outside of their classes.
Sites such as GitHub allow you to work on and display open source projects. By providing ways to start or expand your portfolio, these sites show potential employers your technical and collaboration skills. Recruiters also look for future employees there.
5. Get Your Foot in the Door
Not all data engineers started in their current positions. Many got their foot in the door as data analysts or database administrators. While these are entry-level roles, the experience you gain can provide a foundation for data engineering.
Data analysts are responsible for identifying and gathering information that will solve a company’s problems. After analysts collect what they need, they go on to organize and interpret the information. Once they reach a conclusion about the information’s meaning, they present it to stakeholders.
Working in this type of position will help you gain an understanding of the role data plays in an organization. You’ll gain experience with how databases and data sets work and the ways data can flow. As an analyst, you’ll also learn what information is important and how to present it in a relatable way.
In most such scenarios, you’ll work with data engineers and get a glimpse of what they do. You can use these opportunities to network, gain a mentor, and perfect your skills.
Data engineering is a career with high demand and pay. The job requires technical know-how, interpersonal skills, and a willingness to learn from others. Studying programming and database basics and earning industry credentials will give you a technical foundation to stand on. But developing your soft skills, project portfolio, and real-world experience will help you actually become a data engineer.