What Does A Data Engineer Do (including Their Typical Day at Work)

Alyssa OmandacCareer, Overview

Salary, Job Description, How To Become One, and Quiz

Data Engineers

Data Engineers design and maintain data infrastructures for organizations. They manage the databases, data centers, and data pipelines used to store and share data.

Bachelor's degree

Find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life.Confucius

Large organizations are relying more on big data and artificial intelligence (AI), which requires increasingly complicated data infrastructures. Collecting and storing large volumes of data involves a lot of work.

Database management has traditionally been handled by Database Administrators and other IT professionals. Yet, many IT departments now hire dedicated Data Engineers to deal with their complex database needs. Data Engineers specialize in the design and maintenance of large databases and related systems.

As with many IT jobs, working as a Data Engineer comes with a variety of job duties and specific educational requirements. Here is what you should know about this career.

What they do

Data Engineers design and maintain data infrastructures for organizations. They manage the databases, data centers, and data pipelines used to store and share data.

Create and Manage Databases

Data Engineers create and manage databases for storing large amounts of information. The systems that they develop are often much more complex compared to the basic databases used for website administration or customer relationship management (CRM) software.

Data Engineers need to evaluate the type of data that needs to be collected, including the volume of data and all the sources of the information. They also identify the systems that need to access the data, such as analytics software.

After evaluating the requirements of the data infrastructure, the Data Engineer begins planning the pipelines needed to connect different data sources. Implementing a new data system may also require the installation of physical equipment, such as additional routers and cables, which is carried out by other IT staff to the specifications outlined by the Data Engineer.

Develop Tools to Process Data

Data Engineers often develop the tools used to collect, clean, and convert data. They first need to collect the data, which may involve the use of computer scripts written by a Data Engineer.

The collected data needs to be cleansed and validated before using it for analytical purposes. Data Engineers use multiple steps to detect data issues, including duplicate entries, incomplete data, and corrupted data.

After cleansing the data, Data Engineers may need to convert it to another format. For example, a Data Engineer may obtain raw data from an email marketing tool and convert it to a usable format for analytics software.

Maintain Compliance with Security Policies

Data Engineers need to follow policies when collecting and using specific types of data. For example, the collection of sensitive customer information needs to comply with various government policies. Organizations may also develop in-house data security procedures.

Collaborate with Other IT Professionals

Data Engineers involved in big data analytics often work with Data Scientists to develop systems for handling large volumes of data. The Data Scientists are typically responsible for choosing data sources while the Data Engineers determine the most efficient way to collect the data.

Data Engineers also work with Database Administrators. The Database Administrators create the databases designed by the Data Engineer and may continue to monitor the database.

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What is the job like


Versatile and Challenging Work

The work completed by a Data Engineer is often versatile and challenging, which keeps the job from becoming boring and stale. Data Engineers frequently work on different projects and may even work in different industries.

You Get to Help Business Make Better Decisions

Data Engineers help businesses by collecting data and making it more accessible. The data managed by a Data Engineer may help businesses increase efficiency, reduce costs, or deliver better products or services.

Increased Job Opportunities

Data Engineers are needed across the world and in a wide range of sectors, providing an endless list of job opportunities.

Peaceful Work Environment

Data Engineers typically work in comfortable settings with minimal noise and disruptions.


Limited Interaction with Coworkers

Data Engineers need to collaborate with other IT professionals but spend a large portion of their workday with minimal interaction.

Designs Do Not Always Work as Planned

Data Engineers occasionally need to deal with designs that do not provide satisfactory results, requiring them to go back and find areas for improvement.

Where they work

IT industry
Financial industry
State or Federal Government
Tech companies

The information technology (IT) industry is the largest employer of Data Engineers, with many people in this field working in Silicon Valley. Data Engineers also work in the financial industry, working for commercial banks, investment banks, and other large financial organizations. IT service providers also use Data Engineers to assist with the design of data infrastructures for clients. Data Engineers may also find employment with the state or federal government.

How to become one

Step 1: Study Computers and Math in High School

Aspiring Data Engineers should study computers and math in high school, as most of the college education will revolve around these two topics. Data Engineers need to understand mathematical equations and formulas to develop algorithms for collecting and cleansing data.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

A Bachelor’s Degree is typically the minimum educational requirement for Data Engineers. The most common majors include Computer Science, Math, Analytics, and Data Science.

Step 3: Study Programming and Software Development

Data Engineers often start as Software Engineers, which requires knowledge of programming and software development. Aspiring Data Engineers can take Programming and Software Development courses during college. Some of the programming languages that Data Engineers must learn include SQL, Python, and C+. Data Engineers also learn how to use the latest technologies, including AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud Platform.

Step 4: Obtain an Entry-Level IT Job

Data Engineers typically need at least a few years of IT experience. Look for entry-level jobs in the IT field, such as Database Administrator and Software Engineer.

Step 5: Obtain Professional Certifications

Data Engineers often obtain voluntary certifications to demonstrate their skills and knowledge. Certifications from IBM, Cloudera, Microsoft, and Oracle are common for Data Engineers.

Step 6: Apply for Data Engineer Positions

After obtaining several years of experience and professional certifications, start applying for Data Engineer positions. Aspiring Data Engineers who do not find work quickly may want to focus their job search on small companies with limited data infrastructure needs to gain more experience.

Should you become one

Best personality type for this career

The Thinker

People with this personality likes to work with ideas that require an extensive amount of thinking. They prefer work that requires them to solve problems mentally.

You can read more about these career personality types here.

Data Engineers need to be patient, as they need to take the time to carefully plan data pipelines when designing new systems. Data Engineers should also be detail-oriented, due to the complexity of the operations that they need to complete. Good problem-solving skills are also useful, as Data Engineers frequently need to find solutions to problems when testing data systems. Successful Data Engineers are often logical individuals, as designing and implementing a data infrastructure involves many components.

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