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How to Become a Data Engineer

The tech world expands as data science keeps changing and data scientists keep innovating. Data is no longer stored in a single database as it used to be, so there is a need for several professionals to manage this data, including data engineers. Data engineers design, test, maintain, and manage data so that other scientists can carry out research and analysis.

This cycle creates a need for more data engineers in the industry. There are several job opportunities for professionals in the data engineering field. This article will explain how to become a data engineer, the job requirements, several career options, learning paths, and relevant skills.

What Is a Data Engineer?

A data engineer is in charge of designing and building systems for data collection, storage, and analysis. They design data pipelines that transform and transport data from various sources to a storage system and then to a data warehouse. These pipelines enable raw data to be converted into a format that can be interpreted and used to make decisions.

Data engineers enable data scientists to process and channel data so that it can be easily accessed and analyzed. They do this with various tools to improve the quality, reliability, and efficiency of data.

Data Engineer Job Description

The job of a data engineer is to implement methods to improve data accessibility, security, reliability, and quality. They collect data from different sources, organize the storage process, and create consistent and machine-readable formats.

They have in-depth knowledge of database solutions and use several tools and techniques like Python, Java, and R to construct frameworks that put information into a usable format for data scientists. The main responsibility of a data engineer is to collect data and make it accessible to data scientists and usable for making business decisions.

Data Engineer Salary and Job Outlook

Data engineers are now in high demand in the industry and more people are transitioning into the field. According to research conducted by Dice, a platform for people in tech careers, data engineer is the fastest-growing tech occupation, ahead of the backend developer and senior data scientist job roles.

According to PayScale, the median salary of a data engineer is about $92,503, with an entry-level data engineer earning around $77,257. This makes the career very promising, and it will only get more lucrative as the demand for these experts increases.

Top Reasons to Become a Data Engineer in 2021

There are several reasons to become a data engineer, with the most popular being the high salary rate. The career is in high demand and there is a wide range of job opportunities available in the field.

  • High demand. The demand for data engineers increases as technology grows. There is a high demand for data engineers in a variety of industries and not just tech.
  • High salary potential. Both ends of the salary range are high compared to what you can earn in most professions. According to PayScale, the median salary is $92,503, and most data engineers earn between $65,000 and $132,000 per year.
  • Ample room for lateral movement within the industry. As a trained data engineer, you won’t be limited to a single type of job opportunity. You can take your data engineering skills and apply them elsewhere. Whether you want to become a big data engineer or a database management expert, you’ll have the freedom to move.
  • Low competition for jobs. The competition in the field is low because there is a high demand for data engineers. If you acquire the right skills, you’re likely to find a job opening.

Data Engineer Job Requirements

To become a professional data engineer, you need to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field like computer science, computer engineering, or systems engineering. Below is a summary of all the requirements needed to become a data engineer.

  • Bachelor’s degree. To start a career as a data engineer, you need to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in any relevant field.
  • Programming experience. Data engineers need to have programming knowledge in languages relevant to them like R, SQL, Python, and C++.
  • Certifications. Many employers value candidates with certifications. This helps you stand out and showcase your data engineering skills.
  • Job experience. To have an advantage over the competition, it is recommended that you get real-world experience to demonstrate your skills by applying for internship opportunities.

Types of Data Engineer Careers

There are several career paths for a data engineer to choose from. You can become a data architect, a junior data engineer, a big data engineer, or a lead data engineer, to name a few.

Data Architect

Data architects collaborate with database administrators to build and maintain a company's database. They develop database solutions, assess requirements, and write design reports.

Junior Data Engineer

Junior data engineers primarily work on fixing bugs and other small engineering tasks. They do not get to build database systems. They typically work on maintenance under the supervision of a senior data engineer.

Senior Data Engineer

Senior data engineers are more involved in the creation and maintenance of data collection systems and pipelines. They act as managers, supervising junior engineers and assigning projects.

Data Engineer Meaning: What Does a Data Engineer Do?

Data engineers are responsible for designing, organizing, and maintaining data systems. They also keep an eye on business trends to help companies make informed decisions and improve business operations. Below is a breakdown of the main tasks a data engineer performs.

Designs Data Architecture

Data engineers handle the design of the data architecture of an organization’s data platform. This also involves organizing the data.

Maintains and Tests Data Pipelines

These professionals are also in charge of the maintenance and testing of the data platform. This testing is done to ensure that the data delivers reliable information for data scientists.

Deploys Machine Learning Models

While data scientists are the ones who design machine learning models, data engineers have to deploy these models into production environments.

Essential Data Engineer Skills

Certain skills are key for a data engineer to have. They should have soft skills like communication, critical thinking, and the ability to solve problems. Most importantly, they need technical skills like programming languages, knowledge of databases, and an understanding of cloud computing concepts.

Programming Skills

Learning programming languages like R, Python, SQL, C++, and others is essential for data engineers. These professionals work with these languages to design data platforms.


Knowledge of both SQL and NoSQL-based databases is a key skill for data engineers. This is because database management is vital to their daily responsibilities.

Cloud Computing

Many businesses are trading their physical servers for cloud services. As a result, understanding cloud storage and computing is critical.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Data Engineer?

It could take anywhere from a couple of months to several years to become a data engineer. It depends on the educational path you choose. You have the option of going to college for an undergraduate degree for four years or attending a coding bootcamp for a couple of weeks.

Bachelor’s degrees at any university will take about four years to complete regardless of the program. In some schools, it could take more. Coding bootcamps typically last anywhere from eight weeks to nine months depending on the school and learning format you choose.

Can a Coding Bootcamp Help Me Become a Data Engineer?

Yes, a coding bootcamp can help you become a data engineer. Bootcamps are designed to help you start a career in a technology field. Coding bootcamps like Flatiron School, Springboard, Udacity, Fullstack Academy, and Clarusway offer data engineering programs.

These coding bootcamps offer more than just academic training. They also equip their students with in-demand skills to land jobs after completion of the program. Most bootcamps also provide their students with financing options to make tuition more affordable. Career services may also be provided to help you find a job after the program.

Can I Become a Data Engineer from Home?

You can become a data engineer from home if you enroll in an online bootcamp or online degree program. They tend to offer the same education as their in-person counterparts.

How to Become a Data Engineer: A Step-by-Step Guide

To become a data engineer, there are certain steps that you should take to ensure success.

Step 1: Get a Degree or Attend a Bootcamp

You either need to get a bachelor’s degree in a data-related field or enroll in a coding bootcamp. Because the data engineering profession is booming, you stand a decent chance of getting a job without a formal college education.

Step 2: Get Work Experience

Most high-profile data engineering jobs require candidates to have job experience. One way to earn this experience is by applying for internship or apprenticeship roles in companies that interest you.

Step 3: Build a Portfolio

An impressive portfolio will showcase your skills to potential employers and give you an advantage in the job market.

Step 4: Get Certified

Certifications are important as a data engineer because they show the employer that you are capable, proactive, and have the required skills.

Step 5: Apply for Entry-Level Jobs

After gaining the necessary skills, knowledge, and experience, you can begin applying for jobs. You can apply for entry-level positions to boost your chances.

Best Schools and Education for a Data Engineer Career

There are different educational paths to become a data engineer. You can learn through applying for undergraduate programs in IT- and engineering-related fields. You can also attend a bootcamp, vocational school, or community college.

Data Engineer Bootcamps

Some data engineer bootcamps include Flatiron School, DevMountain, Clarusway, Springboard, and Fullstack Academy. These schools offer data engineering programs to equip students with the technical and soft skills needed to start a career. Their intensive training programs are an affordable alternative to college.

Vocational School

Vocational schools offer technical training in specific fields to prepare students for a career. They offer training in programs like home economics, agriculture, business management, and computer technology. These programs take about two years, but some programs require prior education before you can apply for them.

Community College

Community colleges are two-year postsecondary schools that offer students both academic and professional training. Students can either obtain a professional certificate or earn an associate degree and transfer to a university. It is an affordable option for those who cannot afford the full cost of a four-year college. They are only available to students with a high school diploma.

Data Engineer Degrees

If you choose to attend a traditional four-year university, enroll in courses that teach computer science, computer engineering, data engineering, systems engineering, mathematics, statistics, or other IT-related fields.

After completing your undergraduate degree, you can earn an advanced degree and take harder courses within the same field. A bachelor’s program takes about four years to complete while a master’s degree may take a year to three years depending on the program and school.

The Most Important Data Engineer Certifications

Getting certified helps you stand out in the job market. Employers place a high value on these certifications. They prove that you are equipped to work in the field and have the skills necessary to do so. Some certifications are more valuable than others. Below are some of the most important data engineer certificates.

Cloudera Certified Professional (CCP) - Data Engineer

This certification is designed to show a candidate’s ability to perform core tasks in understanding, transforming, storing, and analyzing data. To earn this certification, candidates have to pass an exam that includes questions with technical solutions.

DASCA Associate Big Data Engineer (ABDE)

This Data Science Council of America (DASCA) certification validates a candidate's knowledge of big data platforms as well as proprietary and open source developer tools. To get your ABDE certification, you must pass an online examination. The certification has three candidacy tracks depending on your level of education and work experience.

AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty

This certifies a candidate’s technical skills and experience in Amazon Web Services (AWS). Candidates must understand the importance of AWS data analytics services throughout the data life cycle, from collection to storage to processing to visualization.

How to Prepare for Your Data Engineer Job Interview

To prepare for a data engineer interview, you need to prepare to answer technical, philosophical, and behavioral questions. These are used to test whether you have the skills, knowledge, and experience to do the job. Below are some practice questions.

Data Engineer Job Interview Practice Questions

  • Which programming languages are you fluent in?
  • What skills do you think are the most important for data engineers?
  • What’s the most significant challenge you have overcome as a data engineer?
  • What experience do you have with data modeling?
  • Tell us about a time your work made a positive impact on the company you worked for.

Should I Become a Data Engineer in 2021?

If you like creating things from scratch and solving complex issues, then you should become a data engineer. It is the perfect career for anyone who has a background in mathematics, sciences, and IT, and who wants to advance in the field. Data engineering is very profitable and has many opportunities for growth. The career is in high demand in many industries.


Can You Become a Data Engineer Without a Degree?
You can become a data engineer without a degree if you learn through a coding bootcamp or other alternative educational paths. However, it is recommended that you earn a bachelor’s degree to start a career as a data engineer.
Is It Hard to Become a Data Engineer?
It is not hard to become a data engineer if you follow the necessary steps and are willing to put in the work for it. Even if you aren’t confident about your STEM skills, you can feel good about the many ways there are to train for a data engineering role, and about the high number of jobs available once you’ve met the qualifications.
What Does a Data Engineer Do?
A data engineer is in charge of organizing and storing data from various sources. Their job is to find and analyze patterns in large datasets. It is their responsibility to ensure that data scientists can easily access and comprehend the data to make better decisions.
What Are the Skills Required for a Data Engineer?
A data engineer is required to have programming skills, database skills, cloud computing skills, Hadoop skills, communication skills, critical thinking skills, machine learning skills, data visualization skills, and others.
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