How to Become an Excellent Data Engineer in 2023

Posted on

man in a suit looking at a computer screen

Data engineers play a critical role in the tech industry. They are the ones who create, optimize, and maintain data pipelines and architecture, without which a company couldn’t function. This career is always in demand because the need for highly-skilled individuals capable of performing such specialized tasks continues to grow as technology advances. 

Becoming a data engineer isn’t easy because this is a profession that requires a mastery of complex technical knowledge. Still, anyone could enter this profession with the right training, skills, and mindset.

So, if you have a general knowledge of code or technology and want to know what it takes to become a data engineer, then you’re in the right place. Let’s review what a data engineer does, the skills needed to succeed in this role, and how to enter this profession.

What Is a Data Engineer?

A data engineer serves a very unique role. These highly-skilled professionals are the ones who construct, design, optimize, test, and maintain data pipelines and architecture. Essentially, they’re the ones who create and manage the infrastructure that holds data. 

Data engineers are also tasked with ensuring the data that’s stored is ready for analysis by other professionals such as data analysts and data scientists. They ensure proper formatting, scaling, security, and resilience.

The responsibilities of a data engineer can vary depending on the role they’re hired into, but some of the tasks they’re expected to perform include the following:

  • Construct, design, optimize, test, and maintain data pipelines and architecture
  • Gather data from multiple places and organize it into an easily accessible place for analysis
  • Identify and implement ways to improve the data’s quality, efficiency, and reliability
  • Write automation scripts to handle repetitive tasks
  • Work closely with data analysts and data scientists

As you can see, the role of a data engineer is very technical. Becoming proficient in this position means solid mastery of multiple hard and soft skills.

Related: Data Engineering vs. Data Science: What’s the Difference?

What Skills Does A Data Engineer Need?

two people looking at a computer

There are two main categories a data engineer’s skill sets need to fall into. They must have solid hard or technical skills and strong soft or personal/interpersonal skills. Some of these skills can be taught, but many of the personal/interpersonal skills depend on your personality. 

Hard Skills

Mastering a variety of hard skills is essential for data engineers. The primary hard skill data engineers need to have a firm grasp on is the ability to write and understand different programming languages. Python, JavaScript, and C++ are all common program languages used by data engineers.

You’ll also need a solid understanding of how to use different operating systems and tools for data processing, data collection, data storage, and more. Some skills with data visualization software and a basic understanding of machine learning are also needed for this role.

Related: How Long Does It Take To Learn JavaScript?

Soft Skills

While data engineering is a very technical role, there are still plenty of soft skills needed to be successful. You may be working with or leading a team, so proper communication and leadership skills are necessary. It’s also helpful for data engineers to have excellent time management, patience, and stress management.

How Much Do Data Engineers Make?

The earning potential for data engineers is very high. Entry-level data engineers generally start with an annual salary of about $60,000, but those in senior positions could make upwards of $95,000. 

The amount you make will largely depend on your experience level and geographical location. A data engineer in Silicon Valley, California, will make far more than someone in a small town in Mississippi. 

Data engineers have the potential to make as much as they want in this position, regardless of where they live. Data engineers can work remotely or as freelancers, so their earning potential doesn’t have to be restricted by where they live.

How To Become A Data Engineer?

a professor teaching a online course

Now that you have a firm understanding of what a data engineer is, their responsibilities, and the skills needed to perform well in this role, it’s time to discuss how you can break into this profession. Data engineers are highly-skilled professionals that are vital to the operation of any business or company, so finding a job once you have the proper training and experience should be relatively straightforward.

Step #1 Choose Your Learning Path

The hard skills a data engineer needs are too complex to be self-taught. Many people might start on this career path by teaching themselves the basics of coding and various programming languages. Still, in order to gain the knowledge necessary for this role, you’ll need to pursue further education.

Many data engineers started by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in data science, information technology, software development, or data analytics. Very few colleges offer a program specifically in data engineering, so after obtaining a bachelor’s and getting some work experience, most return to college to get their master’s degree in data science.

Getting a college degree is an excellent option because it will look great on your resume, prepare you for the workforce, and teach you everything you need to know. However, it’s time-consuming and expensive, which is why the next option has become so popular.

Coding bootcamps are a great way to kickstart your data engineering career. They usually offer a data science course, which only takes 4-6 months to complete. Coding bootcamps are a far less expensive option than college, and they often come with additional benefits such as special payment plans, resume preparation, and significant networking opportunities. 

Step #2 Build A Portfolio

While you’re going through your education, you should be thinking about how to build up a portfolio. Portfolios showcase your best work, so future employers see your skills and capabilities. Having a solid portfolio can put you ahead of other applicants and give you the opportunity to practice your skills through other avenues, such as internships or freelance work.

Step #3 Gain Experience

The final step to becoming a data engineer is to gain some experience. This could mean immediately moving into an entry-level job once you finish your education, but there are other paths you could take as well.

This would be an excellent time to take on an internship, volunteer your services to a non-profit organization, or set up your own website and try your hand at freelancing work. Gaining experience in this way will help you build up your portfolio, gather recommendations, and experience what life as a data engineer will look like. 

After gaining experience, you should be able to apply for jobs in your field without issue. The application process can be difficult, but having a portfolio and plenty of relevant experience will help you stand out and increase your chances of being hired for a position you want.

Related: How to Become an Excellent Data Engineer in 2023

Kickstart Your Career With Coding Bootcamp

Deciding to become a data engineer is an exciting time. Plenty of avenues are open to you, and if you don’t want to wait several years to get a degree, then attending a coding bootcamp can be an excellent way to kickstart your career. These short, intensive courses will give you the knowledge and tools necessary to start your career and become a successful data engineer.