Data, data, and more data: business is all about data these days! Data processing has evolved from a mere support function into a central business process. Thanks to big data and analytics, entire business models are now built on a foundation of digital data, e.g., through data-driven customer centricity that simply wasn’t possible before.
However, in order for the exponentially growing wealth of information to be used appropriately, the accumulating volume of data must first be put into the right format. This is the job of the data engineer, an exciting IT role at one of the most crucial junctures of digitalisation. But what exactly does a data engineer do? In this blog post, we explain the job description, training opportunities and earnings potential.
What does a data engineer do?
As a data engineer, you ensure that all data is collected, filtered, processed, and formatted correctly. In other words, you put the data into a format that enables other company departments to work with it. Nowadays, as we know, more and more digital information is accumulating from all kinds of sources – from user behaviour on websites and order history to real-time information from supply chains. Yet in order for data scientists, data analysts and other experts in a company to consume, analyse and use this data, it must first be prepared and structured.
This is because the data often has inconsistent formats due to the wide variety of sources. Much of the data is unstructured, e.g., as natural language text. In addition, the heterogenous data must be equally usable for different software. To do this, a data engineer sets up pipelines to collect the data and then makes it available to users on a standardised platform. In short, the data engineer follows the ETL process – extracting, transforming, and loading the data.
As a data engineer, you have to consider a whole series of criteria, ensuring sufficient data quality, quantity, and availability. Cyber security and data protection are further essential aspects when controlling data flows and hardware interfaces. In order to cope with the growing data volumes, data engineers also seek to automate as much of the workflow as possible using advanced approaches and powerful stacks.
Moreover, data engineers shape the storage of data. They model databases and manage data warehouses where big data is held for processing. To do this, engineers rely on a whole range of innovative techniques and tools, such as ETL tools, databases, cloud technology, and big data tools.
What salary does a data engineer earn?
Working as a data engineer opens up excellent earnings opportunities. As an entry-level employee, you can expect to earn around 50,000 euros per annum. With professional experience, this figure can often rise to 70,000 euros. However, depending on the role and company, you may be able to earn a significantly higher salary.
How do you become a data engineer?
Data engineers play a crucial role in the engine room of digitalisation, but there is not (yet) a specialised degree programme for this forward-looking profession. A degree in computer science, business informatics or computer technology would provide a solid foundation. What’s more, mathematics or a mathematical background are generally very helpful on the way to becoming a data engineer. In some cases, specialised training in IT technology is also available, for example, as an "IT specialist for data and process analytics" (since 2020).
You can hone the necessary expertise by attending special courses offered for the field. In general, as a data engineer, it’s important that you have a strong technical interest in interfaces and data analytics, as well as a sound knowledge of programming languages such as Python. Your primary IT focus will be in the areas of programming, scripting, data processing, and software engineering, which will require other skills as well. For example, you have to be familiar with cloud applications, IT infrastructure and DataOps. On the other hand, business acumen is not as crucial for data engineers, as the role is more technical in its nature.
Tips for finding a job as a data engineer
As a data engineer, you have excellent prospects on the job market. This is a comparatively new job role that is in high demand. And this demand is spread across all industries, as professional data preparation is fundamental in just about every sector in today’s digital era. Accordingly, data engineers have a wide range of jobs, companies, and sectors to choose from – including industrial, consumer goods manufacturers and the public sector.
However, it is vital that you read the job ads thoroughly and also bear related positions in mind. Sometimes job ads are worded incorrectly, e.g., it may say they want a data scientist, when actually what they mean is a data engineer. Data scientists work at later stages in the data cycle and more closely to business functions. Job ads are also occasionally published under the heading “Data analyst” and “Data architect”, which are actually geared more towards data engineering skills.
That’s why it’s worth reading the ads carefully and asking questions, if necessary, otherwise you run the risk of becoming frustrated or causing misunderstandings. It’s best to use a specialised portal for IT talent when looking for a job – such as the Experis portal, the jobs professional for the IT labour market. In addition to job vacancies, you will also find the Experis Career Accelerator training programme.