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Data Engineer Career Guide

How to Become a Data Engineer

As data-driven technology and machine learning begin to play a more vital role in everyday life, specialists such as data engineers are in high demand. 

Data collection and analysis are vital for a variety of purposes, including internet marketing, medical services, smart homes, and self-driving cars. An almost incalculable number of bytes of information gets collected every day, and someone needs to make sense of it all. Data engineers are a vital part of this process.

Though data and artificial intelligence-related careers are challenging and competitive, the industry is rapidly growing and potentially lucrative for those interested in taking the steps to become a data engineer. 

Male programmer works at a dual monitor desktop.

What Is a Data Engineer?

A data engineer constructs information pipelines to get the right data from the best sources to the right people. They usually work with data scientists. In simple terms, they extract the data, transform it, and load it into a warehouse where it is accessible to experts. This is known as the ETL (extract, transform, load) process.

As an example, a data engineer might create an ETL process for a food ordering service. To work, the service will need to extract information from mobile apps, transform it into orders and payments, and load it so that the restaurants and delivery workers can deliver it to the customer. 

Such a system will collect lots of data, which means that different databases are needed to handle various kinds of information. These can include restaurant and user information, analytics, an order database with information about each transaction, and a customer service log with interactions between the app’s users and customer support agents.

A data engineer can work on a large development project or focus on a single aspect, such as creating a script that pulls data about user activity and organizes it so that marketing professionals can then use it to plan targeted offers. This job can also involve creating an interface that data scientists can use to access and organize the information. 

What Are the Job Duties of a Data Engineer?

The duties of each data engineer position can differ, but the jobs usually fall into three general categories:

Generalist data engineers

Generalist data engineers are more common in smaller companies with small teams. Sometimes, they might be both the data engineer and the data scientist.

Generalists usually handle the entire information pipeline from end to end. In some companies, however, the scope of the projects may be smaller, so they may have less work even though there are more responsibilities. 

Pipeline data engineers

A pipeline-centric data engineer is more common in mid-sized to large companies. Such organizations have more complex data needs. In this case, the pipeline-centric engineer works with the data science team to transform the company’s data into a form they can analyze. The engineer should have a deep knowledge of computer science to excel in this role.

Database data engineers

Database-centric data engineers are focused on setting up, inserting data into, and maintaining analytics databases. They work a little with pipelines, but most of their work has to do with creating the most useful databases and fine-tuning them for faster performance. 

Such engineers are most common in very large companies, where analytics databases have grown to the point where they need dedicated personnel to maintain them. This role involves a lot of highly specialized work, and therefore requires strong technical skills.

What Does a Data Engineer Do?

Data engineers have a wide range of responsibilities. Below are some of the most common ones:

  • They develop, construct, test, and maintain data pipelines.
  • They ensure that the architecture of the data pipelines is well-aligned with the business’s requirements.
  • They gather data from different sources and organize it in one place.
  • They develop algorithms to analyze the data and extract what is needed by the data scientists.
  • They write automation scripts to handle repetitive tasks.
  • Lead data engineers also play a managerial role, supervising their teams.
  • They regularly work with data scientists and upper management to understand the organization’s data needs and create relevant strategies.

These are only some of the roles played by a data engineer. Depending on where they work, they might even be responsible for analyzing the data, in which case they double as data scientists.

What Education Does a Data Engineer Need?

Given the knowledge demands of this role, data engineers need to have a strong educational background. Usually, you start on this career path with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, software engineering, information technology, or a related field.

You will also need extensive experience with different programming languages, such as Java and Python. Knowledge of relational database management systems and how to design and manage them is also necessary, especially if you plan on being a database-centric engineer. In that case, you will have to learn database querying languages, like SQL.

In some cases, you may wish to pursue a master's degree in data analytics in order to gain additional experience and a higher-level understanding of data management technology, techniques, and real-world applications.


Computer Science – B.S.

Problem solvers and math lovers needed! Your task: ...

Problem solvers and math lovers needed! Your...

Problem solvers and math lovers needed! Your task:

Lay the groundwork for the computing breakthroughs that will enable tomorrow's technologies. 

  • Time: 67% of graduates in similar programs finish within 30 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,985 per 6-month term.
  • Transfer: Your previous college coursework and existing certifications may waive course requirements, helping you finish even faster.

You'll have the opportunity to earn these certifications:

  • Linux Essentials
  • Axelos ITIL Foundation

Professionals who need the skills a computer science degree provides include computer systems analysts, computer programmers, artificial intelligence specialists, software engineers, machine learning engineers, and more.

Information Technology – B.S.

Award-winning coursework and value-add certifications make this...

Award-winning coursework and value-add...

Award-winning coursework and value-add certifications make this online program a top choice.

  • Time: 71% of graduates finish within 30 months.
  • Tuition: $3,625 per 6-month term.
  • Certifications: Includes AWS, ITIL, LPI and CompTIA.

The LPI Linux Essentials and ITIL® Foundation Certification are central to this program. Included CompTIA certifications are A+, Network+, Security+, and Project+.

Software Engineering – B.S.

You're a creative and tech genius who wants the bigger...

You're a creative and tech genius who wants the...

You're a creative and tech genius who wants the bigger opportunities.

  • Time: 70% of graduates finish similar programs within 40 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,985 per 6-month term.

Certifications included in this program at no additional cost are:

  • CompTIA Project +
  • AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner 
  • ITIL®1 Foundation Certification

There are a wide variety of job titles this degree program prepares students for, including:

  • Software Engineer
  • Application Analyst
  • Software Tester
  • Systems Analyst
  • Multimedia Programmer

Software engineers are in-demand across organizations in every industry. Secure your future with a degree and additional certifications.

Data Analytics – M.S.

Lead businesses with strong analysis skills:...

Lead businesses with strong analysis skills:...

Lead businesses with strong analysis skills:

  • Time: 72% of graduates finish within 18 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,055 per 6-month term.

Master data mining, visualization, and SQL—and lead analytics at the business of your choice.

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What Skills Does a Data Engineer Need?

A data engineer requires a wide variety of hard and soft skills to excel in their work:

  • Strong analytical skills: Data engineers work with complex data and systems, and they will have to solve complex problems regularly. Strong analytical skills are necessary to thrive in such an environment.
  • Attention to detail: When you’re working with large amounts of data, every piece matters. A data engineer should be able to pay attention to detail so they don’t miss anything.
  • Communication and collaboration: This is especially important if you work on a team. You will need to be able to work with others and communicate clearly.
  • Technical skills: These include coding, distributed systems, database design and administration, and other applied computer science skills. These abilities will come from your education.

The more skills and education you have, the more you could potentially earn as a data engineer.

How Much Does a Data Engineer Make?


According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, data engineers are in a larger category of database administrators. The median wage for this group was $99,890 as of May 2022. The top 10% earned over $155,660 while the lowest 10% earned less than $54,070. The exact wage is affected by several factors, including educational level (especially certifications), experience, the company hiring, and the location.

What Is the Projected Job Growth?


Data engineering is a strong field that is developing rapidly. According to the BLS, database administrator jobs are expected to grow by 10% between 2019 and 2029, which is faster than the national average for all jobs.

As the data needs for companies grow, there will be an increasing need for professionals who can work with that data. Third-party database-as-a-service companies will also likely develop to help fill the demand gap, increasing employment opportunities for skilled professionals.

Where Do Data Engineers Work?


Data engineers can be found in all sorts of places, though their focus on making systems for extracting, transforming, and loading data are similar in almost every setting:

Social media companies

Educational companies

Tech startups

Food ordering companies

Healthcare organizations

Government agencies

Given the pace of technological growth and adoption across multiple industries, data engineers are essential to any company to transform their data into a useful format.


Interested in Becoming a Data Engineer?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this lucrative career.

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