What is a Data Engineer?

Data engineers are responsible for building, maintaining and improving data infrastructure. They work closely with data scientists to build and maintain data pipelines, set up data storage solutions and optimize infrastructure for data processing. Data engineers can be considered "data stewards" in that they are often responsible for making sure that all data within an organization is well managed and accessible.

These individuals help organizations structure, aggregate, store and process big data sets so that teams can make smart business decisions.

Data engineers also design and implement scalable and secure databases across a company's infrastructure. They ensure that the business has access to the real-time information it needs to function on a day-to-day basis.

Data engineers are in charge of making sure that a company's automated systems run flawlessly 24/7. This requires them to create automated tests for their code, monitor system performance, troubleshoot issues and find solutions to problems as they arise.

Software vs Data Engineers

Data engineers are software engineers who work with data. They build the massive data pipelines that make it possible to derive insights from large sets of structured and unstructured data. It's not uncommon for data engineers to have a software engineer background or familiarity. Software engineers may be working with the data or use it to inform their decisions and projects, but data engineers are the people responsible for building the systems around data itself. They also build processes that make data continuously accessible.

What is the value of a data engineer?

Data engineers provide this access by building the architecture necessary to store, process and analyze data. Data engineers create the structures that allow for data processing and analysis, as well as design, construct, install and test these structures. Data engineers also optimize databases for speed and perform maintenance on existing databases.

Given that data engineers are often data stewards, any organization that is reliant on data to inform their decision making across several functions (i.e. marketing, engineering, product) will benefit greatly from having a data engineer who understands the needs of the business. Most people outside of data may have some familiarity with data itself, but likely don't understand it enough to manipulate or work with it in a meaningful way. This means that they're reliant on data experts like data engineers to serve them and set them up for success.

Data Engineer Job Description

According to Indeed.com, a typical data engineer job description will include:

  • Assembling large, complex sets of data that meet non-functional and functional business requirements
  • Identifying, designing and implementing internal process improvements including re-designing infrastructure for greater scalability, optimizing data delivery, and automating manual processes  
  • Building required infrastructure for optimal extraction, transformation and loading of data from various data sources using AWS and SQL technologies
  • Building analytical tools to utilize the data pipeline, providing actionable insight into key business performance metrics including operational efficiency and customer acquisition
  • Working with stakeholders including data, design, product and executive teams and assisting them with data-related technical issues
  • Working with stakeholders including the Executive, Product, Data and Design teams to support their data infrastructure needs while assisting with data-related technical issues