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How Do You Become a Data Engineer?

How Do You Become a Data Engineer?

time-clock min read
calendar12 July 2023

We look at the career pathway to a rewarding role in data engineering. 

Data has been one of the fastest-growing areas in the digital marketplace over recent years. As the sector matures and diversifies, specialist roles are becoming ever more important – our 2020 Salary Survey found that demand for data scientists and engineers has risen 231% over the last 5 years. Data engineering is an exciting and rapidly expanding niche that is attracting some of the best talent around. Responsible for building and maintaining the infrastructure around large pools of data, experienced data engineers are in high demand and command impressive salaries. 

Looking to pursue a career in this field? Explore our guide below and discover the skills and experience you need to achieve your goals.

What is a data engineer? 

A data engineer builds, maintains, tests, and updates systems designed by a data architect to hold large amounts of data. Responsible for regularly dealing with petabytes or even exabytes of data, they are often also involved in the designing of the warehouse solutions they construct. Aside from building large data processing systems, data engineers offer expertise in data warehousing solutions and should be confident working with unstructured (NoSQL) database technologies and a wide variety of open-source tools. They support data scientists and analysts by providing easy access to the information they need to compile their data sets. 

What qualifications do I need to become a data engineer? 

To become a data engineer, ideally you would have a strong foundation in computer science. Potentially, a bachelor's degree in a numerical field, such as mathematics, science or computer programming, is a strong place to start for aspiring data engineers. This should be supplemented by further study to expand your knowledge on algorithms, data structures, and databases. This can be achieved through professional programming qualifications from a variety of providers, including various coding bootcamps and official accreditation through online courses. Key areas of learning for a potential data engineer are: 

Strong coding skills – in one of the following: Python, Scala or Java 

Good knowledge of SQL (Structured Query Language) – a key tool for all data professionals 

A good understanding of both structured and unstructured databases

Ideally, some exposure to one of the following cloud solution platforms (GCP - Google Cloud Platform, AWS - Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure) 

What experience do I need to be a data engineer? 

Most data engineers start their careers in junior or entry-level data engineering roles, growing their skills and experience over time through a variety of different fields within data, such as business intelligence, data development, data warehouse development and software engineering. This is a highly technical job, and it’s impossible to build all of the potential skills you need before entering the workplace. For ambitious candidates, obtaining a wide breadth of experience while continuing to develop their own professional skills is the best way to advance quickly.  

What remuneration can I expect to achieve? 

Data engineers are highly sought after as we rapidly advance our data knowledge and capability. Those with significant experience can command impressive salaries. Our 2020 Salary Survey found that data engineers are earning an average salary of £70,750. In contract roles, a senior data engineer can command a day rate of £700.

Looking to grow your data engineering career? Visit our data sector recruitment page to find available roles or connect with one of our expert consultants. Or explore the latest Xcede Salary Survey to discover more about this dynamic sector.