Data scientists get a lot of press these days, and it’s not without good reason. Companies live and die by data and decisions are made with the high visibility work that data scientists and analysts do. But these ‘front-end’ data professionals have a secret… Their job is infinitely more difficult without a data engineer in the background.
According to CIO Magazine, data engineers are responsible for making raw data more useful to the enterprise. The role requires a broad set of technical skills alongside the ability to communicate across departments that allow the data engineer to understand what business leaders want to gain from the company’s large data sets. It’s a divergent set of required skills that has led to data engineering becoming lucrative and rewarding work, with lots of opportunity.
But it’s a role that’s largely behind the scenes and still emerging. In this Year of the Data Engineer, we decided Valentine’s Day was the perfect time to wax poetic on the ways data engineers so richly deserve the same love and adoration as their data science counterparts. Without further ado, here are 3 reasons to love your data engineer…
1. Data engineers let data scientists focus on their real job.
Data scientists and analysts’ primary role is to uncover meaning from large amounts of data. But large amounts of data require an enormous amount of preparation. Without a data engineer, data scientists can spend up to 50% of their time collecting, cleaning, and organizing data sets. While that’s down from the 70-80% of previous years, it’s still too much as the least favorite part of a data scientist’s job. And though it’s mission-critical, it’s tangential to their goal of delivering insights.
Data engineers have the ability to take that percentage down to zero, by providing self-service data on-demand. They understand why their business analysts and data scientists need data and how to build data pipelines that deliver the right data, in the right format, to the right place. They encourage collaboration and reusable fragments and templates to keep data access from becoming a bottleneck to their work. The best data engineers are able to anticipate the needs of the business, track the rise of new technologies, and maintain a complex and evolving data infrastructure. Which leads us to the second reason those ‘in the know’ love data engineers.
2. Data engineers set the foundation for growth.
Today’s organizations are built on a foundation of data. Customer data, product data, employee data, network data, and more, are used countless times a day across an organization, for decisions big and small. It’s the data engineer’s job to operate a data infrastructure that will not only scale along with the growth of the organization, but actually help drive that growth. The foundation built by a data engineer helps drive growth by allowing organizations to make faster, more accurate decisions that keep them competitive.
How do data engineers build a foundation that helps drive growth? They have an extremely broad skillset to draw from.
- Start with a software engineering background. Like software engineers, data engineers need to think full life cycle as they build their data infrastructure. Understanding the impact and potential repercussions of any new piece of the ecosystem, at every stage of that life cycle as data flows through multiple systems, is essential. As O’Reilly says, “a data engineer is someone who has specialized their skills in creating software solutions around big data.”
- Gotta be super technical in a lot of areas. This means understanding at least one programming language, usually Python, but others like Scala, Java, and Ruby are being requested with increasing frequency. Data engineers also need to understand the data processing layer (Apache Spark, MapReduce, etc) and data storage technologies (SQL, AWS Redshift, MongoDB). Finally, data engineering cloud platforms like AWS, Google Cloud Platform, and Azure are must-haves, along with the ability to work with Rest APIs.
- Don’t forget excellent communication skills to understand business requirements. As the function in between the data and its analysis, data engineers are in the unique position of needing to understand…everything. They need to understand everything about the data, where it is, what format it’s in, etc. And they also need to understand the business side of the equation so they can deliver the right data to the right place. Excellent communication and business comprehension skills allow them to pull all those impressive technical insights together to create a comprehensive solution that works to keep data flowing for growth and business innovation.
3. Data engineers keep data flowing for business innovation.
One of the main jobs of a data engineer is to build data pipelines, a major component of the data infrastructure data engineers create. Data pipelines transform raw data into ready data for analytics, applications, machine learning and AI systems. They keep data flowing to solve problems and inform decisions. Data pipelines can:
- Expand your cloud presence and migrate data to cloud platforms.
- Deliver real-time analytics with streaming data that keeps your business competitive.
- Enable self-service across ETL developers and data scientists; people with brilliant ideas in your organization can begin testing their ideas, fail fast, and move on to discover the next innovation.
The right data pipelines are key to keeping data flowing for business innovation. In fact, a skilled data engineer with the right easy to start, easy to extend data engineering platform can support 10s of ETL developers who, in turn, enable 100s of data scientists. This kind of agility and scale leads to the type of innovation IBM, Availity, and Shell are seeing using smart data pipelines.
Focus, Growth, and Innovation
Engineers are known for their technical acumen and in that arena, data engineers are top-notch. But their role goes so far beyond building technical solutions. Like the civil engineer who plans the critical, central infrastructure that will allow a city to grow around it, data engineers carefully plan their data infrastructure for the flexibility, innovation, and growth of the company. In doing so, they allow data to get to the business faster and more reliably—even continuously with the right tools. Data engineers give colleagues the gift of focusing on their jobs and give the business the opportunity to innovate and grow. This Valentine’s Day, go ahead and show them some love back!