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Guide to becoming a Data Engineer

In this article, we explore the crucial role of data engineers, the unsung heroes of technology. They design data infrastructure for swift, secure transfer and decode data from various sources, shaping the digital landscape. Join us to demystify their work and delve into the world of data engineering.
How to become a Data Engineer


In today’s fast-paced, data-driven world, data engineers are like the wizards behind the digital curtain, making the magic of data happen. They might not wear capes, but they play a superhero role in the world of technology. You’re in the right place if you’ve ever been curious about the people who turn raw data into valuable insights and keep the data world spinning.

They’re the ones who build the highways data travels on, ensuring it gets from point A to point B swiftly and securely. Imagine all the data generated by your favorite apps, websites, and devices – data engineers are the ones making sense of it all.


The Surging Demand for Data Engineers

In recent years, there has been an unprecedented surge in the demand for data engineers. This surge can be attributed to the data explosion we’ve witnessed across industries. From e-commerce giants handling massive transactional data to healthcare providers managing patient records, data is at the core of decision-making processes.

Data engineers are in high demand because they are the backbone of any data-driven organization. They design the intricate pipelines that collect, process, and store data, ensuring it’s ready for analysis by data scientists and business analysts. As organizations increasingly rely on data to gain insights and maintain a competitive edge, the role of data engineers has become indispensable.


Unsung Heroes of the Data World

While data scientists or machine learning engineers often steal the limelight for their impressive data analysis and predictive modeling, data engineers work tirelessly behind the scenes, ensuring that the data is clean, organized, and accessible. They provide data scientists with the right tools and data sets to work their magic. They build the foundations upon which data-driven innovations and breakthroughs are made possible. Without their expertise, the data world would be chaotic and inaccessible.

As we venture deeper into this guide, we’ll uncover the secrets of what it takes to become a data engineer, the skills you’ll need, the educational pathways available, and the exciting career prospects that await those who choose this path. So, let’s dive in and discover the exciting world of data engineering together!


What is Data Engineering?

At its core, data engineering is the art and science of designing, building, and maintaining the infrastructure that enables data collection, storage, processing, and analysis. The behind-the-scenes work ensures data flows seamlessly from diverse sources to data consumers, such as data scientists, analysts, and decision-makers.


The Data Pipeline

Imagine data as a river flowing from various sources, including websites, sensors, mobile apps, and more. Data engineering constructs the essential channels and mechanisms to gather this information, like a dam collecting water. However, data engineering doesn’t stop at mere collection; it’s the process of refining, cleaning, and shaping the data to be valuable and ready for analysis. This data refinement phase is comparable to purifying water for consumption.

Data engineers build the pipelines that make data available, reliable, and easily accessible to those who need it. They use databases, data warehouses, and big data technologies to store and manage data efficiently. They design and implement Extract, Transform, Load (ETL) processes, which involve extracting data from various sources, transforming it into a standardized format, and loading it into data repositories. This process ensures that the data is consistent and ready for analysis.


Importance in the Data Pipeline

Data engineering is the foundation upon which data-driven decision-making rests. Without well-designed data pipelines, organizations would struggle to access and make sense of the vast amounts of data they generate. It ensures that data is not just a jumble of numbers and text but a valuable resource that can drive business insights and innovation.

Data engineering is the unsung hero that keeps the data world running smoothly. It empowers data scientists and analysts to focus on their core tasks—analyzing data and deriving meaningful insights—rather than dealing with data acquisition and preparation. As the volume and complexity of data continue to grow, the role of data engineering becomes increasingly crucial, making it an exciting and in-demand field for those who want to shape the data-driven future.

Now, let’s delve deeper into the educational requirements for aspiring data engineers.


Educational Requirements

As with most other technical careers, when it comes to becoming a data engineer, you can pursue various educational pathways depending on your background, preferences, and career goals. Let’s explore these paths, including traditional academic routes and the value of bootcamps and online courses.


Academic Paths

Bachelor’s Degree: Many data engineers begin their journey with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology, computer engineering, or a related field. These programs provide a strong foundation in computer systems, programming languages, and database management—all essential skills for a data engineer.


Master’s Degree: Some individuals choose to further their education by pursuing a master’s degree in data engineering, data science, or a related discipline. A master’s degree can provide in-depth knowledge of data systems and may open doors to more advanced roles in data engineering.


Mathematics and Statistics: While less common, some data engineers come from mathematics or statistics backgrounds. Strong quantitative skills are valuable in data engineering, particularly for understanding data patterns and trends.


Bootcamps and Online Courses

In addition to traditional academic paths, bootcamps and online courses have gained popularity among aspiring data engineers. Here’s why they can be valuable:


Practical Focus: Bootcamps and online courses are designed to be functional and job-oriented. They often focus on teaching you the specific skills and tools used in the industry, such as data warehousing, ETL processes, and big data technologies.


Shorter Duration: Unlike traditional degree programs that can take several years to complete, bootcamps and online courses are usually shorter, ranging from a few weeks to a few months. This means you can acquire relevant skills and enter the job market more quickly.


Flexibility: Online courses allow you to learn at your own pace and on your schedule. This flexibility is particularly beneficial for working professionals or individuals with other commitments.


Cost-Effective: Bootcamps and online courses are often more cost-effective than pursuing a full degree. They can provide a cost-efficient way to gain the skills needed for a data engineering career.


Specialized Training: Some bootcamps and online courses specialize in specific areas of data engineering, such as cloud-based data engineering using platforms like AWS or Azure. This specialization can make you highly marketable in niche areas of the field.


Choosing the Right Path

Your educational path depends on your background, resources, and career objectives. If you’re starting from scratch and want a well-rounded education, a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a relevant field may be the right choice. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more focused and expedited route into data engineering, bootcamps and online courses can provide practical skills quickly.

Ultimately, what matters most is not your path but your commitment to continuous learning and staying updated with the rapidly evolving data engineering landscape. As we progress in this guide, we’ll explore the specific skills you’ll need to excel in this field, regardless of your educational background.

Are you ready to take the next step toward a rewarding career in data engineering? If you’re looking to build a solid foundation in this field and gain practical skills, this is the perfect opportunity for you. Discover Le Wagon’s data engineering program and shape your future today.


Skills Necessary to Become a Data Engineer

Becoming a proficient data engineer requires a diverse skill set encompassing programming, data warehousing, ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) processes, big data technologies, and database management. Let’s delve into these areas to understand their significance in data engineering.


Programming Skills

Programming is the foundation of data engineering. As a data engineer, you must be comfortable with languages like Python, Java, Scala, or Ruby. These languages enable you to build data pipelines, automate processes, and work with various data processing frameworks.


Python: Python is particularly popular among data engineers due to its simplicity and versatility. It’s widely used for data manipulation, scripting, and integration with data tools and libraries like Pandas and NumPy.


Java and Scala: These languages are often chosen for building robust, scalable, high-performance data systems. They are commonly used in big data frameworks like Apache Spark.


Scripting Languages: Scripting languages like Bash or PowerShell are essential for automating routine tasks, managing data workflows, and orchestrating ETL processes.


Data Warehousing and ETL

Data warehousing and ETL are at the core of data engineering. These skills involve designing, constructing, and optimizing systems that collect, transform, and store data. There’s more and more overlap regarding the capabilities of various Data Warehouses and other data management technologies and tools like Data Lakes and Lakehouses.


Data Warehousing: Data engineers work with data warehousing technologies like Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery, Snowflake, and others to create centralized repositories for structured and semi-structured data. These warehouses provide a structured environment for efficient data storage and retrieval.


While not strictly in the same category, Databricks is also worth a mention as the premier Data Lakehouse provider (they also came up with the term!).


ETL Processes: ETL processes are the backbone of data engineering. They encompass extracting data from various sources, transforming it into a standardized format, and loading it into data warehouses or data lakes. ETL tools like Apache NiFi, Fivetran, Meltano, or custom Python scripts are used for these tasks.


Big Data Technologies

As data grows exponentially, data engineers need to be familiar with big data technologies that can efficiently handle large volumes of data. In recent years, there has been a change of guard around the world of “Big Data” – trailblazer technologies such as Hadoop and Pig seem to be on their way out, but their replacements are growing as strong as ever!

The two most prominent names in the space currently are both open-source tools under the management of the Apache Software Foundation:


Apache Spark: Spark is a powerful data processing engine known for its speed and versatility. It’s used for batch and real-time data processing and is compatible with multiple programming languages.


Apache Kafka: Kafka is a distributed streaming platform used for real-time data streaming and event processing. Data engineers often work with Kafka to capture and process streaming data.


SQL and NoSQL Databases

SQL is the lingua franca for handling data. It is the first query language every data engineer will learn, and mastering the underlying databases can give the engineer superpowers when it comes to query tuning and optimization or cost management.

Data engineers must be proficient in working with SQL (Structured Query Language) and NoSQL databases. These databases serve different purposes and are used to store and manage data efficiently.


SQL Databases: SQL databases like PostgreSQL, MySQL, and Microsoft SQL Server are crucial for managing structured data. They are used for tasks such as storing transaction records, customer data, and financial information.


SQL is the primary language for Data Warehouses we discussed above, but they are only sometimes limited to it! Pure-SQL operational databases, like PostgreSQL, are not primarily made for analytical workloads; they usually serve a more operational workload, such as being the backend storage for a web application.


NoSQL Databases: NoSQL databases like MongoDB, Cassandra, and Redis are designed to handle unstructured or semi-structured data. They are commonly used for flexible data models and horizontal scalability applications.


By mastering these skills, data engineers can effectively design and build data pipelines, ensuring that data is collected, processed, and made accessible for analysis. The ability to work with diverse programming languages, data storage systems, and big data technologies makes data engineers invaluable contributors to the data-driven success of organizations. In the following sections, we’ll explore the roles and responsibilities of data engineers and the certifications and continuing education opportunities that can further enhance your data engineering career.


Roles and Responsibilities

Data engineers are the data infrastructure architects and builders who power organizations’ data-driven decisions. Their roles and responsibilities are multifaceted, encompassing various tasks and projects. Let’s delve into the day-to-day tasks and long-term projects that data engineers may undertake.


Day-to-Day Tasks

Let’s take a look at what tasks make up a typical day for a data engineer!

Data Ingestion: Data engineers are responsible for collecting data from various sources, which can include databases, APIs, logs, streaming platforms, and external data providers. They create automated processes to extract this data efficiently.


Data Cleaning and Transformation: Raw data is rarely pristine. Data engineers clean and transform data to ensure its quality, consistency, and compatibility with the organization’s data model. This often involves dealing with missing values, duplicates, and data format issues.


ETL Processes: Data engineers design and manage ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) processes to move data from source to destination. They write code and scripts to extract data, apply transformations, and load it into data warehouses or data lakes.


Database Management: Data engineers are responsible for the administration and maintenance of databases, ensuring optimal performance, security, and scalability. This includes creating, updating, and optimizing database schemas.


Automation: Automation is a crucial aspect of a data engineer’s role. They develop scripts and workflows to automate data-related tasks, reducing manual effort and minimizing errors.


Data Security and Compliance: Data engineers are critical in ensuring data security and compliance with regulations like GDPR. They implement access controls, encryption, and auditing mechanisms to protect sensitive data.


Long-Term Projects

The job is not just about “fire-and-forget” type work – the flow of data never stops! Because of this, data engineers need to think long-term. The architecture has to be able to handle future scale, infrastructure outages, and new requirements!


Data Architecture Design: Data engineers are involved in designing the data architecture for an organization. This includes choosing the proper data storage technologies, defining data pipelines, and planning for scalability.


Scalability and Performance Optimization: As data volumes grow, data engineers work on optimizing data pipelines and databases to handle increasing loads efficiently. They may adopt distributed computing frameworks and technologies to achieve this.


Data Warehousing: Designing and maintaining data warehouses is a long-term project for many data engineers. They ensure that data warehousing solutions can store and deliver data for analytics and reporting.


Real-Time Data Processing: With the demand for real-time analytics, data engineers often work on projects involving real-time data streaming and processing using technologies like Apache Kafka and Apache Flink.


Collaboration with Data Scientists: Data engineers collaborate closely with data scientists to ensure they can access clean, well-structured data. They build data pipelines tailored to the specific needs of data science projects.


Cloud Migration: Many organizations are transitioning their data infrastructure to the cloud. Data engineers are pivotal in migrating data to cloud platforms like AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud.


Monitoring and Optimization: Data engineers continually monitor data pipelines and databases to identify bottlenecks, errors, or performance issues. They proactively address these issues to maintain data availability and reliability.


Data engineers are responsible for the entire data lifecycle, from acquisition and transformation to storage and delivery.

Their work ensures that data is not only accessible but also trustworthy and ready for analysis. As the data landscape evolves, data engineers must adapt and innovate to meet the ever-growing demands of data-driven organizations. In the following sections, we’ll explore certifications and continuing education options to help you stay at the forefront of this dynamic field.


Certifications and Continuing Education

In the dynamic field of data engineering, staying up-to-date with the latest technologies and best practices is crucial. Certifications and continuing education play a significant role in achieving this goal. Let’s explore some relevant certificates and the importance of continuous learning.



Google Data Engineer Certification: Offered by Google Cloud, this certification validates your skills in designing and building data processing systems, creating data pipelines, and ensuring data security on the Google Cloud Platform (GCP). It’s highly regarded in the industry, especially if you work with GCP.


Microsoft Certified: Azure Data Engineer: This certification from Microsoft demonstrates your expertise in designing and implementing data storage, data processing, and data security solutions on Azure. It covers various Azure data services and is valuable for data engineers working in Azure environments.


AWS Certified Data Analytics – Specialty: From Amazon Web Services (AWS), this certification focuses on data analytics, including data collection, storage, and processing. It suits data engineers working with AWS services and is recognized globally.


Databricks Certified Data Engineer: Databricks, a popular platform for big data analytics, offers a certification program that evaluates your skills in using Databricks to build data engineering pipelines and perform data analysis.


The Importance of Continuous Learning

Data engineering is a field that evolves rapidly. New technologies, tools, and best practices emerge regularly. Here’s why continuous learning is essential:


Staying Relevant: Technology evolves, and so should your skills. Continuous learning ensures you remain relevant in the job market and can adapt to changing data engineering landscapes.


Enhancing Expertise: Data engineering is a multifaceted discipline. Continuous education allows you to deepen your expertise in specific areas of interest, such as real-time data processing or cloud-based data engineering.


Remaining Competitive: In a competitive job market, certifications and ongoing education can give you an edge over other candidates. Employers often value professionals who invest in their skill development.


Meeting Industry Standards: Certifications often align with industry standards and best practices. Achieving certification demonstrates your commitment to adhering to these standards.


Problem Solving: Continuous learning exposes you to various data engineering challenges and solutions. This broadens your problem-solving skills and equips you to handle complex projects.


Networking Opportunities: Educational programs, webinars, and conferences provide opportunities to network with peers and industry experts. Networking can lead to collaborations and new career opportunities.


Remember that continuous learning doesn’t always require formal courses or certifications. Reading industry blogs, participating in online communities, attending conferences, and engaging in hands-on projects can also contribute to your growth as a data engineer.

In the rapidly evolving world of data engineering, certifications and ongoing education are not just valuable but essential for career growth and professional success. They demonstrate your commitment to excellence and dedication to mastering a data engineer’s ever-expanding toolkit. As you embark on this journey, keep an eye on emerging trends and technologies, and be proactive in seeking opportunities for learning and growth.

When it comes to continuous learning, we believe in offering a diverse array of skill courses to help you stay on the cutting edge of the data engineering field. Before we delve into how the job market will embrace you as a Data Engineer, let’s take a moment to explore the wealth of skill-building opportunities available to you.


Career Prospects and Job Market

Entering the field of data engineering offers promising career prospects with competitive salary potential. Let’s explore what you can expect regarding salary, the industries actively hiring data engineers, and the geographic considerations in this dynamic job market.


Salary Expectations

Data engineering is a well-compensated field, and your salary can vary based on factors like experience, location, and the specific industry you work in. As of my last knowledge update in September 2021, here’s a general overview of salary expectations for data engineers:


Entry-Level Data Engineer: Entry-level data engineers can expect a starting salary ranging from $60,000 to $100,000 annually, depending on the region and the demand for data engineering talent.


Mid-Level Data Engineer: With a few years of experience, mid-level data engineers can earn between $70,000 to $140,000 per year. Specialized skills and certifications can push salaries higher.


Senior Data Engineer: Experienced data engineers with a track record of designing and managing complex data pipelines can earn well over $150,000 annually!

Please note that these figures are approximate, and the actual salaries may vary based on factors such as company size, location, and individual qualifications. Salaries in major tech hubs like Silicon Valley tend to be higher due to the high demand for data engineering talent.


Industries Hiring Data Engineers

Data engineers are in demand across various industries that rely on data-driven decision-making. Here are some key sectors actively seeking data engineering professionals:


Technology and IT: Tech companies, including software firms, e-commerce giants, and startups, are at the forefront of data engineering opportunities. They require data engineers to manage vast datasets and build robust data infrastructure.


Finance and Banking: The financial industry relies heavily on data for risk analysis, fraud detection, and customer insights. Financial institutions often seek data engineers to manage and process their data.


Healthcare: Healthcare organizations use data to improve patient care, optimize operations, and enhance research efforts. Data engineers are vital in ensuring healthcare data is accessible and secure.


Retail and E-commerce: Retailers use data to personalize customer experiences, optimize inventory management, and make pricing decisions. Data engineers are crucial in these endeavors.


Telecommunications: Telecom companies rely on data to monitor network performance and analyze customer behavior. Data engineers help collect, process and analyze this data.


Consulting Firms: Consulting firms across industries hire data engineers to assist clients in extracting insights from their data, making data engineering expertise highly valuable.


Geographic boundaries do not limit the demand for data engineers, but certain regions tend to have higher demand and higher salaries due to their concentration of tech companies. Tech hubs like Silicon Valley, Seattle, New York City, and Boston often offer competitive salaries for data engineers. However, opportunities can also be found in many other cities and regions.

Additionally, the rise of remote work has expanded the job market for data engineers. Many companies now offer remote or hybrid work arrangements, allowing professionals to work from different geographic locations while contributing to organizations worldwide.

As the data-driven era continues to evolve, data engineers will remain essential to organizations across industries. This field offers financial rewards and the opportunity to shape the future of business intelligence and innovation. Whether you’re drawn to the tech meccas or prefer to work remotely, the prospects for data engineers are bright and promising.


Networking and Industry Involvement

Building a robust professional network and actively engaging with industry communities can significantly enhance your career as a data engineer. Here’s why networking and industry involvement are invaluable:



Opportunities: Networking opens doors to job opportunities, collaborations, and partnerships. You may discover hidden job openings or be referred to positions that match your skills and interests.


Knowledge Sharing: Connecting with peers allows you to exchange ideas, share experiences, and learn from others in the field. You can gain insights into best practices and stay updated on industry trends.


Mentorship: Building relationships with experienced professionals can lead to mentorship opportunities. A mentor can provide guidance career advice, and help you navigate the complexities of the data engineering landscape.


Industry Events

Conferences and Seminars: Attending industry-specific events, conferences, and seminars exposes you to the latest technologies, tools, and innovations. It’s an excellent way to expand your knowledge and network with experts.


Workshops and Hackathons: Participating in workshops and hackathons allows you to gain hands-on experience, solve real-world data engineering problems, and collaborate with like-minded individuals.


Online Communities

Forums and Social Media: Engage in online discussions and social media groups dedicated to data engineering. These platforms provide a space to ask questions, share knowledge, and connect with professionals worldwide.


GitHub and Open Source: Contributing to open-source data engineering projects on platforms like GitHub can showcase your skills and attract the attention of potential employers or collaborators.


Blogs and Webinars: Many data professionals share their insights through blogs and webinars. These resources can help you stay informed and connect with industry thought leaders.

By actively participating in networking events, industry forums, and online communities, you can stay informed about the latest developments and establish yourself as a knowledgeable and engaged data engineer. Your network can become a valuable asset throughout your career.



Becoming a data engineer is a journey filled with opportunities and rewards. As the unsung heroes of the data world, data engineers are instrumental in shaping how organizations harness data for insights and innovation. To embark on this path, you’ll need a diverse skill set encompassing programming, data warehousing, big data technologies, and database management. Continuous learning, through certifications and ongoing education, is essential to keep pace with this ever-evolving field.

Your career prospects are promising, with competitive salaries and opportunities across various industries. Whether you work in tech hubs or embrace remote work, the demand for data engineers continues to grow. Remember the value of networking and industry involvement, which can provide you with insights, mentorship, and a sense of community within the data engineering world.

As a data engineer, you’ll play a vital role in transforming raw data into actionable insights, driving innovation, and contributing to the success of organizations. Embrace the challenges, keep learning, and revel in the satisfaction of being at the forefront of the data-driven revolution. Your journey as a data engineer is not just a career choice; it’s a voyage into a world where data becomes knowledge, and knowledge becomes power. So, seize the opportunity and become a part of the data-driven future.

Join us today to discover our comprehensive data engineer program, experienced instructors, and a supportive community dedicated to your success. Whether you’re just starting your journey or looking to enhance your existing skills, Le Wagon provides a dynamic learning environment to help you achieve your career goals. Don’t miss out on this chance to unlock your potential in the world of data engineering. Visit our website or contact us now to learn more and start your data engineering career transformation with Le Wagon!


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