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Big Data Engineer Skills and Responsibilities

Updated: Jul 25

Big Data engineers are some of the highest-paid IT professionals today. Annual salaries start at around $60,000. Add just a couple of years of experience and you’ll get to an average salary of around $114,000. Once you have an experience of five years or so, $200,000 isn’t very difficult.

Big Data Engineer Skills, Job Descriptions, and responsibilities 2023 -- image

In fact, on our job board, we routinely see companies offering more than $250,000 for Big Data Engineers.

So, what do Big Data engineers actually do?

That’s what this blog is about. We’ll go over the job description, skills, education, career path, and a few important trends for Big Data engineers.

Let’s get started.

Big Data Engineer Job Description

A Big Data Engineer, as the name suggests, designs and manages an organization's Big Data infrastructure and tools. They build a data ecosystem, ensuring that large volumes of data are processed, organized, and stored effectively.

Their end goal?

To extract valuable insights businesses need to make informed decisions and predict future trends.

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Responsibilities of a Big Data engineer:

Designing and Building:

The first crucial responsibility of a Big Data Engineer involves the design and construction of highly scalable data management systems. They are responsible for building robust data pipelines that can handle the demands of rapidly growing data volumes and velocities.

The designing process entails drafting database architectures, large-scale processing systems, and data pipelines, which can process and transform massive datasets efficiently.

Once these systems are designed, they are responsible for their installation, testing, and maintenance. The constant vigilance required to monitor these systems ensures the smooth functioning of the data pipeline, which forms the backbone of the organization's data infrastructure.

Data Acquisition:

The ability to acquire and manage data is another integral role of a Big Data Engineer. They are tasked with developing, constructing, testing, and maintaining architectures like databases and large-scale data processing systems.

This involves identifying pragmatic methods for data acquisition and integrating these methods into the pipeline.

Data acquisition involves various techniques, from web scraping and API usage to establishing connections with external databases. The focus here is to ensure that the data, once acquired, is managed effectively and fed into the data processing pipeline.

Improving Data Quality and Efficiency:

Big Data Engineers are entrusted with the task of improving data quality and efficiency. They ensure that systems meet business requirements and industry practices, a task that involves a deep understanding of both data and business domains.

Data cleansing, quality checks, and data governance are fundamental to improving data quality.

These steps involve removing inaccuracies, filling in missing values, checking for data consistency, and setting up data governance policies.

These measures ensure that the data used in analyses and decision-making processes is accurate and reliable, enhancing the overall trust in the data-driven insights generated by the organization.

Security and Compliance Management

The importance of Data security isn’t lost on anyone. Data leaks can be hugely detrimental to a business and Big Data Engineers work with a lot of data, by definitions.

So, as part of their role, they are also responsible for ensuring that data is stored, processed, and managed in a secure manner.

This involves implementing strong security measures, encryption protocols, and access control mechanisms to protect sensitive data from unauthorized access and breaches.

Moreover, compliance with various data protection regulations, such as GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in the EU, or CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) in California, USA, is also a significant part of their job.

They must understand and adhere to these regulations while designing and implementing data systems to ensure legal compliance and maintain customer trust.

Data Strategy and Architecture Planning

Another essential responsibility of a Big Data Engineer is planning and implementing the organization's data strategy and architecture.

They work closely with business leaders, data scientists, and IT teams to understand the organization's data needs, both current and future.

Based on these requirements, they design and implement a robust data architecture that can handle current data volumes and can also scale effectively as the organization grows.

They decide what data storage systems, data processing technologies, and data analytics tools would best serve the organization's needs.

In essence, they translate the organization's data strategy into a practical, scalable, and efficient data architecture. Their planning and decision-making can have a long-term impact on the organization's ability to leverage data for insights and decision-making.

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Day-to-day tasks of Big Data engineers:

Data Wrangling:

The sheer volume of data in today's digital age is mind-boggling. As a Big Data Engineer, you'd spend a substantial part of your day dealing with this raw, unrefined data that comes in various shapes and forms.

The process of refining this data is called data wrangling or data munging.

Data wrangling involves cleansing the data by handling missing values, dealing with outliers, and correcting inconsistent entries.

You need to sift through the rough to find the gems. You'd then transform this cleaned data into a format that's suitable for analysis. This might involve normalizing data, creating new features, or encoding categorical variables.

Though this might seem tedious, it's one of the most crucial aspects of a Big Data Engineer's job. Good quality data is the cornerstone of reliable analysis and insights.

Coding and Debugging:

You’ll also spend a large part of your day writing complex queries and algorithms, which are then woven into the data pipeline. This pipeline is what takes in the raw data, processes it, and spits out the analysis-ready data on the other end.

But as with any complex system, issues can and do occur. When that happens, it's up to you, the engineer, to dive in and resolve them. The debugging process requires keen attention to detail and problem-solving skills to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.

System Optimization:

Efficiency is the name of the game in this industry. The quicker and more efficiently you can process data, the better. As a Big Data Engineer, a significant part of your job would be optimizing existing systems to ensure this efficient data flow.

This could involve fine-tuning existing code to make it run faster, streamlining data processing to reduce redundancy, and managing resources in a cluster to ensure they're not overwhelmed.

Collaborating and Communicating:

Despite the technical nature of the role, a Big Data Engineer isn't locked away in isolation. On the contrary, you'd be regularly collaborating with other teams and individuals.

This could involve working with data scientists to understand their data needs, speaking with business stakeholders to discuss requirements and potential solutions, or explaining complex data nuances to non-technical team members.

Being able to effectively communicate complex ideas in a simple and understandable manner is a key aspect of your role.

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Big Data Engineer Skills

Technical Skills:

Programming languages:

One of the first and most crucial technical skills a Big Data Engineer needs is proficiency in programming languages. Programming is the backbone of many tasks that Big Data Engineers do, from creating algorithms to solving complex problems to coding data processing tasks.

Here are a few important programming languages:


Over the years, Python has grown into one of the most popular languages in the data world. Its simplicity, coupled with its power, makes it an excellent choice for Big Data tasks.

Python provides a variety of libraries, such as Pandas and PySpark, which simplify the process of data manipulation and analysis.

Given its readability and ease of learning, Python is a great starting point for those aiming to break into the field of Big Data.


This language is commonly used with Apache Spark, a lightning-fast unified analytics engine for Big Data processing. Scala offers the power of an object-oriented language with the precision of a functional language.

It's used for tasks that require high performance, such as machine learning algorithms and real-time data processing.


Often, Big Data Engineers come from a background in systems engineering or analysis, and Java is a mainstay in these fields. It's the go-to language for many

Big Data technologies like Apache Hadoop and Apache Kafka. Java’s robustness, ease of debugging, and efficient performance handling make it a prime choice for tasks that require high-speed processing and real-time computing.

Proficiency in Big Data Tools Like Hadoop and Spark

Two such tools, or rather, frameworks, that are indispensable for any Big Data Engineer are Apache Hadoop and Apache Spark.

Hadoop is an open-source framework designed to store and process enormous amounts of data across clusters of computers. It's reliable, scalable, and can handle everything from structured to unstructured data.

Hadoop's two core components, HDFS (Hadoop Distributed File System) and MapReduce, handle data storage and processing, respectively. Being proficient with Hadoop is a must for any Big Data Engineer as it forms the backbone of many Big Data solutions.

Apache Spark is newer and comes with very fast processing. It can handle batch processing, real-time data processing, and machine learning tasks.

What sets Spark apart is its in-memory processing capabilities, making it much faster than Hadoop when dealing with certain tasks. Spark also provides APIs for Python, Java, and Scala, making it quite versatile.

Database Systems

Database systems are where all your data live and breathe. There are two main types of databases — SQL and NoSQL

SQL (Structured Query Language) has been the gold standard for interacting with databases for decades. SQL databases, like MySQL and PostgreSQL, are relational databases that are perfect for structured data with clear relations between tables.

As a Big Data Engineer, understanding SQL is vital because it allows you to query, update, and manipulate data efficiently.

NoSQL stands for Not only SQL. These have gained popularity thanks to successful databases like MongoDB and Cassandra. The growth of NoSQL can owe its popularity to the rise of Big Data, in a way.

NoSQL databases can handle unstructured data, and they're highly scalable and flexible in terms of data models. They're well suited to Big Data applications because they can handle massive volumes of data and are designed for distributed environments.

Whether it's maintaining a legacy system that uses a relational database or building a new one that requires a NoSQL solution, a Big Data Engineer should have a strong understanding of both SQL and NoSQL databases to handle data storage effectively.

Knowledge of Machine Learning and AI

The lines between Big Data, Machine Learning (ML), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are becoming increasingly blurred.

The ability to not just gather and process data, but to learn from it and make intelligent decisions, is what distinguishes a good Big Data Engineer.

At its core, ML is all about creating and implementing algorithms that let computers learn from data. These algorithms can identify patterns, make predictions, and help make data-driven decisions.

Familiarity with ML techniques and tools (like Python's Scikit-learn or Google's TensorFlow) can help a Big Data Engineer design systems that not only manage data but also learn and adapt from it.

AI is a broader field that encompasses ML and is about creating smart machines capable of performing tasks that would normally require human intelligence.

Understanding AI concepts and trends can help Big Data Engineers build systems capable of advanced data processing and decision-making.

In essence, having a foundational understanding of Machine Learning and AI equips Big Data Engineers with the ability to design and build systems that are more than just data processing units; they are smart systems capable of learning, adapting, and contributing to strategic decision-making.

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Soft skills

While technical skills are the most important factor when it comes to being a Big Data Engineer, they’re not everything. Soft skills are important, too. As a Big Data engineer, you’re never going to work in a silo. You’re going to have to communicate with multiple teams and be a part of a team, too.

So, here are some soft skills that are important:


Problem-solving is a critical soft skill for any engineer, and Big Data Engineers are no exception.

Given the complexity of data and the systems used to process it, you are bound to run into obstacles, whether it's cleaning up messy data, optimizing a slow processing task, or debugging an error in your code.

Having a structured approach to problem-solving can help you navigate these challenges effectively.

This includes being able to break down complex problems into manageable parts, thinking critically to understand the root cause of problems, and coming up with innovative solutions.

Communication Skills

As a Big Data Engineer, you're not just crunching numbers and writing code. You're part of a bigger team, often working with data scientists, business analysts, and stakeholders.

You need to be able to translate complex data and technical jargon into plain language that non-technical team members can understand.

Good communication skills also mean that you can effectively listen and understand the needs and constraints of your team, and express your ideas and suggestions clearly.

Remember, the insights derived from data are only useful if they can be understood and acted upon.


Big Data projects are typically a team sport. They involve collaboration with various individuals, including other data engineers, data scientists, analysts, and business stakeholders. This means that you need to be able to work effectively as part of a team.

Teamwork involves aspects like being respectful of others' ideas, being adaptable and open to change, and having a cooperative attitude. It also involves the ability to give and accept constructive feedback, which can help you and your team continually improve.

Attention to Detail

When working with Big Data, even tiny errors can lead to significant problems. That's why having strong attention to detail is crucial.

This means being meticulous when writing code or creating data models, thoroughly checking your work, and ensuring that even the smallest details don't go unnoticed.

Attention to detail also applies to understanding the nuances of the data you're working with and noticing patterns or anomalies that others might miss. This skill is not just about avoiding errors, but also about being able to extract the maximum value from your data.

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Important Trends in Big Data for 2023 and Beyond

From the rise of edge computing to the advancements in cloud technologies, the world of Big Data is undergoing quite a transformation.

The rise and rise of edge computing:

The first trend, and perhaps the most significant, is the growth of data diversity and the subsequent rise of edge computing.

In the past, business transactions that happened within the database were the main sources of data generation. But the advent of new sources such as cloud systems, web applications, video streaming, and smart devices like smartphones and voice assistants has changed this narrative​​.

These non-database sources are the new dominant generators of data, compelling organizations to rethink their data processing needs.

With the acceleration of data generation, the traditional data center-centric approach is no longer adequate.

Instead, the paradigm is shifting towards edge computing, which moves data processing closer to the data sources or "edge" of the network.

This shift is partly due to the increased capabilities of these devices to collect, store, and process data, thereby reducing the load on the central systems.

The role of a Big Data engineer here is crucial. They have to develop data management systems that can handle data from diverse sources and work seamlessly with these edge devices. They must also work towards optimizing these systems to reduce latency and improve overall performance.

Storage needs are changing:

As data generation increases, organizations are seeking scalable, efficient, and cost-effective solutions for data storage​.

Cloud-based systems have emerged as a viable solution, providing on-demand storage and compute capabilities. However, due to regulatory or technical limitations, some industries cannot fully leverage public cloud infrastructure.

Hybrid cloud systems, combining third-party cloud systems with on-premises computing and storage, have thus become increasingly popular.

These days, a Big Data Engineer must be well-versed in cloud technologies, including both public and hybrid clouds. They need to design and implement data infrastructure that can leverage these technologies while still adhering to industry-specific regulations.

Moreover, they should be adept at navigating the complexities of data migration from legacy systems to modern cloud-based ones, ensuring data integrity and minimizing downtime.

Advanced analytics:

The dramatic increase in the adoption of advanced analytics, machine learning, and other AI technologies cannot be ignored.

Traditional analytics approaches are struggling to keep pace with the scale of data generation, ushering in the era of advanced analytics powered by AI technologies.

These technologies can process vast amounts of information rapidly, enabling organizations to gain greater insights into customer behavior, business processes, and overall operations​

This trend underscores the need for Big Data Engineers to have robust analytical skills and a solid understanding of AI technologies.

They are often tasked with integrating these technologies into existing data infrastructure, which means that they have to stay abreast of the latest developments in the field.

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Career Path of a Big Data Engineer:

Academic Background

The first step towards a career in Big Data Engineering usually starts with a bachelor's degree in a relevant field such as Computer Science, Data Science, or Information Systems.

During their undergraduate studies, aspirants learn about data structures, algorithms, databases, and various programming languages that form the foundation for a career in Big Data.

To further their skills and knowledge, many individuals opt to pursue a master's degree in Data Science, Computer Science, or a related field. Graduate studies allow for specialization in areas like Big Data, Machine Learning, or Artificial Intelligence.

Building Technical Skills

Parallel to formal education, budding Big Data Engineers must focus on building and honing their technical skills.

Practical knowledge of programming languages like Python, Java, or Scala is crucial. Likewise, expertise in Big Data technologies like Hadoop, Spark, Hive, and Kafka is a must.

Understanding both SQL and NoSQL databases, proficiency in Linux systems, and experience with cloud platforms like AWS, Google Cloud, or Azure also add value to a Big Data Engineer's skill set.

Knowledge of Machine Learning algorithms and AI concepts is an added bonus and can set you apart from other candidates.

Entry-Level Roles

Aspirants often begin their journey in entry-level roles like Data Analyst, Junior Data Engineer, or even Software Developer.

These roles offer the opportunity to work closely with data and understand the intricacies of data manipulation and management. You will also learn to work with data pipelines, write complex queries, and debug code.

Becoming a Big Data Engineer

With a few years of experience and a proven track record in handling data, individuals can progress to the role of a Big Data Engineer.

In this role, you'll design, construct, and manage large-scale data processing systems and often lead the development of algorithmic solutions for data analysis.

Progressing to Senior Roles

Over time, with further experience and expertise, Big Data Engineers can advance to more senior roles like Senior Data Engineer, Lead Data Engineer, or Big Data Architect.

These roles involve greater responsibility, such as overseeing the design and deployment of large data infrastructures, leading a team of engineers, or influencing the organization's data strategy.

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The role of a Big Data Engineer is changing by the day and the prospects look quite amazing for the future. Pair skills with a bit of experience and it starts becoming a very lucrative career as well.

On that front, if you’re looking for a Big Data Engineer role, check out Simple Job Listings. We only list verified, fully-remote jobs. Most of these jobs pay really well, too. What’s more, a significant number of jobs that we list aren’t posted anywhere else.

So, visit Simple Job Listings and find amazing remote Big Data Engineer jobs. Good luck!

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