top of page

Data Engineer Skills And Responsibilities (2023)

What is a data engineer?

A data engineer is a professional who focuses on designing, building, and managing the data architecture of an organization.

Data Engineer skills and responsibilities 2023

This usually involves creating data models, establishing data extraction protocols, and ensuring that the collected data remains accessible, accurate, and secure.

Data engineers essentially serve as the backbone of any data-driven organization, providing the critical infrastructure that allows data to flow smoothly from its source to the end-users, who could be data scientists, business analysts, or decision-makers.

Data engineers develop and maintain robust data pipelines that gather, transform, and load (ETL) data from various sources into a centralized data platform. They also handle real-time data streaming and batch processing and are responsible for the data's overall quality and consistency.

In essence, data engineers translate business needs into data solutions. They use various tools, programming languages, and frameworks to manage and manipulate large volumes of data, ensuring that the organization's data infrastructure is scalable, reliable, and optimized for performance.

What is the difference between Data Engineers, Data Scientists, and Data Analysts?

While data engineers, data scientists, and data analysts all work with data, their roles and responsibilities differ significantly.

Data engineers, as mentioned above, are responsible for designing, constructing, and maintaining an organization's data infrastructure. They focus on the technical aspects of data collection, storage, and management.

On the other hand, data scientists are more concerned with drawing insights from data. They use advanced statistical methods and machine learning algorithms to create predictive models and uncover patterns within the data.

However, the work of data scientists would be nearly impossible without the foundational systems and clean data provided by data engineers.

Data analysts, meanwhile, sit closer to the business end of the data pipeline.

They use data to answer specific business questions, often employing statistical techniques to understand trends and patterns.

While data scientists may build models to predict future trends, data analysts typically focus on what the data is currently saying and how it can address immediate business needs.

Suggested: Data Engineer interview questions that matter

Data engineer skills:

Database systems:

Proficiency in SQL (Structured Query Language) and NoSQL (Not Only SQL), as you might imagine, is a crucial skill for data engineers.

SQL databases, including MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Oracle, follow a relational model, storing data in structured tables and enabling complex querying, data manipulation, and indexing.

Data engineers must master SQL scripting, understand relational database design principles, and effectively implement data integrity and security measures.

NoSQL databases, like MongoDB, Cassandra, and Couchbase, are optimal for managing semi-structured and unstructured data.

They offer the flexibility to store diverse data types and the scalability to handle massive data volumes, which is a common necessity in the big data era.

Within NoSQL, you’ll need to know various data models (key-value, document, column, and graph), as well as the capabilities and trade-offs of various NoSQL systems.

Knowing when to use SQL versus NoSQL databases based on the data type and business requirements is the goal here.

Big Data technologies:

As a data engineer, you’re going to be working with Big Data technologies like Hadoop and Spark on a day-to-day basis. They can process and analyze massive amounts of data very efficiently.

Apache Hadoop, an open-source framework, allows distributed processing of large data sets across computer clusters.

It has essential components like HDFS for data storage, YARN for resource management, and MapReduce for processing.

You’ll need to understand these components, know how to configure and optimize Hadoop clusters and troubleshoot any issues that arise.

Apache Spark is a powerful and fast data processing engine, offering substantial speed advantages over Hadoop for some applications due to its in-memory computation capabilities. Its versatility extends to machine learning, streaming, and SQL workloads.

A competent data engineer should understand Spark's architecture, be proficient with the APIs and libraries (like Spark SQL and MLlib), and know how to use its capabilities for efficient data processing.

Programming languages:

To build data pipelines, automate tasks, and analyze data, you need programming languages. And as with any field, there are clear favorites here, too:

Python stands out due to its simplicity, extensive libraries, and wide acceptance in the data community.

Python's libraries like NumPy for numerical computing, Pandas for data manipulation, and SQLAlchemy for database interaction are particularly useful. Proficiency in Python involves understanding its syntax, data structures, and OOP principles.

Java, a highly portable and versatile language, is widely used in enterprise-level applications, including big data technologies like Hadoop and Spark. Data engineers proficient in Java can create efficient, scalable, and secure data solutions.

Scala, although not as widely used as Python or Java, is a powerful language often used with Apache Spark due to its functional programming capabilities, type safety, and seamless compatibility with the Java ecosystem.

Learning Scala can help data engineers write concise, efficient code, especially for Spark applications.

Data Modeling and Warehousing

Data modeling refers to designing the structure, organization, and relationships between data, which is essential in creating efficient databases and data processes.

Data engineers must understand different data modeling techniques, including ER modeling and dimensional modeling, and be able to design robust, scalable, and flexible data models that cater to business needs.

Data warehousing consolidates data from various sources into one comprehensive database.

It allows an organization to run complex queries and analyses without affecting operational systems.

Data engineers should know how to design, implement, and manage data warehouses, understanding concepts like ETL processes, data cleansing, star schema, and OLAP.

Knowledge of data warehousing tools like Google BigQuery, Amazon Redshift, or Microsoft SQL Server is also important.

Machine Learning basics:

While deep expertise in machine learning is usually the purview of data scientists, a fundamental understanding is useful for data engineers too.

It can help in the design of data architectures that can support machine learning workloads and the development of data pipelines that feed these systems.

Familiarity with concepts such as supervised and unsupervised learning, regression, classification, and clustering algorithms, and an understanding of libraries like Scikit-learn in Python or MLlib in Spark is advantageous.

In addition, knowledge of machine learning helps data engineers communicate effectively with data scientists, ensuring that the data infrastructure meets the requirements of machine learning projects.

This cross-disciplinary understanding can lead to more robust, scalable, and efficient data solutions.

Cloud Platforms:

Cloud platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and Microsoft Azure have become the backbone of many companies' data strategies due to their scalability, reliability, and a wide array of data services.

As a result, data engineers need to be well-versed in these platforms' offerings and know how to implement and manage data systems in the cloud.

AWS provides services like S3 for storage, Redshift for data warehousing, and EMR for big data processing. Azure offers services like Azure Data Lake for large-scale data storage, Azure SQL Data Warehouse for analytics, and Azure HDInsight for big data tasks.

Google Cloud includes services like Google BigQuery for analytics and Google Cloud Storage for scalable, flexible storage.

Proficiency in at least one of these platforms is important. You’ll need an understanding of their data services, know how to set up and configure these services, manage data security and compliance in the cloud, and optimize costs and performance.

Suggested: Senior Data Engineer interview questions that matter

Data Engineer Responsibilities

Building and maintaining data architecture:

A data engineer's primary responsibility is to create and maintain the organization's data architecture.

This includes designing data systems and databases, creating data models that effectively organize, store, and process data, and constructing robust and scalable data pipelines.

The goal is to ensure that data flows smoothly from source systems to databases, data warehouses, or data lakes, ready for analysis.

Data engineers must continually monitor and optimize the data architecture for performance and scalability, especially in response to growing data volumes and changing business needs.

Developing, constructing, testing, and maintaining databases

Data engineers are responsible for the lifecycle management of databases, which involves designing, implementing, and maintaining them.

They select appropriate database systems based on the data's nature and the organization's needs, create efficient data structures, and implement databases.

Post-creation, they manage database operations, optimizing performance, ensuring data consistency, and troubleshooting issues. Also, they conduct regular testing to verify the system's functionality and stability, including testing of disaster recovery plans.

Data cleaning and quality checks:

Data is often messy and inconsistent, which can skew analyses and lead to incorrect conclusions.

Data engineers are professionals who clean messy data. It’s a process that involves identifying and correcting errors, dealing with missing values, and ensuring consistency across datasets.

In addition, they conduct regular data quality checks to ensure that the data is accurate, reliable, and fit for analysis.

This might involve validating data against predefined rules or quality criteria, identifying outliers, or checking the completeness of data records.

Ensuring high data quality is not a one-time task but a continuous effort that plays a crucial role in upholding the integrity of an organization's data-driven decisions.

Collaborating with other data professionals and stakeholders:

Data engineers don't work in isolation. They frequently collaborate with data scientists, data analysts, business intelligence specialists, IT teams, and business stakeholders.

These collaborations involve understanding their data needs, helping them access the required data, and developing solutions to data-related problems they face.

For instance, data engineers work closely with data scientists to understand their data needs for machine learning projects and create data pipelines that provide the required data in the right format.

Similarly, they assist business analysts by providing the data necessary for their analyses and reports.

Collaboration also involves communicating complex data concepts in simple, understandable terms to non-technical stakeholders, ensuring that everyone understands the value and potential of the organization's data.

Ensuring data security and compliance:

Protecting a company’s data from unauthorized access is an important task for data engineers.

They also need to ensure that the company’s data practices comply with relevant laws and regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the US.

This involves setting up data governance policies, managing user consent, anonymizing sensitive data, and regularly auditing data practices for compliance.

Data security and compliance are not static goals but continuous processes that need to evolve in response to new threats, technological advancements, and changes in legal regulations.

Suggested: Senior Data Engineer Skills And Responsibilities in 2023

Data engineer career path:

Degree and entry-level jobs:

Most data engineers start their journey with a background in Computer Science, Information Technology, or a related field, typically earned through a Bachelor's degree.

This foundational knowledge equips them with the fundamental concepts of programming, databases, algorithms, and data structures.

During this early stage, students often gain practical experience through internships, entry-level jobs, or projects where they learn how to handle databases, write complex SQL queries, develop basic ETL pipelines, and work with data processing tools.

Common starting positions include roles as a database administrator, data analyst, or junior data engineer.


As you gain experience, you’ll start diving deeper into the field. At this stage, mastering one or more programming languages such as Python, Java, or Scala is important.

Learning big data technologies like Hadoop and Spark and becoming proficient in cloud platforms such as AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud is beneficial.

In addition to technical skills, understanding business processes, data modeling, data warehousing, and mastering the art of cleaning, transforming, and loading data become significant.

Common job titles during this stage include data engineer, big data engineer, or cloud data engineer.

Leadership and strategy:

With considerable experience and a comprehensive skill set, you’ll progress to more strategic and leadership roles.

This might involve overseeing a team of data engineers, managing an organization's data strategy, or leading complex data projects.

Advanced roles could include senior data engineer, data architect, or even a data engineering manager.

In these roles, the focus is not just on technical proficiency but also on management and strategic skills.

Understanding business needs, project management, team leadership, and effective communication become increasingly important.

5 important certifications for data engineers:

  • Google Cloud Certified - Professional Data Engineer: This certification validates your ability to enable data-driven decision making by collecting, transforming, and visualizing data using Google Cloud technologies.

  • AWS Certified Big Data - Specialty: This certification validates your knowledge of big data technologies and the ability to design and implement AWS services to derive value from data.

  • Microsoft Certified - Azure Data Engineer Associate: This certification verifies your skills in implementing and managing data solutions using Microsoft Azure data services.

  • IBM Certified Data Engineer – Big Data: This certification is for those who work with Big Data and validates your understanding of Big Data and Data Lake, including its associated tools.

  • Cloudera Certified Data Engineer: This certification is based on the Hadoop ecosystem and tests your abilities to develop reliable, autonomous, scalable data pipelines that result in optimized data sets for various workloads.


Data Engineering is a great career, not just in terms of scope, but also in terms of pay. On our job board where we only post remote jobs, the average salary for Data Engineers is a cool $123,000. What’s more, data engineering is also one of the most popular roles on our job board.

On that front,If you’re looking for a remote Data Engineer role, check out Simple Job Listings. We only post verified, fully-remote jobs that pay well.

Visit Simple Job Listings and find amazing remote Data Engineer jobs. Good luck!

Some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do Data Engineers get paid well?

On our job board where we only post remote jobs, the average salary for remote Data Engineers is just over $123,000. So, yeah, data engineers do get paid well.

For senior roles, pay increases significantly. It’s not uncommon for them to earn well over $200,000.

Is Data Engineer a coding job?

Yes and no. Is coding absolutely necessary for you to be a Data Engineer? Yes. Do Data Engineers just write code and do nothing else? No.

The role of a data engineer is to take data, clean it, and draw useful insights from it. This does involve coding but there’s so much more than just coding.

How do I become a data engineer with no experience?

You cannot. This doesn’t mean you can’t get into it, of course. You’ll just have to start at more entry-level roles. Database administrator, data analyst, or a junior data engineer — this is where you’ll start.

Add a couple of years of experience and you’re then looking at the designation of a Data Engineer.

Can I become a Data Engineer without a degree?

It’s increasingly difficult to become a data engineer without a degree. Yes, technically you can. But the situation is changing quite rapidly.

Data Engineering is a role that pays really well. This means that there are a lot of people who want the jobs and increasingly, quite a lot of them have a degree.

If you’re a professional with years of experience in a relevant field, you may not need a degree. But if you’re just starting out, a Bachelor’s in computer science or a related field will help immensely.

What does a data engineer do?

There are a few important things.

  1. Building and maintaining data architecture

  2. Developing, constructing, testing, and maintaining databases

  3. Data cleaning and quality checks

  4. Collaboration with other data professionals

  5. Ensuring data security and compliance

bottom of page