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Complete Guide to becoming a Big Data Engineer

Written on January 6, 2020 by Jonathon Webley

Welcome to Agile Recruit’s guide to becoming a Big Data Engineer.

First, let’s look at what a big data engineer actually does. Essentially big data engineers develop, test and maintain code for Big Data Solutions like Software Engineers. They are involved in a myriad of software development activities including, but not limited to, Database development, Data warehousing, and developing Data lakes. Also, data engineers focus heavily on Data processing and data integration tasks such as Extract, Transform and Load (ETL) and developing robust data pipelines.

The amount of data organisations now process both in batch and real-time calls for some advanced data engineering techniques and tools. So, if you want to become a big data engineer, it’s crucial you have a foundation of skills to do so.

Where to start

There are two entry points in every career you choose, start working straight out of education. Or re-train / cross-train into new disciplines. We’ll explore both in the hope it helps on your quest to become a big data engineer.

It’s essential if you want to become a big data engineer straight from education that you study a relevant degree at University related to computer science or choose a dedicated data related course. The software and data world are a minefield of both academic/theoretical principles and practical software engineering techniques. It will also help in your analysis skills and could broaden your career options into roles like a data analyst or data scientist.

If you’re from a different background like traditional database/data warehousing development background or software engineering, it’s a good idea to consolidate your experience within certifications in relevant data engineering technologies and programming languages. In a way, you’re experienced already in managing data and skills like data modelling or having worked with a data architect is actually a huge bonus. Understanding data structures and how solutions can tie together in real-life is a valuable skill when you want to become a big data engineer.

It’s all about experience.

Please, don’t claim you know Hadoop because you have it installed on your home PC. Yes, this is valuable in some way, but it is absolutely critical you gain some experience in big data technologies like Hadoop and other things like NoSQL databases. Whether paid or unpaid, a work placement, sandwich year at uni, do whatever you need to do to get hands-on experience in big data.

When you start your new role as a big data engineer, you’ll be thrown in the deep end. Without this practical baseline skillset, you’ll struggle. You could be asked to start building data pipelines from day one, which is no easy task without some practical experience. If you can, get some certifications during your time so you can show potential employers your enthusiasm for big data as well as your capability.

You’ll work with large scale data sets in some cases, complex multi-layered data solutions that have both structured data in a data warehouse and unstructured data in a data lake. Even a few months experience of working on complex big data solutions, even those that utilise machine learning or artificial intelligence, will put you way ahead of the competition.

Online courses

I’ve mentioned it earlier, but it’s a good idea to get some certifications/course under your belt. Here’s a shortlist of recognised providers for tech roles with plenty of big data courses:




Now, these aren’t the be-all and end-all, but they can help you in your role as a big data engineer both through the experience you gain but also helps consolidate your academic and practical experience.

So, we hope this has helped as a guide to becoming a big data engineer. To summarise, your academic credentials are vital for entry-level roles. For those with some experience in software engineering or data warehousing its more about your transferability and picking up the relevant technologies for the position you’re applying for, or simply bolstering your arsenal of data tools and programming languages. Good luck on becoming a big data engineer – you can check out our latest jobs, including data engineering here.