What Is a Big Data Engineer? A 2024 Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

A career as a big data engineer requires education and work experience, with many professionals opting to get certified. Discover what big data engineers do, what the job opportunities are, and how to get started.

[Featured image] Man at computer working on organizing data

If you’re interested in any of the following topics, working as a big data engineer could be a good career choice: data, math, analytics, problem-solving, numbers, graphs, charts, and IT.

This article will break down all the critical aspects of being a big data engineer. After reading it, you should have a better idea of whether or not this career is right for you. 

What is a big data engineer?

A big data engineer is a professional who is responsible for developing, maintaining, testing, analyzing, and evaluating a company's data. Big data refers to extremely large data sets. In the modern economy, it is common for companies to collect large volumes of data throughout the course of conducting their business operations.

When used correctly, big data can be highly beneficial for organizations to help them improve efficiency, profitability, and scalability. However, companies' big data is not helpful unless there is a big data engineer to build systems to collect, maintain, and extract data. So, big data engineers ultimately have the responsibility of helping companies manage their big data. 

Big data engineer vs. data scientist

The most significant difference between big data engineers and data scientists is that big data engineers are primarily responsible for building and maintaining the systems and processes that collect and extract data. Data scientists analyze the cleaned data to generate insights, using various predictive models to create meaningful insights.

Read more: What Is a Data Scientist? Salary, Skills, and How to Become One


Typical job responsibilities

All of the following are typical job responsibilities for big data engineers:

  • Designing and implementing software systems

  • Creating systems for collecting data and for processing that data

  • Using Extract Transform Load operations (the ETL process)

  • Creating data architectures that meet the requirements of the business

  • Researching new methods of obtaining valuable data and improving its quality

  • Creating structured data solutions using various programming languages and tools

  • Mining data from multiple areas to construct efficient business models

  • Collaborating with data analysts, data scientists, and other teams

Salary and job outlook

According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary of a big data engineer is $125,662 [1]. Highly experienced big data engineers in the latter stages of their careers can make significantly more than that. However, those just entering the field who do not have a high level of experience can expect to make less.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) places the job title big data engineer in the categories of statisticians and computer and information research scientists. Here is the job outlook for each of these two categories:

Statistician: Projected job growth of 31 percent between 2021 to 2031 [2]

Computer and information research scientist: Projected job growth of 21 percent between 2021 and 2031 [3]

According to the BLS projections, the job of a big data engineer is likely to increase in demand significantly in the next few years, making this career a good career path to pursue.

In-demand skills for big data engineers

It is common for big data engineers to possess all of the following skills:

  • Computer programming with languages like C++, Java, and Python

  • Databases and SQL

  • ETL and data warehousing

  • Talend, IBM DataStage, Pentaho, and Informatica

  • Operating system knowledge for Unix, Linux, Windows, and Solaris

  • Hadoop

  • Apache Spark

  • Data mining and modeling

How to become a big data engineer

There are several steps that most people complete on their journey to becoming a big data engineer.

1. Earn a degree.

If you want to become a big data engineer, you will have to master all the technical skills mentioned above, which translates into a lot of education. Many people who become big data engineers have bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a related field such as computer science, statistics, or business data analytics.

Big data engineers need to be masters of coding, statistics, and data. Most companies require a bachelor’s degree for big data engineer positions.

Read more: How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor’s Degree?

2. Gain work experience.

Experience is a valuable asset for obtaining a job as a big data engineer. You can gain experience by freelancing, interning, practicing independently, or working in related positions. The more experience you get, the better your chances of obtaining a big data engineer position. 

3. Consider a certification.

Obtaining Professional Certificates can also be highly beneficial for securing employment as a big data engineer. Each of the following certificates can be helpful for people who are trying to become big data engineers:

Learn data engineering with IBM

If you have a passion for computer science, data, numbers, and programming, then a career as a big data engineer could be the perfect choice for you. IBM's Data Engineering Professional Certificate can help you achieve your career goals.

Article sources


Zip Recruiter. “Big Data Engineer Salary, https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/BIG-DATA-Engineer-Salary." Accessed August 2, 2023.

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