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, the job opportunities, and how to get started.

[Featured image] Big data engineer at computer working on organizing data

If you’re interested in data, math, analytics, problem-solving, numbers, and charts working as a big data engineer could be a good career choice.

This article will discuss the critical aspects of being a big data engineer. After reading it, you should better understand whether this career is right for you. 

What is a big data engineer?

A big data engineer develops, maintains, tests, analyzes, and evaluates 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 while 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 only helpful if 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


Read more: What Is Big Data? A Layperson's Guide

Typical job responsibilities

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

  • Designing and implementing software systems

  • Creating systems for collecting data and 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

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 modelling

A positive job outlook

The Government of Canada Job Bank places the job title big data engineer in the category of data science. Here is the job outlook:

Data science: The projected growth is listed as “Good” to “Very Good” for most regions through 2025 [1]. 


How to become a big data engineer

Most people complete several steps to becoming a big data engineer.

1. Earn a degree

Big data engineers need to be masters of coding, statistics, and data. Most companies require a college diploma or bachelor’s degree in related areas, such as computer science, statistics, or business data analytics, for big data engineer positions.

2. Gain work experience

Experience is a valuable asset for obtaining a big data engineer job. You can gain experience 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 trying to become big data engineers:

Salary outlook

According to the Government of Canada Job Bank, a data scientist’s median hourly wage is $45.96, with a high hourly wage of $78.38 and a low of $25.74 [2].


Next steps

If you have a passion for computer science, data, numbers, and programming, a career as a big data engineer could be the perfect choice for you. To enter this profession, you will have to work hard to obtain the skills and credentials that employers will likely require.

Consider completing a Big Data Specialization with the University of California San Diego or check out other big data engineering courses on Coursera. Explore several different online courses that can be helpful in pursuing a big data engineer career path.

Article sources


Government of Canada Job Bank. Job outlooks for data science, https://www.jobbank.gc.ca/marketreport/outlook-occupation/227147/ca. Accessed May 20, 2024.

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