May 20, 2024

Data Engineer Salary and Job Description 2024

Multiple stacks of data.

Data engineers play a crucial role in today's tech world. They're the builders behind the scenes, creating the frameworks that allow companies to tap into massive amounts of data.

Why does this matter? Because businesses rely on data to make intelligent decisions and uncover key insights that drive growth. Data engineers make this possible by building and managing the systems that collect, store, and process an organization's data.

It's no surprise that the demand for data engineering skills is skyrocketing. In fact, the growth rate for data engineering jobs is estimated to be 8%, which is faster than the 3% average job demand*. As more companies wake up to the power of data, they're eager to hire professionals who can help them use it.

As data continues to reshape industries across the globe, those who can bridge the gap between raw data and actionable insights will be poised to make a significant impact. Building a foundation in data engineering doesn't just open doors in tech — it equips you to thrive in an environment where data is the key player for more and more fields.

What do data engineers do?

Data engineers are the backbone of an organization's data infrastructure. They spend their days coding, optimizing queries, monitoring workflows, and troubleshooting issues to keep data systems running smoothly. There are many in-demand data engineering roles to pick from, but to apply for these roles you'll need a solid grasp of databases and big data tech*. Some of the skills you'll need are:

  • Strong programming knowledge in Python or Java
  • Expertise in SQL
  • Familiarity with big data tools like Apache Hadoop

Although a computer science degree can provide a solid foundation, you don't necessarily need one to prepare for a career in data engineering. Hands-on learning programs like the Data Engineer Path at Dataquest offer an alternative path. They help you develop job-ready skills through practical, real-world projects.

Besides supporting machine learning projects, data engineers enable efficient data analysis across the organization. With the growing importance of data, it's become a critical role in today's business world. By developing the right skills and experience, you can build a rewarding career as a data engineer.

Data engineer salary and career outlook

Curious about data engineering career paths and earning potential? In the United States, data engineers can expect competitive salaries that reflect the high demand for their skills. Let's look at the salary figures and factors shaping data engineering careers:

Data Engineer Salary: The typical data engineer salary ranges from $122,000 to $200,000 per year according to 2024 estimates by Glassdoor.*

Key factors influencing data engineer salaries:

  • Location: Cities with higher costs of living, like San Francisco or New York, generally offer higher salaries.
  • Experience: Senior data engineers can earn significantly more than the average range.
  • Industry: Data-heavy fields such as finance and tech tend to pay more to attract top talent.
  • Technical skills: Expertise in high-demand skills like Python, SQL, and cloud technologies boosts earning potential.

Data engineers typically progress from junior to senior and management roles over time. Specializing in areas like machine learning or big data architecture ensures continued relevance and higher salary potential as expertise grows. With the right skills and experience, data engineers can anticipate an in-demand career with strong growth prospects.

Junior data engineer salary and job description

Common job titles:

  • Data Engineer I
  • Associate Data Engineer
  • Junior Big Data Developer

Junior data engineers build the data infrastructure that powers insights and decisions. It's an exciting entry-level role with room for growth and impact.

You'll develop data pipelines, ensure data quality, and collaborate with senior engineers on technical solutions. Your work will help turn raw data into actionable insights.

Junior Data Engineer Salary: The typical junior data engineer salary ranges from $92,000 to $156,000 per year according to Glassdoor.

Key responsibilities:

Must-have skills:

  • Fundamentals of Python and SQL
  • Understanding of ETL and databases
  • Proficiency with Spark, Snowflake, BigQuery
  • Strong problem-solving and attention to detail
  • Effective communication for project collaboration

Most roles require a degree in computer science or related fields, but with more and more people turning to online learning, this is becoming less common. Hands-on experience through internships or projects boosts your resume and can help set you apart. Additionally, you should be prepared to showcase your SQL and Python skills in technical interviews.

To excel, focus on continuous learning — practice skills like database management, large-scale processing, and automation. Building your expertise will help you advance to senior roles.

The future looks bright for junior data engineers. With high industry demand, this role provides valuable technical skills and pathways to career growth. If you enjoy working with data, this could be the perfect starting point.

Mid-level data engineer salary and job description

Common job titles:

  • Data Engineer II
  • Lead Data Engineer
  • Data Integration Engineer

As businesses increasingly rely on data to drive key decisions, mid-level data engineers are critical in building the infrastructure to support this. They design and maintain the pipelines and systems that allow organizations to efficiently collect, process, and analyze vast amounts of complex data.

On a day-to-day basis, mid-level data engineers are responsible for constructing scalable data architectures that can handle massive datasets. They work closely with data science teams to understand business needs and implement solutions to make data more accessible and actionable. This often involves developing processes to extract, transform, and load data from various sources.

Succeeding in this role requires strong Python, Java, or Scala programming skills. Familiarity with distributed computing tools such as Apache Spark and Hadoop is also important for processing big data. Mid-level data engineers must be adept problem-solvers who can design fault-tolerant systems that remain stable and secure as data needs evolve.

Mid-level Data Engineer Salary: The typical mid-level data engineer salary ranges from $102,000 to $173,000 per year according to Glassdoor.

Key responsibilities:

  • Designing and building scalable data pipelines
  • Implementing and maintaining databases for performance and security
  • Developing processes to extract, transform and load data
  • Collaborating with teams to use data for business decisions

Skills:

  • Programming in Python, Java, Scala, or similar
  • Knowledge of big data tools like Spark and Hadoop
  • Understanding of distributed computing concepts
  • Strong problem-solving and collaboration abilities

To land a mid-level data engineer job, highlight your computer science or engineering background and any relevant work experience. Showcase projects where you've designed data systems or pipelines to solve real-world problems. Emphasize your programming proficiency and experience with big data tools.

Demand for skilled data engineers shows no signs of slowing, making this a promising career path. Mid-level roles offer opportunities to take on more complex challenges and set the stage for future growth. Staying on top of emerging data technologies will be key to long-term success in this exciting field.

Senior data engineer salary and job description

Common job titles:

  • Lead Data Engineer
  • Principal Data Engineer
  • Senior Big Data Developer

At this career stage, Senior Data Engineers develop solutions to manage large volumes of data effectively. They design, build, and maintain advanced data management systems that support a company's analytical and operational processes.

Senior Data Engineers evaluate and improve existing data systems to enhance performance. They develop complex ETL processes to ensure data quality and maintain scalable, secure databases. Additionally, they implement machine learning models for predictive analytics.

Collaboration is crucial in this role. Senior Data Engineers work with teams across the organization to meet data requirements. They apply their in-depth knowledge of SQL and database management with strong programming skills in languages like Python and Java. Familiarity with big data tools such as Apache Spark and Hadoop is also important.

Senior Data Engineer Salary: The typical senior data engineer salary ranges from $150,000 to $200,000 per year according to Glassdoor.

Key responsibilities:

  • Evaluating and improving existing data systems
  • Developing complex ETL processes
  • Collaborating with teams to meet data needs
  • Maintaining scalable and secure databases
  • Implementing machine learning models

Skills:

  • SQL and database management expertise
  • Python and Java programming proficiency
  • Knowledge of Apache Spark, Hadoop, and other big data tools
  • Strong analytical skills and attention to detail
  • Ability to collaborate in high-stakes environments

Most Senior Data Engineer roles require at least a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field, but advanced degrees or certifications can also help with career advancement. This education prepares engineers for the high-level problem-solving needed to manage complex data infrastructures.*

When applying for senior roles, highlight your experience with large-scale projects that showcase your comprehensive skills. In interviews, focus on past projects where you've effectively applied your technical abilities.

In summary, Senior Data Engineers are instrumental in architecting solutions that leverage big data to help decision-making across organizations. They play an important part in maintaining the integrity and accessibility of company data. As digital transformation accelerates across industries, the demand for skilled Senior Data Engineers will continue to grow significantly.

How to find and apply for jobs in data engineering

As the demand for data engineering expertise rises, securing a job in this field requires a strategic approach. Here are some effective strategies to help you navigate the job search process:

  • Build a strong online presence: Maintain an up-to-date and professional LinkedIn profile, highlighting your data engineering skills, projects, and achievements. Engage with relevant industry groups and share your knowledge through posts or articles.
  • Leverage your network: Reach out to your professional contacts, such as former colleagues, classmates, or professors, and let them know you're actively seeking data engineering opportunities. They may be aware of job openings or able to provide valuable referrals.
  • Attend industry events and meetups: Participate in local or virtual data engineering events, conferences, or meetups. These platforms provide opportunities to learn about job openings, network with professionals, and showcase your skills.
  • Contribute to open-source projects: Actively contributing to open-source data engineering projects can demonstrate your technical abilities and passion for the field. It also allows you to gain practical experience and expand your portfolio.
  • Tailor your application materials: Carefully review job descriptions and requirements, and customize your resume, cover letter, and portfolio to highlight how your qualifications align with the specific role and company.
  • Prepare for technical interviews: Data engineering interviews often involve coding challenges, system design questions, and in-depth discussions about data processing and infrastructure. Practice your technical skills and be prepared to showcase your problem-solving abilities.

Remember, securing a data engineering role requires persistence, continuous learning, and a proactive approach. Stay up-to-date with industry trends, expand your skillset, and actively engage with the data engineering community to increase your chances of success.

Conclusion

Succeeding as a data engineer requires aligning your personality, skills, and interests with the role's demands. This is key for both job satisfaction and career success.

Aspiring data engineers at all levels can take these practical steps:

  • Beginners: Build a foundation in Python, SQL and databases. Take online courses, join communities, and do entry-level projects to learn.
  • Intermediates: Learn big data tools, cloud platforms, and data modeling. Apply these in real projects to grow your skills.
  • Advanced: Work on designing complex data architectures and real-time systems. Stay current with emerging tech.

The Data Engineer Path at Dataquest offers structured courses to help you improve your abilities through hands-on practice, with support from our active community.

To really excel as a data engineer, you must work on practical projects that let you apply what you've learned. Building a strong portfolio of projects is essential for landing the best job opportunities.

In this fast-changing field, you must commit to continuous learning and skill development to reach your career goals. Embrace the challenge, stay curious and keep practicing - this is how you'll achieve success as a data engineer.

Anna Strahl

About the author

Anna Strahl

A former math teacher of 8 years, Anna always had a passion for learning and exploring new things. On weekends, you'll often find her performing improv or playing chess.