Data Engineer Or Software Engineer: What Does Your Business Need?

Bryan Minami our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 9/26/2019 9:55 AM
We are in a time in which what we do with Data matters. Over the last few years, we have seen a rapid rise in the number of Data Scientists and Machine Learning Engineers as businesses look to find deeper insights and improve their strategies. But, without proper access to the right Data that has been processed and massaged, Data Scientists and Machine Learning Engineers would be unable to do their job properly.  

So who are the people who work in the background and are responsible to make sure all of this works? The quick answer is Data Engineers!... or is it? In reality, there are two similar, yet different profiles who can help help a company achieve their Data-driven goals. 

Data Engineers 


When people think of Data Engineers, they think of people who make Data more accessible to others within an organization. Their responsibility is to make sure the end user of the Data, whether it be an Analyst, Data Scientist, or an executive, can get accurate Data from which the business can make insightful decisions. They are experts when it comes to data modeling, often working with SQL. 

Frequently, “modern” Data Engineers work with a number of tools including Spark, Kafka, and AWS (or any cloud provider), whilst some newer Databases/Data Warehouses include Mongo DB and Snowflake. Companies are choosing to leverage these technologies and update their stack because it allows Data teams to move at a much faster pace and be able to deliver results to their stakeholders.  

An enterprise looking for a Data Engineer will need someone to focus more on their Data Warehouse and utilize their strong knowledge of querying information, whilst constantly working to ingest/process Data. Data Engineers also focus more on Data Flow and knowing how each Data sets works in collaboration with one another.   

Software Engineers - Data


Similar to a Data Engineers, Software Engineers - Data ( who I will refer to as Software Data Engineers in this article) also build out Data Pipelines. These individuals might go by different names like Platform or Infrastructure Engineer. They have to be good with SQL and Data Modeling, working with similar technologies such as Spark, AWS, and Hadoop. What separates Software Data Engineers from Data Engineers is the necessity to look at things from a macro-level. They are responsible for building out the cluster manager and scheduler, the distributed cluster system, and implementing code to make things function faster and more efficiently. 

Software Data Engineers are also better programers. Frequently, they will work in Python, Java, Scala, and more recently, Golang. They also work with DevOps tools such as Docker, Kubernetes, or some sort of CI/CD tool like Jenkins. These skills are critical as Software Data Engineers are constantly testing and deploying new services to make systems more efficient.  

This is important to understand, especially when incorporating Data Science and Machine Learning teams. If Data Scientists or Machine Learning Engineers do not have a strong Software Engineers in place to build their platforms, the models they build won’t be fully maximized. They also have to be able to scale out systems as their platform grows in order to handle more Data, while finding ways to make improvements. Software Data Engineers will also be looking to work with Data Scientists and Machine Learning Engineers in order to understand the prerequisites of what is needed to support a Machine Learning model.  

Which is right for your business? 


If you are looking for someone who can focus extensively on pulling Data from a Data source or API, before transforming or “massaging” the Data, and then moving it elsewhere, then you are looking for a Data Engineer. Quality Data Engineers will be really good at querying Data and Data Modeling and will also be good at working with Data Warehouses and using visualization tools like Tableau or Looker.  

If you need someone who can wear multiple hats and build highly scalable and distributed systems, you are looking for a Software Data Engineer. It's more common to see this role in smaller companies and teams, since Hiring Managers often need someone who can do multiple tasks due to budget constraints and the need for a leaner team. They will also be better coders and have some experience working with DevOps tools. Although they might be able to do more than a Data Engineer, Software Data Engineers may not be as strong when it comes to the nitty gritty parts of Data Engineering, in particular querying Data and working within a Data Warehouse. 

It is always a challenge knowing which type of job to recruit for. It is not uncommon to see job posts where companies advertise that they are looking for a Data Engineer, but in reality are looking for a Software Data Engineer or Machine Learning Platform Engineer. In order to bring the right candidates to your door, it is crucial to have an understanding of what responsibilities you are looking to be fulfilled.

That's not to say a Data Engineer can't work with Docker or Kubernetes. Engineers are working in a time where they need to become proficient with multiple tools and be constantly honing their skills to keep up with the competition. However, it is this demand to keep up with the latest tech trends and choices that makes finding the right candidate difficult. Hiring Managers need to identify which skills are essential for the role from the start, and which can be easily picked up on the job. Hiring teams should focus on an individual's past experience and the projects they have worked on, rather than looking at their previous job titles. 

If you're looking to hire a Data Engineer or a Software Data Engineer, or to find a new role in this area, we may be able to help. 

Take a look at our latest opportunities or get in touch if you have any questions. 

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