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What’s the Difference Between Software Engineers and Data Engineers?

26th May 2021
By Ben Westwood
Principal Delivery Consultant

Software engineers and data engineers are two distinct roles, but it is not always clear how they are different. This guide will help you understand what each of these positions does and how to move between them to expand your professional experience!

The Role of a Software Engineer

A software engineer is responsible for developing things like mobile apps, games, web applications, operating systems, and networks. These individuals use programming languages, databases, servers, and other technologies to satisfy the needs of both businesses and consumers with their final product.

In other words, when you think of the people who build your favourite mobile apps and video games, you are thinking of software engineers!

Their process begins by working with a client to understand a specific problem they’re trying to solve. Once they analyse those needs, the software engineers will design end test computer software that provides a solution.

This requires them to have a deep understanding of computing systems, software structure, and coding so that they can use algorithms to tell the computer what it needs to do. Since technology is always evolving rapidly, software engineers must stay on top of these developments so they can implement the most effective systems.

These are some of the additional tasks that a software engineer might perform:

  • Collaborate with business operations teams to understand software requirements
  • Design and test the software logic and its components
  • Build reasonable code and store them in libraries for future use
  • Debug issues found in a client/server environment
  • Maintain and improve the existing codebase

How Data Engineers are Different

So, how are data engineers different from software engineers? Let’s dive in.

For starters, data engineers are less focused on delivering an end product to a business or consumer. Their job revolves around transforming raw data and building pipelines so that data scientists can perform valuable analysis.

Think of them as the people that create and maintain the structure for the analytics that your entire organization relies on! This includes servers, databases, and other large-scale processing systems that keep your business running.

This is a very technical role that requires extensive knowledge of programming languages, SQL database design, and communication skills. The infrastructure they support is what allows other teams to extract data and transform it, so they must be able to work alongside them to meet their needs.

They will also need to take large, complex data sets and assemble them in a way that makes them usable. If someone needs a new tool to analyse or collect data, it is their responsibility to make that happen in an efficient way.

Additional responsibilities for data engineers include the following:

  • Taking charge of data acquisition
  • Optimizing internal data deliver processes
  • Improving data reliability, quality, and efficiency
  • Supporting the data pipeline
  • Building, testing, and maintaining data architectures

A data engineer primarily serves internal stakeholders, since their goals are to use their skills to move the business forward.

If the organization needs to collect information about customer churn, so they can predict when someone is likely to cancel a subscription, the data engineer will work to find the best way to collect and transform that data.

They will also ensure that the database storing that information is maintained and easily accessible for those that need to access it!

Should You Move from One Role to the Other?

Whether you are a data engineer or software engineer, you may have considered moving from one world to the other. Keep reading to learn more about how you can transition between these roles, and when it might make sense to do so!

Moving from Software Engineer to Data Engineer

If you want to shift your focus to machine learning and artificial intelligence, then moving from software engineer to that engineer might be the right move for you. Data engineers have a higher average salary too – so that’s another reason that a move like this might be attractive!

Start by doing the following:

1 – Get Additional Certifications

Most add engineers have a background in mathematics, statistics, engineering, or computer science. Technical knowledge is really important here, so consider getting additional certifications to boost your knowledge base. Most of the rules require a bachelor’s degree in a similar discipline, so make sure that you think about that as well.

If you don’t have experience or background in IT, you might need a more involved program that will help you demonstrate your proficiency in the field. Perhaps a master’s program in data analytics or engineering might make sense!

2 – Take on Some Hands-On Projects

Working on some hands-on projects or a great way to learn the fundamentals of data engineering. It will help you further your understanding of programming languages like R and Python, as well as give you the tools you need to be able to communicate this information in a business environment.

For example, learn about how you can leverage data to enhance the features of existing products, or how you can create graphs, plots, and hypotheses to help a business solve problems. Practice cleaning up large sets of data and determining which features are relevant to get accurate insights.

It could also be helpful to network with industry leaders and professionals to get advice on projects that can help you enter the industry and gain more experience.

Moving from Software Engineer to Data Engineer

If you want to gain more generalised experience and understand the complete tech stack, it might make sense to move from data engineer to software engineer.

Having this knowledge will help you solve problems in the future because you will better understand how different pieces work together. Similarly, it will make it easier for you to launch your own artificial intelligence company in the future since you can’t build one without software development!

Here’s how you can do it:

1 – Develop Your Coding Skills

Software engineers are required to have a strong set of coding skills. Consider enrolling in some certificate programs or participating in projects that involve coding so that you can build your experience in this area.

Understanding how to code is not enough, since you must also use your communication skills to translate it to the operations side of the business. They will be the ones using the software you develop!

2 – Learn Some Web Frameworks & Programming Languages

In addition to coding, you will need to understand how backend web frameworks function. Think about it – you can’t develop applications without relying on a framework to build them!

Choose one and commit to learning it, whether it is Django (Python), Spring Boot (Java), or Rails (Ruby). Don’t worry about picking the newest framework or going wide into several of them. Instead, pick one that has been popular for a while because more companies are likely using it.

Make sure that the framework you choose also aligns with the coding language you’re starting to learn. If you are going to go with Django, then you need to learn Python – but if you want to move forward with Rails, you must learn Ruby.

Don’t worry about trying to master the syntax since that will take too long, and it is easier to learn from experience. Focus on figuring out the basic syntax and some object-oriented programming – you’ll always be able to look this up if you need it anyways!

Next Steps

Software Engineers and Data Engineers are in high demand. We help clients across the UK, Canada and USA to hire top talent into their technical teams. If you are looking for a new challenge, I’d love to hear from you. Please get in touch with me at [email protected] to arrange a call and find out how we can help you.

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