Life as … a Data Engineer

June 21, 2022 -

The definition of a Data Engineer is a technical person responsible for designing, developing and monitoring data pipelines and platforms; for ingesting, transforming and serving data to other systems or users; and for developing and industrialising data products, from data warehouses to machine learning models. But what does this mean concretely and who are the people behind this role? Meet Nicolás, our lead Data Foundations.

Can you briefly introduce yourself, Nicolás?

I am Nicolás, from Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. I graduated from the University of Buenos Aires in 2013, and I have been working in the software industry since 2011. I lived in Argentina and Taiwan before moving to Belgium in the early 2020s to focus my career around Data. When I’m not working, I like to spend time with my family and friends, travel the world, learn new things and explore nature.

What makes working as a Data Engineer so unique?

Asimov once said, “science can amuse and fascinate us all, but it is engineering that changes the world.” Research, innovation, and technology have exploded around data in the past years. As Data Engineers, we can bring all the exciting new breakthroughs, discoveries and technologies from the Data Science and engineering domains into production through real world products and applications. I love that my job allows me to combine theory and hands-on execution.

How would your colleagues describe you?

Probably as somebody calm and easy-going and who insists on having everything in source control.

Who inspires you?

I do not have an idol or personal hero, but I am inspired by certain traits and the people who possess them. Lately, I have been inspired by Elon Musk for his multi-disciplinary engineering skills, Steve Jobs for striving to make great products, Da Vinci for his curiosity and attention to detail, and Stephen Hawking for his intelligence and humor.

What is your go-to productivity trick?

It’s more of a combination of tricks than just one: a good night’s sleep, a well-defined plan for the day, staying away from distractions, focusing on one thing at a time, and putting myself in a comfortable working environment (chair, screen, laptop, you name it). I’m a morning person, so I try to get as much done as possible as early in the day as possible, concentrating on highest priority tasks first and pushing non-decisive meetings to the afternoon.

How can you stand out as a Data Engineer?

By striving to have a good understanding of the problem at hand and by dedicating time to staying up-to-date with the latest technologies and their applications. Especially in consulting, it is important to make sure that others understand your work. Often our job is obscure to people without a technical or IT background, which makes it hard for them to understand how messy data can be and how complex some processes can become. All of this can result in a lack of understanding of the scope and value of our work. Thus, this line of work calls for more than tech know-how. It requires strong communication skills and an awareness of your audience.

What did your career path look like? When did you join Python Predictions?

I studied Computer Engineering in Argentina and worked in my home country for several years in different positions related to Software Engineering. At the beginning, I was very interested in the mobile app world and building the services needed to get them to work. Once I got more hands-on experience with the data that such devices can generate, I started becoming more interested in IoT, Data and AI.

When the opportunity came, I joined an IoT start-up in Taiwan for a few years. It was a great ride. When the time came to move back west, I decided to focus on data. At the beginning of 2020, I started working as a Data Engineer and joined Python Predictions last September as such. Since the beginning of 2021, I have also been working as the Competence Center Lead of Data Foundations.

If you could go back in time, what would you say to yourself at the beginning of your career?

I would probably tell myself to shift some of my reading time to non-technical content early on. Technologies evolve fast, so it is paramount to keep learning and stay up-to-date with what’s becoming available, but it is also really valuable to understand how it can impact other fields and to get inspiration from other topics. Of course, I would also tell myself to buy some Bitcoin when it came out.

What gives you a professional high?

I enjoy working in an innovative environment, putting technology to work to solve a non-trivial problem or business case.

Do you have any mentors in your professional life?

Yes, at Python Predictions, Geert (Co-Founder and Managing Partner at data branch Python Predictions) is my coach and helps me enormously to grow and focus on current and upcoming challenges. I believe that being in an environment where people are willing to share their experiences and provide open feedback is key both to one’s professional development and that of the company.

Do you aspire to be a mentor to others?

Yes, hopefully I am doing a bit of that already. We are a mixed team with varied backgrounds and I believe we all have valuable experiences and skills which are worth sharing.

What skill did you develop over your career that was worth all the effort?

Understanding the bigger picture first and being pragmatic. Oftentimes, the design and implementation of a solution are not aligned with the ultimate goal of a project. It is always good to pause, take a step back and think about what is the most significant set of actions that should be done to get the most value in return.

I would also stress understanding the foundational ideas and key concepts behind what we do, not only of technologies. Tools come and go, technologies evolve faster than we can keep pace with, and job titles and descriptions change every couple of years.

What does your desired future look like?

I would like to continue applying technology to solve real world problems. CTO is something I would like to aim for.

Why should a fellow Data Engineer join you at Python Predictions? Why is working as a Data Engineer extra special at Python Predictions?

I think we have great challenges ahead, and we are a highly motivated team. We are eager to learn from one another, and we pay close attention to everyone’s interests.