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Data Engineers in High Demand, Winning High Salaries

Get ready to pay six figures for your new data engineer. Quantitative recruiting firm Burtch Works' first salary survey reveals the salaries and trends impacting these data infrastructure experts.

If your organization is looking to hire data engineers in the next 12 months, be prepared to move quickly in your hiring process and think carefully before you waste time negotiating salaries.

That’s some of the advice for hiring managers from the first edition of Salaries of Data Engineering Professionals from the quantitative executive recruiting firm Burtch Works. Known for its work with data scientists and analytics professionals, and its annual salary surveys that look at the employment trends for those professionals, this year, Burtch Works has expanded by offering this new survey for data engineers, conducted in individual interviews with 320 of these professionals based in the United States. The survey looks at salaries, demographics, and trends among data engineers. 

What is a data engineer? These are the professionals responsible for building and managing the data and IT infrastructure that sits between the data sources and the data analytics. They report into the IT department, the data science department, or both. According to the Burtch Works survey, these professionals command a high rate of pay.

Burtch Works segments these pros into four different categories -- level 1 individual contributors (entry level to 5 years of experience), level 2 individual contributors (more than 5 years of experience), level 1 management (project-level management), and level 2 management (senior leadership management).

Salaries and bonuses

The median salary for level 2 (senior-level) management positions for data engineers is $228,000. A full 96% of these managers were also eligible for bonuses with the mean bonus sitting at $64,218.

For level 1 managers, the median salary level is $170,000. A total of 95% of these pros were eligible for bonuses with the mean bonus sitting at $32,803.

Level 2 individual contributors’ median salary was $150,000, and 88% of these pros were eligible for bonuses with the mean bonus sitting at $24,589.

Level 1 individual contributors’ median salary was $106,000, and 80% of these pros were eligible for bonuses with the mean bonus at $22,283.

Organizations can expect these salaries to continue to climb next year, according to Burtch Works data engineering recruiter, Natalie Rubenstein. Those increases will be driven by a strong economy and optimism in the market, the ongoing work-from-home/remote trend, pent-up hiring demand, and preemptive salary increases from hiring managers who are looking to stem attrition, Rubenstein says.

“Candidates changing jobs are fielding multiple officers and are able to negotiate higher salaries,” she says. “There’s pent-up hiring demand. We’ve heard from many hiring managers that they are completely frustrated by the turnover on their teams, and the really challenging hiring market they are facing. I’ve had hiring managers ask me to go to a candidate after final rounds and get the salary that they will 100% move forward with, with no negotiations and no backouts. They’d rather pay more in the offer than go through the process again with another candidate.”

Organizations are also looking at ways to limit their turnover rates.

“We’ve seen some clients doing random salary increases,” Rubenstein says. “We’ve heard of some bosses giving increases preemptively in an attempt to stem attribution for crucial members of their data teams.”

More organizations are looking to hire in the second half of 2021, too. Burtch Works spoke with 125 companies about their hiring plans for data engineers. In the second half of 2021, 81% are planning to hire compared with 73% that had planned to hire in the first half of 2021. Just 67% had said they were planning to hire in the first half of 2020.

Demographics

The field of data engineers is largely male -- 87.5%, and just 12.5% female. That’s a lower percentage of women than in other data science fields, according to Burtch Works.

In terms of education, data engineers are most commonly trained in computer science or engineering, but some also come from data science fields or other fields, too.

The most frequent degree level was a Masters at 61.6%. Another 32.2% held Bachelors degrees, and just 5.3% held PhDs.

There’s a fairly even distribution of experience levels in the industry, according to Burtch Works, with the median number of years in the field sitting at 11 years and the mean at 12.5 years. However, there may be more young people looking towards a career in the field now, just as there were so many looking at data science careers a few years ago, which led to an influx of new talent.

Other factors for data engineers

For data engineers looking to make themselves more marketable, Burtch Works recruiters offered this advice: “Lack of cloud experience is limiting to data engineers. Being proficient in multiple cloud platforms is the best way to stay marketable.”

In terms of what data engineering pros value the most in a position, Burtch Works director of operations and research Mary Duskwood offered the following advice insights from the survey: Base salary increases ranked the highest at 43%. There was a three-way tie for second place at 41% where data engineering pros identified good management/leadership, flexibility and work from home, and interesting work/projects as the next top things that made them happy at work. Among those answering the question who marked “other,” several identified meaningful work as important to them.

Finally, Rubenstein says that organizations who are competing to hire data engineering talent should be sure that they are being flexible when it comes to remote work. They should also look carefully at the hiring process they have in place.

“Combine or eliminate steps in the process,” Rubenstein advises. “Candidates what to understand the time commitment of applying for a particular job, and if it’s too long they don’t want to go for that job.”

What to read next:

Data Fabrics: What CIOs Need to Know

Gaining Control Over Data Decay

What CIOs Need to Know About Graph Database Technology

IT Pro Salary Survey: What You Earned in 2020

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Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer