How to Get Into a Big Data Career

More than 1,066.36 petabytes of data are created each day. For perspective, consider that one petabyte is the equivalent of 11,000 ultra-high definition (4K) movies. The entire Library of Congress holds about 20 petabytes of data.

The amount of data that flows from and through the internet, social media, smart devices, e-commerce platforms, and other digital sources is huge and continues to grow. Together, this mass of information is known as big data.

Companies and other organizations seek to separate and analyze the data most pertinent to their business and to gain a competitive edge. This has generated strong demand for big data professionals who collect, store, sift through, extract, analyze, and explain data.

How to get into a big data career can begin with an undergraduate education in data-related fields such as computer science and lead to advanced certificates and degrees in specific areas. Graduates who are interested in polishing their resumes can hone their expertise with a post-baccalaureate big data certificate program.

A businessperson uses a whiteboard to give a data presentation.

What Are Big Data Career Options?

There’s no dearth of jobs in big data. Companies and organizations in healthcare, manufacturing, technology, the sciences, government, the nonprofit sector, public service, and sports are among the fields seeking professionals trained in managing and maximizing data. Whatever your interests, big data careers are likely to be available in that sector.
When considering a career in big data, it’s useful to focus on specific roles. These positions are some of the most common, and most in demand, in the field.

Data Engineer

Data engineers set up the infrastructure through which data is processed from raw inputs to usable information. These engineers ensure data flows as designed and can be presented to end users who might not be technologists. They combine skills in computer science and engineering to build data systems using algorithms and computer code.

Business Intelligence Analyst

Business intelligence analysts put data to work to improve the efficiency of a business and boost its profits. They comb through large amounts of data to identify useful data and how it can be applied. Business intelligence analysts should possess not only data skills but understand how a business works, along with its information needs.

Database Administrator

Database administrators make sure a data system works as promised. They maintain the system, install software updates and security patches, regularly back up the database, and restore data should server failures occur. They often ensure database security, such as granting access only to those with the appropriate level of authorization. Administrators also oversee system backups and recover lost information when necessary.

Data Scientist

Data scientists organize data operations and determine what data can benefit a business. They identify relevant data and collect, organize, extract, and interpret it. They also present reports about their analysis, drawing conclusions that can help their organizations improve. The data scientist role requires a command of the theoretical and functional aspects of working with data. Continual improvement of a data system often falls under their purview.

Steps to a Big Data Career

Getting into a career in big data involves acquiring the proper education, skills, and experience.


Most big data jobs require, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree in one of several areas, including:

  • Computer Science
  • Statistics
  • Information Technology
  • Mathematics
  • Engineering

Professional licensing and certifications, boot camps, and certificate programs specifically focusing on big data can provide an edge for professionals seeking more competitive roles.

High-level big data jobs require advanced degrees, such as a master’s in a data-specific area. Data scientists sometimes have doctoral degrees, indicating they have a deep understanding of theoretical data science concepts and have conducted extensive research in the field.

Employers that wish to retain talented people may pay for educational opportunities to help them build their skills.


Working in big data requires a mix of skills, from data-specific programming to more general data science concepts and people skills.

Tech Tools

Software is at the heart of manipulating big data, and a grounding in appropriate programming languages is a must. Commonly required languages are SQL, Python, C, and Java. Knowledge of data management platforms such as Apache Spark and Hadoop is essential, as well as being familiar with machine learning and other artificial intelligence (AI) processes.

Data-mining skills are in high demand when it comes to securing big data jobs. Tools that data professionals should be familiar with include RapidMiner Studio, Alteryx Designer, and Sisense for Cloud Data Teams.

Data visualization capabilities and familiarity with visualization software tools help data professionals communicate the meaning of data. Charts, graphs, and other illustrations can convey data’s impact in an easy-to-understand fashion. Examples of data visualization tools are Tableau, Infogram, Zoho Analytics, and Microsoft Power BI.
Data professionals should have sharp skills in mathematics and statistics. These disciplines enable data professionals to assess data and the approaches they take to understand it.

Security is another area of prime concern for those working with databases. Security tools that data professionals should be familiar with include MSSQL.DataMask, Scuba, AppDetectivePRO, Nmap, Zenmap, BSQL Hacker, and SQLRecon.

Soft Skills

Data professionals need to have strong written and verbal communication skills to share information with members of their teams or make presentations to other stakeholders. The capability to translate technical concepts into everyday language is a key skill.

The point of deploying data is to improve how a business or other organization works. The more professionals know about the business, the better they can provide relevant data.

Those who want to get into big data should be detail oriented but also keep an eye on the bigger picture. Focusing on the smallest parts of a data project helps ensure each element is correct. Being able to see where data analysis fits into the overall scope of a company or organization gives data professionals context for their work.


Experience is a key factor in advancing to high-level big data jobs. As people move from less responsible roles to those with more authority, it’s important to add a range of skills and familiarity in the different areas that constitute big data.

As data workers advance in their careers, they may broaden their expertise, learning new tools and systems as they progress from junior data scientist to data science manager or architect — or they may focus on a narrower role, becoming specialists in data security or data engineering.

Benefits of a Big Data Career

Data has been called the oil of the 21st century, and a job in data is like an oil industry job in previous decades, in the sense that workers are in demand, pay is good, and the field continues to grow.

A survey of Fortune 1000 companies indicates that investment in data initiatives is growing. Of the firms surveyed, 99% had invested in data projects, 65% had a chief data officer, and 96% reported measurable business outcomes.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts the number of data-related jobs will rise by 8% between 2020 and 2030, keeping pace with average job growth. Growth in data jobs stems from demand for workers in cloud computing, the collection and storage of big data, and information security needs — all fields that directly or indirectly involve gathering, storing, and analyzing data.

Another benefit of a career in big data is its competitive compensation. The median annual salary for database architects and administrators was $98,860 in May 2020, according to the BLS, with the top 10% earning more than $155,600. The median annual salary for other computer-related jobs was $91,250.

Additionally, a career in data offers the opportunity to be at the forefront of an exciting, growing field. We are still finding new data, new ways to manage data, and new ways to extract information that can be applied to business situations. From healthcare efficiencies to improving education methods, data professionals are changing the world in which we live and building the path to the future.

Join the Data Revolution

Data is dynamic, it’s big, and it’s growing. Companies continue to invest big money in big data to make their operations more efficient, make smarter decisions, and reveal new revenue streams.

Individuals interested in getting into big data can gain specialized expertise through Maryville University’s online computer science certificate programs. The big data post-bachelor’s certificate offers coursework in data wrangling, data mining, and machine learning to data sets.

Learn how to become the data expert your organization needs.

Recommended Reading

Social Media’s Influence on Elections

Which Bachelor’s Degrees Have The Highest Earning Potential?

What Is Data Modeling?


Indeed, “11 Types of Jobs in Big Data”

NewVantage Partners, “Big Data and AI Executive Survey 2021”

SelectHub, The Top 5 Data Mining Tools

Tableau, “10 Essential Skill Sets for Data Scientists”

TechJury, “How Much Data Is Created Every Day in 2021?”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Computer and Information Technology Occupations

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Database Administrators and Architects

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