A Comparison Between Data Scientists and Engineers

For modern digital businesses, having a successful data team is crucial, and this involves key roles like Data Analysts, Data Engineers, Data Scientists, Applied Scientists, and Machine Learning Engineers. These professionals work together with various stakeholders across departments to devise predictive analytics and solutions based on machine learning.

The success of an organization’s downstream machine learning applications is directly tied to its data architecture and Extract, Transform, and Load (ETL) operations. This means that as the number of companies undertaking AI and digital transformation projects increases, so does the demand for data engineers. These professionals are responsible for the development of data infrastructure and pipelines, as well as ensuring that data scientists have easy access to the processed data they need for building machine learning models.

This article will examine the roles of a Data Engineer and a Data Scientist in detail. This will include their respective duties and responsibilities, educational qualifications, areas of expertise, and career advancement opportunities. By comparing and contrasting these two roles, we hope to provide a comprehensive understanding of their distinctions.

Roles and Responsibilities of Data Scientists and Data Engineers

The creation of pipeline infrastructure for inputting data models is the primary responsibility of Data Engineers, who are typically employed before Data Scientists to establish a reliable data platform. In smaller businesses and startups, personnel may handle both Data Engineering and Data Science roles. However, having dedicated staff for both Data Engineering and Data Science is crucial for expanding a company’s data science capabilities.

Responsibilities of a Data Engineer

  • Building and maintaining large-scale data processing systems
  • Demonstrating expertise in various data integration, transformation, and deployment tools
  • Improving data efficiency by optimizing information flow
  • Devising strategies to acquire new data and integrate it into existing workflows
  • Developing procedures for mining and processing data
  • Developing custom software or utilizing existing solutions to integrate with the data ecosystem
  • Storing data

Responsibilities of a Data Scientist

  • Conducting an exploratory data analysis to identify the full scope of the problem and necessary data
  • Utilizing advanced statistical techniques to analyze large datasets and identify patterns and trends
  • Integrating data science into developing algorithms and predictive models for real-world business applications
  • Optimizing data science processes from data acquisition to deployment
  • Collaborating with stakeholders to share insights and develop data-driven products

Data Engineers frequently fulfill requests for clean and processed data from Data Scientists while also developing code, constructing data pipelines, and managing various aspects of the data infrastructure. The majority of a Data Scientist’s time is dedicated to creating and training machine learning models, conducting multiple experiments to improve model efficacy, and collaborating with stakeholders from different departments, including Engineering, Product, and Business, to analyze results and create innovative applications.

Data Engineers and Data Scientists undergo distinct training.

Generally, a Data Engineer is required to have a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science or Information Technology, with proficiency in software engineering, including coding, algorithm design, data structure development, system architecture, and software tool creation. As cloud computing continues to be crucial to digital enterprises, Data Engineers should possess expertise in major cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform, as well as cloud technologies such as data warehousing, data visualization, and data analytics that operate on these platforms.

For common applications such as recommender systems, computer vision, and natural language processing, cloud-based machine learning services and APIs are commonly utilized to save time and effort for Data Scientists, rather than developing their solutions from the ground up. In the recruitment process for Data Scientists and Data Engineers, certification from these cloud providers is frequently required.

To effectively collaborate with the data team, Engineers must possess a solid grasp of statistics and/or machine learning, as their role entails building data platforms for Data Scientists.

Data Scientists typically have diverse academic backgrounds, having studied fields like Computer Science, Statistics, Mathematics, Physics, Psychology, and Biology at the undergraduate level. Usually, a Data Scientist holds a postgraduate degree (Master’s or PhD) in one of the aforementioned fields. However, in recent times, it is becoming more common for entry-level Data Science positions not to require such qualifications.

Data Scientists must work closely with a diverse group of stakeholders from Engineering, Analytics, Product, and Business teams. Hence, it is beneficial for them to have knowledge in these fields. To facilitate the development of a collaborative, effective data product across cross-functional teams, strong communication and storytelling abilities are essential for Data Scientists.


With the growing demand for Data Scientists and Engineers, there is an increasing need for up-to-date, practical training. To address this need, several top technology companies, including Google, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, IBM, and others, offer industry-specific certifications. By completing an accredited course, candidates can reveal their competency and expertise to potential employers.

A competent Data Engineer may hold one or more of the following certifications or areas of expertise:

  • Google Cloud Data Engineer validation
  • Microsoft Azure Data Engineering Associate Specialist Certification
  • IBM Data Engineer Certification
  • The Data Engineering Fundamentals course offered by IBM

Below are some examples of certifications or areas of expertise that a competent Data Scientist may possess.

  • Artificial Intelligence – Deep Learning
  • DataCamp Specialization for Python – Useful for Data Scientists
  • Flatiron’s Data Science Workshop
  • The Deep Dive Into Data Science Bootcamp by General Assembly

Individuals who aspire to become Data Engineers or Scientists must carefully evaluate their available resources, interests and time while choosing the best suitable path for themselves. Instead of trying to attend as many classes as possible, it is more advantageous to focus on the ones that are likely to improve their Data Engineering or Data Science skill set the most.

Data Engineers and Data Scientists have distinct career paths.

Both Data Scientists and Data Engineers have promising job prospects. A Data Engineer’s career path may lead them to roles such as a Data or Solutions Architect. They may then advance into more conventional technical leadership positions or assume more imaginative responsibilities like envisioning and leading teams on data platforms. Data Engineers may also move into Data Science with a better grasp of crucial Data Science competencies, such as Statistics and Machine Learning.

For over a decade now, the demand for Data Scientists has been consistently increasing. Today, there are numerous opportunities for fresh graduates in companies of all sizes and across various industries. With advancements in tools and technologies that simplify and automate the data science lifecycle, Data Science is no longer restricted to professionals with advanced knowledge and PhDs. Based on their objectives, Data Scientists can become recognized domain experts as individual contributors or establish data science teams and organizations as Data Science leaders. Alternatively, by developing their understanding of software engineering concepts such as data structures, algorithms, and optimized code, they can switch to Data Engineering or Machine Learning Engineering roles.

Concluding Thoughts

Businesses are progressively acknowledging the significance of Data Science for achieving success, leading to an expansion of their Data Science teams and capabilities. Data Engineers constitute the backbone of data storage and processing and are accountable for designing infrastructures that allow Data Scientists to create machine learning models and applications such as data warehouses and pipelines.

It is time to establish a strong data infrastructure at your organization.

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