An agile data engineer is anyone who is actively involved with the creation and evolution
of the data aspects of one or more software-based solutions.
Sometimes called an agile data developer or agile DBA.
The Responsibilities of an Agile Data Engineer
The responsibilities of an agile data engineer varies based on the context of their current
environment. For example, in a small organization they are like to be a
"data jack of all trades", whereas in a larger organization they
may focus on application development or on data warehouse development.
In other words, it depends.
The responsibilities potentially include, but are not limited to:
- Working in a manner that reflects their current team(s). Every team is unique,
comprised of unique people facing a unique situation. As a result they will
work in a unique manner. Some teams will work in a very agile manner, some in a lean manner,
some in a serial manner, or very often a hybrid manner.
- The creation and evolution of documentation. Agile data engineers, like other
agile practitioners, can and should take an
agile approach to documentation.
- Requirements, architecture, and design exploration. Agile teams take an
agile approach to modeling, including
- Data source development and evolution.
- Legacy system evolution. Agile data engineers will need to communicate the constraints imposed by
legacy data sources,
working with application developers to understand those constraints and work appropriately.
Agile data engineers will evolve their
legacy data schemas
over time, applying common
- Testing. Agile data engineers will work with developers to write and test
database code such as stored procedures, data-oriented code within applications
that interacts with their data sources.
- Perfomance tuning. Performance tuning, both of the database
and of data-oriented code and mappings within applications, is an important aspect of the role.
- Adopt agile database tools. Agile data engineers adopt
agile database tools
that enable them to work in an agile manner.
Most importantly, agile data engineers recognize that they need to
What Agile Data Engineers Do
To understand the role of agile data engineers, let's consider what
they do in practice:
- Agile data engineers work very closely with application developers to
implement and support data-oriented development efforts. Agile data engineers
work closely with developers,
typically supporting a single larger team or several smaller teams as the case
may be. Agile data engineers can often be
responsible for several data sources (e.g. databases, files, XML structures, and
so on) or at least be co-responsible for them.
For example, if two development teams access the same database, and each
of them have different data engineers, then those people will need to work
together to evolve that database over time.
To interact effectively with developers, agile data engineers need to learn fundamental development
encapsulating database accessand
to RDBs (O/R mapping).
- Agile data engineers must work in an evolutionary, if not agile, manner just as application developers do.
The biggest potential change for Agile data engineers is that they will need
to work in an iterative and incremental manner for with many teams.
Modern development processes, such as Scrum, SAFe, or Kanban
typically don't provide detailed requirements up front nor do they
focus on detailed models (and certainly not detailed data models up front).
They will do some
initial requirements and
and then evolve their models over time to reflect their changing
understanding of the problem domain as well as the
changing requirements of
- Agile data engineers need to work with operations engineers to take
advantage of and to help evolve corporate meta data, standards, and
guidelines. When it comes to data, an operations engineer
focuses on the physical aspects of data administration such as data source installation, maintenance,
back up, restoration, upgrades, tuning/optimization, disaster recovery, and support.
Agile data engineers will collaborate with operations engineers to help
the team produce work which reflects your organizations overall strategy.
They will also want to take advantage of any
Master Data Management (MDM)
efforts that are currently in
place, if any. There is no reason, other than political, why this
cannot happen in an agile manner.
- Agile data engineers need to work with enterprise architects to ensure that their
work reflects the architectural vision. Agile data engineers will
work with your
team, if one exists, to take advantage of existing
infrastructure and strategies. Once again, this can also happen in an
The Skills of an Agile Data Engineer
To be successful, agile data engineers require the following skillset:
- People skills. Agile data engineers must have the people skills which enables them to collaborate effective with others.
- Technical skills. Agile data engineers need to adopt evolutionary, if not agile, database techniques such as those of the agile database techniques stack summarized in Figure 1.
- Evolutionary development skills. Because agile teams work in an evolutionary (iterative and incremental) manner, agile data engineers must have evolutionary development skills.
- General skills and knowledge. Agile data engineers must have at least a basic understanding of all aspects of the software process and the business domain in which they're working. Ideally they should be generalizing specialists.
Figure 1. The Agile Database Techniques Stack.