What Does A Big Data Specialist Do? 


A Big Data specialist is an expert in data management and has advanced knowledge of the entire data lifecycle: from identifying data sources to storage, architecture, modelling, visualisation, or analysis. 

In this article, we will better understand the role of the Big Data specialist, the different specialisations, functions, and salaries: 

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Job Profile of a Big Data Specialist

The amount of data we generate is growing exponentially. Companies need to store, manage, and understand this data in order to make better strategic and business decisions.

This huge amount of data is known as “Big Data” and the exponential growth of data is creating companies with an urgent need for experts in Big Data.

These data specialists are in charge of obtaining, managing, storing, organising, and delivering the data to companies in a meaningful and comprehensible way. 

To do this, Big Data specialists need to possess a combination of technical, analytical and business skills. Depending on their role, Big Data specialists are responsible for designing the processes and strategies that make the data accessible and understandable to decision-makers, so that they can make decisions based on it. 

Companies are increasingly investing in digital transformation and using Big Data platforms, as well as developing their own systems using cloud and/or legacy components.

Therefore, Big Data specialists must be well-versed in various programming languages (such as C and C++), technological applications, and cloud environments.

By leveraging the power of Big Data, companies can gain a competitive edge and make informed business decisions that will help them remain successful.

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Big Data Experts Demand

There is currently a high demand for Big Data specialists, as many companies have already realised the importance of data and are in the process of digital transformation, making Big Data experts one of the most sought-after profiles.

In our 2022 freelancer study, 41% of the surveyed IT freelancers agreed that “Big Data” was going to be one of the most relevant areas in the tech sector.

 Relevant industries in IT – Freelancer Study 2022
Most relevant IT areas according to 2022 Freelancer study

The 2022 report showed that in addition to cybersecurity experts, AI professionals and cloud architects, Big Data specialists are in high demand. 

The demand for professionals is higher than the supply, and therefore these professionals have a good choice of where to work, as well as very good work conditions (we will see salaries later).

If you browse job boards and job postings, you will often find jobs for Data Architects, Data Analytics experts, Data Scientists or Big Data Developers.

Considering the complexity of the data, it is common for companies with Big Data projects to have various Big Data specialists assigned to various phases of the data management lifecycle.

Big Data vs Data Science

Big data and data science are two related but distinct concepts. The former refers to the collection, storage, and analysis of large amounts of data, while the latter is the application of statistical and analytical techniques to interpret the data and extract valuable insights. Big data is the foundation of data science and is used to create data-driven decisions, while data science is used to analyse and interpret data.

Big Data specialists and Data Science specialists are often considered the same role and we should take a look at the exact responsibilities and tasks to see if that’s the case.

What are the skills needed for Big Data?

Working in the realm of big data requires a unique set of skills to be successful. 

We’ll see later on that there are actually different roles with different responsibilities when working in Big Data. Depending on the exact role, some skills will be required over others.

To be successful in the world of Big Data, you need to have the ability to combine technical expertise with traditional data analysis skills to extract meaningful insights from the immense amounts of data that are being processed each second. 

Furthermore, it is necessary to possess a sound understanding of programming, data analysis, and statistics, and be able to communicate the results to stakeholders effectively.

  1. Programming: Some of the most used programming languages within Big Data are Java, Python, R, C++, Ruby, and Scala
  1. Frameworks: Frameworks such as Apache Spark, or Apache Storm as well as Hadoop or MapReduce help with Big Data processing.
  1. Database Knowledge and Data Warehousing: Understanding of database principles and experience with relational (MySQL, Oracle) and non-relational (NoSQL, MongoDB, Cassandra, Hbase) database systems is required.
  1. Data Mining: Ability to extract data from different sources, analyse it, and generate meaningful insights. There are data mining tools that can help such as Apache Mahout or Rapid Miner.
  1. Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing (NLP) and AI: Knowledge of machine learning algorithms is required to develop AI-based applications. NLP allows the interaction between computers and humans and can also help as a Big Data expert.
  1.  Statistical and Quantitative Analysis: An understanding of statistical methods and techniques is required to interpret data. Statistics are the base of data science and data analysis. Also, a strong background in maths will give you a great foundation.
  1. Data Visualization: Knowledge of visualisation tools such as Tableau and D3.js is required for creating visualisations. Being able to use high-quality charts and graphs will affect the impact of the data. 
  1. Cloud Computing: Working with cloud-based Big Data solutions requires knowledge of cloud computing platforms (AWS, Microsoft Azure, etc.). Having familiarity with public and hybrid clouds would be useful too.
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Professional profiles within Big Data

Depending on the requirements of each company, it will be possible to find different big data specialists with specific roles and responsibilities.

It is common for companies to start by hiring a Big Data expert who is responsible for defining the initial strategy and requirements, and then building a team of Big Data specialists.

Below we take you through the most in-demand big data profiles:

#1 Data Architect

The Data Architect, also known as Big Data Architect, is responsible for creating the technology architecture required to support all Big Data including the input, storage, reading and consumption of information.

This professional understands the complete lifecycle of the Big Data solution and from there plans and designs the system and architecture. They are responsible for analysing the technical requirements and deciding which technologies to use.

#2 Data engineer

Data engineers or Big Data Engineers are responsible for monitoring, optimising and updating data management processes.

They are responsible for the identification of data requirements for maintenance, the implementation of process improvements as well as the optimisation of the efficiency of the databases.

Data Engineers work directly with the team to troubleshoot potential data management issues and create scalable big data systems based on requirements.

They are also responsible for ensuring that the technology associated with the big data process is up to date and that it is in the latest version.

#3 Data Analyst

The data analyst, also known as a big data analyst, is responsible for the analysis of quantitative and qualitative data.

Depending on the needs of the business, they analyse and contextualise data and transform it into relevant information to support decision-making.

It is their responsibility to identify errors and clean up corrupted data, as well as to prepare reports on trends and forecasts.

They need data management skills as well as business skills.

#4 Data Modeler

The data modeller or data modelling specialist is the professional responsible for processing the data collected by companies to establish its characteristics, relationships between data and possible practical uses.

These professionals are systems analysts who often work with data architects and data managers to design databases and data models that turn complex data into usable systems.

Data modelling is an essential part of Business Intelligence and these professionals have extensive knowledge of data flows, and relational, dimensional or NoSQL databases.

They are primarily responsible for transforming macro data into micro and macro trends that can be used in business decision-making.

#5 Data Scientist

Data Scientists are responsible for identifying trends and patterns in the data and finding solutions to problems that may arise in the data. For example, identifying gaps in available data.

They are responsible for analysing, classifying, modelling and structuring data in order to extract the information needed for decision-making. They perform predictive analysis based on the company’s situation.

This professional is a cross between a programmer, a mathematician and a statistician, and has knowledge and skills from all of these areas.

They work closely with business intelligence teams to deliver data-driven solutions and also support the design of machine learning solutions.

#6 Data Administrator

Data administrators are responsible for the design of database software and the definition of data storage structures.

They are responsible for ensuring system performance and functionality. They aim to reduce database downtime and ensure that data transactions are performed at high speed.

The data administrator manages the different levels of access and ensures data security through regular testing.

List of roles for Big Data specialists
List of roles for Big Data specialists

#7 Big Data Developer

Big Data Developers, also known as Data Developers, use programming languages to develop business applications that enable data to be extracted into understandable formats.

These professionals need to understand different data sources, data structures and how they relate to each other in order to develop ETL processes.

Data engineers need both programming and analytical skills.

#8 Data Steward

Data Stewards – aka data protectors or data guardians – are responsible for defining policies, regulations, and audits around data.

They are also responsible for ensuring that these policies are enforced and that data implementation and management is carried out correctly.

They are generally a figure who guides workers on data management regulations and manages security and operational protocols around the data that the company handles.

Data Stewards are essentially the guardians of data, ensuring that it is handled securely and responsibly.

#9 Machine Learning Engineer

The Machine Learning Engineer is responsible for utilising data-driven techniques to create AI algorithms and models for a specific purpose. They analyse data sets, develop and optimise ML models, and monitor the performance of the solutions they create. 

They also work with other teams to design and implement ML systems and schemas, troubleshoot any issues, and evaluate the effectiveness of their models. 

Additionally, they stay up-to-date with the latest advancements in the field to continuously improve their algorithms and models.

#10 Data Visualisation Developer 

The data visualisation developer or visual analytics specialist has a good understanding of data structure and the flow of data between systems. They have knowledge of user experience, neural network management, application design and programming.

They must be able to create visualisations and dashboards that present data in a simple and logical way. Thanks to that, the Business Intelligence team will be able to understand the data and use it to support decision-making.

They help ensure that the data is accurate, consistent and has good quality and that it is available for analysis and operational or analytical reporting.

#11 Chief Data Officer (CDO)

The Chief Data Officer (CDO) is a C-level executive tasked with overseeing the data strategy of the company. They are responsible for defining the purpose of the data, determining which data is necessary, ensuring data availability, quality, and accuracy, and developing a data-driven business strategy

The CDO works to ensure that data is used optimally and effectively to support decision making within the company.

How do I become a Big Data Specialist?

After examining the distinct roles in Big Data, it becomes evident that if one wants to specialise in a particular Big Data role, a deeper understanding of certain topics is necessary.

To become an expert in Big Data, it is essential to have a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field such as computer science, information technology, or mathematics. Companies will also look for experience in areas such as database management, data warehousing, or data analysis.

To further hone your skills, you can take online courses in Hadoop, Apache Stark, Data Analysis, and other topics, as well as pursue certifications

Interesting certification in the area of Big Data include:

Attending conferences and meetups related to Big Data can also be beneficial, as they provide an opportunity to stay up-to-date on the latest developments and build a network of contacts.

How much does a Big Data specialist make?

With the ever-growing demand for Big Data specialists, those who possess the necessary skills and experience can expect to be rewarded with a very attractive salary

The exact salary amount will depend on factors such as the country, employer, past employers, and individual experience.

Examining the salaries of Big Data professionals in the United States, Big Data roles often have salaries above $150,000 per year. Furthermore, the salaries seem to be keeping up with the rising demand for competent Big Data specialists.

According to Lightcast Analyst 2022 data, the highest-paying Big Data positions are Big Data Engineers, Data Architects, and Data Modelers.

Top Paying Big Data Positions

Big Data engineer$151,300
Data architect$137,000
Data modeller$130,800
Data Scientist$122,000
Database developer$109,300

Big Data Rates for Freelancers

Freelancers with Big Data knowledge on freelancermap charge on average:


Rates in the field of Big Data range between $40 and $96/hour for most freelancers.

The daily rate for Big Data Freelancers (8 working hours) would be around:

Stand 27/01/2023

Nevertheless, freelancer rates may differ depending on the individual’s experience or where the freelancer lives. 

Let’s take a look at the hourly rates of Big Data experts in different countries and regions:

Freelancer rates based on the freelancermap rate index as of April 2023

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Natalia Campana

Natalia is part of the international team at freelancermap. She loves the digital world, social media and meeting different cultures. Before she moved to Germany and joined the freelancermap team she worked in the US, UK and her home country Spain. Now she focuses on helping freelancers and IT professionals to find jobs and clients worldwide at www.freelancermap.com

By Natalia Campana

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