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Essential skills for data-centric developers

To become more data-driven, organizations need data-centric developers. Developers can learn a mix of technical and interpersonal skills to be an attractive candidate for the job.

Executives aim to create data-driven organizations to survive and thrive in the digital era. They need data-centric developers to make it happen.

Enterprise teams must hire developers who can deliver digital products that enable modern, data-driven enterprises.

"As businesses increasingly rely on data to make informed decisions, developers with strong data skills are in high demand to build and maintain those data-driven solutions," said Douglas Vargo, vice president of emerging technologies at IT and business consulting services firm CGI.

Data, tech and AI are the top growth drivers for CEOs, according to a January 2023 report from Accenture, a professional services firm. They identified enhancing performance and productivity through data, tech and AI as their top area of focus.

Business priorities rely on being able to access and analyze data. Real-time data and analytics, as well as high data quality, make these initiatives work. C-suite priorities for 2023 and beyond, according to multiple executive surveys and analyst reports, include the following:

  • Customer experience and personalization in customer touchpoints.
  • A smarter, resilient supply chain with visibility throughout.
  • Measurement, reporting and improvement on environmental, social and governance issues.
  • Cybersecurity and data privacy programs, using algorithms and intelligence within security software to identify anomalies in the IT environment that could indicate potential attacks and breaches.
  • Automation and intelligent workflows that harness robotic process automation, machine learning (ML), natural language processing, optical character recognition and other AI technologies.

Essential skills for data-centric developers

Developers capable of delivering the code for these objectives need a combination of technical, business and professional skills.

"If you say a developer only needs IT skills like SQL or Python, then I think you're selling the role short," said Jorgen Heizenberg, vice president analyst with analyst firm Gartner. "Every role, including the data-centric developer, consists of multiple skill categories."

Developers need technical skills in programming languages such as the following:

If you say a developer only needs IT skills like SQL or Python, then I think you're selling the role short.
Jorgen HeizenbergVice president analyst, Gartner
  • C/C++.
  • Go.
  • Python.
  • R.
  • SQL.
  • Java.
  • JavaScript.
  • Julia.
  • SAS.
  • Scala.
  • Swift.

Data-centric developers should also work with various platforms, frameworks and technologies, including the following:

  • Apache Spark.
  • Databricks.
  • Hadoop.
  • MongoDB.
  • NoSQL.
  • PostgreSQL.
  • Snowflake.

Furthermore, data-centric developers should know data management, integration and structure, Heizenberg said, so they can help create analytics programs whether the data is structured, semi-structured or unstructured.

Developers may also need data skills related to the type of development work they do, said Nick Kolakowski, editorial director for online tech job site Dice. For example, front-end developers should use various open source or proprietary data visualization tools.

Meanwhile, developers with additional competencies in data governance, migration, process modeling and storage are particularly valuable, Vargo said.

Skills in statistics and statistical analysis are useful, as are experience and expertise in AI and ML to their teams. Developers who can work with ML frameworks and platforms such as PyTorch and TensorFlow are in notably high demand.

Beyond the essentials

Data-centric developers need other technical competencies, Heizenberg said, such as cloud computing knowledge and experience in specific cloud environments such as AWS or Microsoft Azure.

Strong data-centric developers have good interpersonal skills, too, namely collaboration and communication skills.

"If they're not able to work with others or communicate about the work or maybe even sell it to the rest of the organization, they will have a huge challenge on their hands," Heizenberg said.

CIOs and hiring managers also want developers who understand the business and its objectives and how data programs help the organization reach its goals. Developers working in retail, for example, should understand what point-of-sale data entails.

"At the end of the day, the focus might not even be so much on being data-centric, but much more on how does data contribute to specific business outcomes," Heizenberg said.

As is the case with technical skills, developers needn't be experts in all areas of the business. Similarly, they aren't expected to have the same level of proficiency and insight into the data, the functional area or the business processes as their business unit colleagues do.

"It's about how the developer can apply data to a decision or business process. That's where you create value," Heizenberg said.

The list of skills is extensive, but it's an unreasonable expectation that data-centric developers should be competent in all or even most of those skills. Some experts advise hiring managers consider candidates from other business functions or with math backgrounds, then train them in the programming and technology.

Just because developers are in high demand doesn't mean they can rely on their current skill set. They should take courses or volunteer for projects that help them learn data-related skills.

"You cannot afford to not understand data if you're in software development," Heizenberg said.

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