As part of our Dive into Data initiative, we like to showcase the many avenues and routes, far beyond the perception that it’s all about being a genius in maths, engineering and science-oriented qualifications and how data brilliance is also fuelled by creative and business orientated minds.
In this part of the series, we’d like to feature the background and career journey of Nicholas Bull, Data Engineer at Lloyds Banking Group.
Our chat here, to feature a real-life example. How to get into data and an example of how a career path within that field can unfold….
ADLIB: To summarise, what are your main responsibilities as a Data Engineer?
Nicholas: The position of a data engineer is a relatively new one and therefore I don’t think the job role is generally well defined across the industry. I expect my experience and responsibilities as a data engineer are very different to others, and in fact, my first experience as a data engineer in the startup world was vastly different to my time at Lloyds.
At the startup, I was responsible for the whole data journey: sourcing information, the ETL process and the data warehousing. I designed the systems and was responsible for maintaining them. I also did a lot of reporting and data visualisation work on top of this.
At Lloyds the systems and ETL processes etc. are mostly managed by IT. I’m also in a team with people that focus solely on data science, visualisation and reporting, and so the job of a data engineer is really to facilitate their work. That often means sourcing information from across the Group into one central and coherent place, or it could be manipulating the data we already control into a more useful structure, for example picking out the most relevant pieces of data and creating an event layer for a particular project.
ADLIB: What’s your background, what has been your career journey so far leading you to where you are right now?
Nicholas: I did a Masters’ in Physics and Astronomy and as part of the course took some introduction to Programming in Python courses. At the time I didn’t think it would be useful outside of academia – looking back almost 10 years later, I couldn’t have been more wrong!
After university, I was hired as a data analyst at a startup, but quickly realised that aside from Google Analytics, there wasn’t much data readily available to analyse! A lot of what I needed was in a legacy database or in text files across the business, so I started writing rudimentary scripts to extract data and load it into a managed AWS database.
Without realising it at the time, I was essentially building data pipelines! As time progressed and the complexity of my code increased, I discovered a lot of the problems I was facing had already been addressed by great open-source data pipelining projects such as Luigi and Airflow. These tools and the community and support around them massively accelerated my development, and before I knew it, a large part of my job had become data engineering!
ADLIB: What attracted you to data engineering as opposed to software engineering?
Nicholas: I’d like to say I chose data engineering over software engineering, but the reality is I fell into it. That said, I think the lines are quite blurred between data engineering and any developer role these days, especially with such a widely used language like Python. Indeed beyond data engineering, I’ve used it for creating websites, web scraping, automated testing, and many other smaller ad-hoc projects, so I definitely don’t feel pigeon-holed into data engineering for the rest of my career.
ADLIB: What do you see as the most important skill for a Data Engineer?
Nicholas: Curiosity and not being daunted by software you’re unfamiliar with. You’ll often discover that the information you need is located in a system you know nothing about – that could be a legacy database (Foxpro anyone? No thought not); it could be from a cloud vendor you’re not familiar with, or it might not be in any structured database – I learnt web scraping because that was the only source for the information we needed.
ADLIB: Any soft skills that are advantageous to this role in your opinion?
Nicholas: I’ve found that having good interpersonal skills is more beneficial than you might think for a data engineer. This is especially true at a large organisation where data is managed by hundreds, if not thousands of people! You need to engage with these people before you can start a project, and in some instances persuade them to prioritise getting extracts or access for you over and above what else they might be doing.
Teamwork is important; if you’re working in a data-focussed team you might have data scientists, data visualisation experts, other data engineers, and project managers. You’ll need to be able to communicate in broad big-picture terms with project managers or perhaps non-technical stakeholders, but then be able to dive into the minutiae to facilitate the data science or visualisation work.
Thanks so much for sharing!
First up, as part of our “5 must-have skills series”, we’d like to share with you the top 5 User Interface design skills. The below is based on our internal data such as job briefs taken, job specs as well as our many conversations with clients and candidates alike.
From our perspective, the top 5 most sought-after UI design skills (not ranked in order) are as follows:
Atomic design and design systems
Far any product team looking to simplify and streamline their design processes creating a ‘design system’ is a popular approach. UI designers with an understanding of atomic design principles and experience of creating design systems are attractive candidates. Creating pattern libraries and UI toolkits is great but providing the system and context for how they’re used creates something truly scalable and that is implemented effectively more frequently.
Native App experience
Responsive design is by now the industry standard for web projects but those that have delivered native Android and IOS apps continue to be attractive candidates.
Experience within cross-functional product teams
Businesses are more commonly adopting cross-functional product design so those with experience in working this way are valued. Cross-functional teams encourage collaboration and help those involved develop a deeper understanding of the business areas involved in a project, their customers and how they can work more effectively. Designers with this experience slot well into this structure and can bring interesting insight to those adopting it.
Experience within the Adobe Creative Suite (in particular Photoshop & Illustrator) is still a must-have for any UI designer but programs like Sketch continue to rise in popularity across the industry. New features like ‘Sketch for teams’ (in Beta currently) further support collaboration and cloud-based working.
Wireframing and prototyping
Within a test-driven product team UI designers will often be expected to wireframe and prototype their own designs. How involved they are in the testing and feedback will depend on the environment, the team around them and the kind of product being delivered.
We previously wrote about the benefits our clients see for having an office dog or encouraging their employees to bring their dogs to work.
When we meet our clients, we also get to meet some of those incredible dogs out there in the South West, keeping offices and agencies productive, interactive, calm, positive and happy. So we wanted to create a space here to feature all those office dogs that we hear about, meet or come across during our day-to-day conversations and meetings.
Here it is, what a prime-quality lineup….
Bailey, the Office Pup of ThirtyThree
Having Bailey means you can take a break for a few minutes and focus on cuddles rather than emails. It’s a great stress reliever and she helps brighten up the office, especially when she greets you at the door first thing in the morning.
Kate Kew, Operations Manager at ThirtyThree
The Office Pups of Great State
The founders of the business had a dog, so dogs have been part of our working world forever. We have lots of dog lovers in the office who really appreciate having our furry friends around. They are funny, naughty, cute, comforting and make you stop and take a moment every now and then to just enjoy them. Dogs (most) tend to love being with humans and it’s well documented they have a positive mental and physical benefit for us so it’s a win-win 🐶💕
Vicki James, Director at Great State
Maisie, the Office Pup of Rally
This is Maisie the 18-month cockapoo. Maisie’s infectious personality puts a smile on everyone’s face and helps make Rally a happy and positive place to work. Not to mention the on-tap cuddles and face-licks.
Ali Meredith, Co-founder and Client Services at Rally
Maya, the Office Pup of Beyond Retail
Maya is our sassy Samoyed, and she is a welcome addition to our working lives here at Beyond Retail. She’s always up for a game of ball (we can’t call it ‘fetch’ as she doesn’t bring it back), and most importantly she will come and place an affectionate paw on your lap if you’re having a tough day.
She keeps us laughing all day long with ever-changing ploys to get more attention from our staff, and can often be found waiting dutifully by the door when our Warehouse Manager is due in the office for a meeting, as he likes to illegally smuggle a sausage from his breakfast in for her. She’s so much a part of life here that she’s even on our wall mural, and we wouldn’t have it any other way!
Alison Morton, Recruitment & Training Manager at Beyond Retail
Bruce the Office Pup of POPcomms
Why dogs in the office? Why not. As soon as they wander in they bring a smile to everybody’s face, they’re part of the team and their love is unconditional. They’re like our own in-house karma merchant – people have their own little conversations with Bruce or Otto, letting off steam or just rebalancing themselves. They’re a great ice breaker with clients too, often more enthusiastic with clients than we are, and a great talking point before getting stuck into work, they just diffuse that initial tension.
Damjan Haylor, Managing Director at POPcomms
Kia, the Office Pup of DC Activ
Kia the Cockapoo our resident office dog is often joined by Buster, Belle, Ozzy, Chester or Murphy. We love our office dogs – as well as a calming influence they force us to take more breaks from our screens for an ear scratch or play tug. And as we are near fields no one needs an excuse to have a dog walk at lunchtime.
Clients love it too and it’s a good ice breaker for those more formal meetings. We have had some sandwiches go missing mind…..!
Laura Parry, Client and Operations Director at DC Activ
What an adorable bunch! We’ll also be sharing additional office dog snaps over on our Instagram for your viewing pleasure.
Could an ADLIB coordinated Crufts be on the horizon?