Last week, we caught up with Jon Gleich, Principal Data Engineer at Think Big, to drill him on everything from a typical day (apparently there’s no such thing), to a data engineer’s requisite skill set, and the value of the role in customer terms.
Based in Dublin, we spoke to him in Copenhagen, where he’s on site with a top client. Here’s what we found out during our insightful Q&A:
Q: What does your role entail, and how does it fit into wider big data operations at Think Big?
A: The Engineering function is extremely important at Think Big. The big data world is filled with nearly countless technologies and frameworks so our job is to work with our clients to hang the pieces and parts together and build the most scalable, performant, resilient big data ecosystems in the industry. We are also experts in Kylo, Think Big’s emerging open source Data Lake foundational framework.
That said, above all else, Think Big Engineers are 100% dedicated to to the success of our clients. The real job of the Data Engineer is to enable our clients to manage and make sense of their enormous amounts of data. We help them navigate the big data world, which can seem very intimidating.
Q: What is a typical day for you?
A: My job is actually different every day and for me that’s its strongest selling point. If there is such a thing, a typical day might include building big data pipelines, investigating new technologies, and engaging with our Data Scientists. As a Principal, I’m also involved in everything from pre-sales, to architecture, mentoring and strategy.
We adopt an agile development strategy so most mornings start with a fifteen-minute roundtable or ‘scrum’. We find this is a great way to improve team communication and pre-empt any issues that could impede progress. It’s also just a really positive way to start the day.
Q: What would you say is the most important part of your role?
A: Client-focus. The obvious answer would be around the technical aspects of the job, which of course are extremely important. However, ultimately, our key performance indicators are measured in client success terms.
Q: What skills do you need to do your job?
A: I’m glad you asked this. We’re looking for great software engineers who are tenacious, positive and curious. In actual fact, when we recruit new engineers, we aren’t necessarily looking for those with loads of big data experience – it’s all about being passionate enough to care about honing your skills as an engineer. Being comfortable in front of clients is also hugely advantageous.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?
A: There are so many great aspects to this job. I like to say this job boils down to People, Technology and Variety.
People: It’s a tough job, but we have a great team that knows how to have fun. I know that if I show up in any major European city where we have a presence, there will be a small army of Think Biggers ready to show me around.
Technology: With many jobs, you’re stuck with very slow-moving technology adopters. Our company and clients are constantly pushing the boundaries and that’s exciting.
Variety: No two days are the same at Think Big. One day I can be advising the C-level of a Fortune 500 company, and the next be investigating the latest in open source streaming technologies. You just don’t get that kind of variety everywhere.
Q: What is the biggest challenge?
A: There are two that I can think of: The greatest challenge right now is finding the right talent. Think Big is growing rapidly but with a significant industry skills shortage, we often find it difficult to hire the right people with the right skills.
In hiring talent, I actually don’t focus too heavily on degrees – as I said before, I’m more concerned with finding passionate people who want to learn. We want people who have a genuine enthusiasm for new technologies, and who are eager to learn how to apply them. Personality is therefore just as important as technical ability in my book.
The second is keeping the great culture that we’ve developed as we grow. We have a concept called “Fun Friday” where the team – or the entire office – gets together to do something fun, like go Go-Karting. Of course, with busy schedules and client projects on the go, it can be hard to get everyone together, but as a company, we really make a concerted effort to ensure such initiatives happen regularly. In fact, our VP of International, Rick Farnell, recently made “Fun Fridays” mandatory for two Fridays a month!
Q: What might surprise others about your job?
A: Our engineers are much more than ‘heads down’ people. While that stereotype may ring true in some consultancies, it is not a true representation of data engineering at Think Big. Our data engineering team is made up of very personable people who like to be client facing. We’re much more sociable than industry typecasts would have you believe!
Q: Can you give me an example of customer success? What insight have you unlocked?
A: Good question. It’s a hard one to answer without giving too much away with our NDAs (Non Disclosure Agreements), but let’s say that some of the biggest brands in the world have relied on Think Big to design and build their strategic Analytical Data Ecosystems. It’s safe to say that we’ve helped save hundreds of millions of dollars in company efficiencies, and unlocked countless new sales opportunities.
Q: And finally, what would you be doing if you weren’t a data engineer?
A: If I wasn’t a data engineer, I’d be the guy trying to find data engineers!