After working as a developer and IT analyst in India for roughly six years, Sooraj Reddy Lankala knew it was time to take the next step toward landing his dream job as a data engineer: earning a master’s degree.
His search for a program led him to Colorado State University and the College of Business’s Master of Computer Information Systems. Lankala was drawn to enroll by curriculum that matched his interests – specifically courses in data analytics, object-oriented systems and business database systems – as well as the campus’s stunning scenery.
“I also heard from my colleagues that CSU offers a good master’s program, even for people without technical backgrounds,” Lankala said.
After arriving in Fort Collins – his first trip to the United States – Lankala found faculty who were supportive and knowledgeable, teaching courses that helped him build on his previous experience and hone the skills he needed to pursue a role as a data engineer.
“When I was working in India, all my experience was in moving data around different systems for business intelligence and reporting. That’s always been my passion,” said Lankala, who previously held positions in business intelligence and data integration. “I wanted to continue in that role, but the work that I’d been doing back in India was using legacy tools and technologies.”
Enter data engineering, a relatively new specialization created to help data scientists, software engineers and business decision-makers manage and make sense of ever-increasing amounts of information collected from a multitude of systems and platforms.
“Data engineers build data pipelines to move it from different locations and store it in a central location making sure that it’s viable, easy to consume and report on,” Lankala said. “We also do data modeling and format information in a way that is easy for data scientists and analytic teams to consume. Data Engineering is a mixture of both the software developer plus traditional business intelligence and data analyst roles”
With the influx of big data, and 95% of companies citing managing unstructured data as a problem, the demand for data engineers has skyrocketed, with some estimates citing year-over-year job growth as high as 50%.
However, even with demand so high, Lankala didn’t expect to find himself landing a job as a data engineer with Amazon before graduation.
“The database systems course really helped me get through the on-site interviews,” Lankala said, who leaned into what he’d learned about data modeling to describe the skills he could bring to the role. “Taking that course right at the time when I was having this interview with Amazon was a good refresher and I was able to explain the concepts much more clearly.”
Lankala’s strong performance in the interview led to a job offer from Amazon, with the company wanting him to move out to their Seattle headquarters and start on an accelerated timeline.
“I was really grateful to Ramadan [Abdunabi, computer information systems faculty] and [Department Chair] Leo Vijayasarathy as well because they both were very supportive in helping me be able to accept the offer while I still had one course to complete to finish my master’s degree,” said Lankala. “I was halfway through the semester and was able to do an independent study focusing on bringing more cloud computing concepts into the classroom.”
“Whatever courses I have taken, the professors were always supportive and invaluable to answer your questions,” he said.
Starting at Amazon
As his start date at the world’s largest e-commerce company approached, Lankala wasn’t sure exactly what to expect.
“I was really glad I got an offer from Amazon, but I was also anxious before I joined the company because it’s a challenging environment and you’re expected to perform at a very high level” Lankala said. “I had the mindset that it’s going to be tough and there’d be a big learning curve because you would be working much more at a big data scale.”
However, he soon realized that his coursework and his past work experience had given him a strong foundation to build from and he was able to quickly get up to speed with his colleagues, equipped with a strong understanding of the concepts that shape their day-to-day operations.
“I have a really supportive manager and team and I was able to learn new things on the go,” he said. “If there are challenges, you will have enough time to get things done at your own pace and you can always reach out and get help from subject matter experts within the organization if needed.”