“The obvious answer is the people”: Charlie Entwistle on being a data engineer at PeakBy Charlie Entwistle on July 4, 2023 - 5 Minute Read
I’m Charlie Entwistle and two years ago I was the first data engineer to join Peak. Since joining, I’ve learned from the best, achieved things I never thought I could and met some of the best people in the world.
Content warning: this article contains expressions of genuine affection towards colleagues and use of the slang term “DENG” in reference to data engineering.
The accidental DENG
When I think of how I ended up here, there wasn’t a single moment that put me on the path to data engineering. About two years ago, I was working for a betting firm as a data analyst.
At that company, the data wasn’t in a great place. So I decided to take on the challenge of creating pipelines to clean and transform the data. At the time, this stuff was new to me. I’d completed a Computing BSc at Lancaster University, but it didn’t seem to help much with the work I was doing. I spent a lot of my time in trial and error, reading books, reading articles and — yes — Googling stuff.
But I actually really enjoyed the work. It was challenging, but equally rewarding. I loved that the work had no room for interpretation. For instance, when you’re building a data pipeline, it either works or it doesn’t.
I loved these new projects, but I wasn’t enjoying my job. I wanted to feel proud of the company I work for. I wanted to grow and learn from my colleagues. It was time for a change.
I wanted to keep doing the challenging work I’d started and was really enjoying, rather than staying in a traditional data analyst role. So I searched for vacancies that listed the work I enjoyed the most as responsibilities. When I did, I found a pattern emerging in the results: the title “data engineer” appeared everywhere.
I didn’t know there was a name for what I was doing at the time, but I soon realised I had accidentally become a data engineer. So I thought I’d find a company where I could be one of those, focus on the work I love and get paid for it.
... I soon realised I had accidentally become a data engineer
Data Engineer at Peak
Me picking Peak, Peak picking me
That’s when I came across a data engineering role at Peak. The role jumped out to me because the responsibilities were all things I was already doing or wanted to do, and because Peak seemed really focused on people and impact.
I’d like to say there’s a plot twist here, but there really isn’t. I got the job. My hiring manager, Simon, took me through the interview process where I got to meet some of the people I’d be working with and they seemed like the kind of people I’d be happy to spend my week with.
Being the first data engineer through the door, the role wasn’t as well-defined as it is today. So there was a lot of room to make the role my own and, while there wasn’t any pressure from Peak, I felt that freedom gave me a responsibility to shape data engineering at Peak.
The great thing about starting at Peak is you can progress at whatever speed works for you. You can choose to slowly learn the ropes or dive in at the deep end. I chose the deep end, and I’m glad that I did.
One of the earliest challenges I found at Peak is something you find everywhere, imposter syndrome: the feeling that, no matter what anyone says, you’re not meant to be here. That feeling was particularly potent at Peak because everyone was so nice and so accomplished.
What helped me, and is really part of the culture at Peak, was not trying to be the smartest person in the room. I really admire subject matter experts — those people who everyone goes to on their specialist topic.
That’s the position I always aspire to be in, but often you need some help to get there. If you get to be that subject matter expert (the “smartest person in the room”), it’s probably time to leave. But at Peak, I was in luck. Unlike my old company, I was surrounded by people I could learn from and look up to.
Peak’s culture is genuinely all about people, everyone is encouraged to be open, responsible and curious. So when you’re in a meeting with colleagues or customers, you’re curious about how they’re interpreting what you’re saying. You’re responsible, so you make sure everyone understands what you’re saying. You’re open about the fact you may not have all the answers, so you feel comfortable saying “I’m not sure, but I’ll look it up and come back to you”.
Developing into the DENG I am today
One area that aspiring data engineers don’t often think about is the so-called soft skills of data engineering. People often imagine themselves frantically typing code on a laptop for hours. There is quite a bit of that, but there’s a lot more to the role.
At Peak, you collaborate with teams across the business and meet with account managers and customers all of the time. For me, this was one of the biggest challenges. One memory has stayed with me that taught me the importance of soft skills.
Back at the betting firm, I’d created a tool that automated tonnes of day-to-day for one of their teams. I was asked to go to a meeting and explain how the tool I’d built could help them.
The tool was going to make their jobs easier. It should have been good news. It should have been great news, but the meeting fell completely flat. I was faced with a wall of silence and lots of blank faces just staring at me over Zoom. I wanted the ground to swallow me up. It didn’t.
I took a step back and realized that, as data engineers, we can build the most ground-breaking tools imaginable, but they’re worthless if we can’t get anyone to use them.
At Peak, I’ve had to open up and mature as a person because if you’re good with tech, but you can’t speak to people, you won’t get anywhere. Learning how to collaborate, communicate effectively, and work in an office environment are just as important as, if not more important than, technical skills when it comes to progression.
Take a chance
Looking back at my interview, I’m not sure if I would have taken a chance on me. But Simon and Peak did. Ultimately, I took a chance on Peak too and I like to think it’s paid off for both of us.
I’ve been really lucky. I think career success is always a combination of luck and the work you put in. I was lucky enough to join a company full of amazing people who have helped me go further than I ever thought I could. And that continuously motivates me to do the best job I possibly can.
If you ask me what the best thing about working at Peak is, the obvious answer is the people. I’ve made so many amazing friends, people I’ll be friends with for life. They’re not getting rid of me.