A day in the life of Shantal Coleman, data engineer

Shantal Coleman explains what a data engineer does and what a typical day looks like for her.


You’ve only got a few minutes to explain to someone you’ve just met what you do. What do you tell them, including your title and what it means? Think of this as your elevator pitch!

Very simply, we provide a reliable infrastructure for data so that it can be analysed by data scientists, analysts and others. Data engineering is all about moving and transforming data to be in an accessible and useful format for analysis. To go into a bit more detail, I write SQL scripts, and create ETL jobs and Python workflows to make data accessible, both on-premise and in the cloud.

A big part of my job is to ensure that the data we’re moving is clean, that there are no faults or duplicates. We also need to ensure that we extract data in such a way that it can be used by our data scientists, analysts or business users.

Data engineers work closely with data architects and I will be moving into this role soon. Then I’d become responsible for designing the workflow. Data can’t just move from one place to another, you need to identify the technology required and the design systems that will facilitate the move. The governance and security of data are also big factors to consider to ensure our clients’ POPI and PCI data are protected.


How long have you been at Capitec?

It’s going on two years and love it there!


What’s the first thing you do when you get to the office every morning?

It’s definitely having my first cup of coffee! Life is a bit of a rush at home. I have two kids. As soon as I had a cup of coffee, I start checking my email. There are usually quite a few to get through first thing in the morning.


Tell us about a typical day at the office.

No day is ever the same and that’s what I love about my job. I make it a goal to learn something new every day because I’m a firm believer that learning helps keep your brain active. I also love challenges.

I use the Atlassian Jira board, which our scrum master puts together, to identify the tickets I have to attend to that day. The board gives me a good idea of what I need to prioritise. It’s not a perfect solution, though, because we constantly have tickets coming in throughout the day. For example, we have to be flexible and responsive to manage the changing needs from our marketing team and to find a solution as quickly as possible. The marketing team deals directly with our clients and our priority is to keep them happy.

It definitely is a juggling act and a typical day involves organising multiple requirements so that we can first see to our clients, and then work on internal projects.


Where do you fit in within Capitec? And who do you report to?

I report to the guild head, Gerrard Lennox, for engineering-related work, and to Louis Pienaar, our data product owner, for everything else.


What are your go-to tools for getting your job done efficiently and effectively?

I write a physical to-do list every morning. There’s something satisfying about ticking off tasks once they’re complete. For my sanity, I keep a notebook with me throughout the day. It’s easy to forget something when the day gets busy and ticking things off keeps me on track. Plus, it’s such a good feeling when you see what you’ve accomplished at the end of the day!


What type of skills do you need to be good at what you do? 

People skills are important because you’re communicating all the time. You also have to have good analytical and mathematical skills. Of course, you need technical skills because you work in different programming languages like Spark, Python and SQL scripting. Work experience with data warehousing and ETL tools, and an in-depth knowledge of SQL and other database solutions are also important skills to have. Experience of working with Cloud Technologies is definitely a nice-to-have. And you have to be organised otherwise you won’t know where you are with what.


What are you most excited about in your role?

Problem-solving is an important part of my role and it’s definitely something that excites me. There also are a lot of opportunities for growth and change at Capitec.


What did you study? 

A BSc in computer science followed by an honours degree, also in computer science, through UNISA. In my free time, I do Udemy and Coursera courses to keep me up to speed with new technologies in my line of work.


What did you want to be when growing up? 

I wanted to be a teacher because I love working and interacting with people. My teachers were important role models and I wanted to be just like them. Then I started grade 10 and my school brought in computer studies. I quickly changed my mind and knew I wanted to be in this field.

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