As a data engineer, your ability to build and implement database architecture is a unique, in-demand skill, especially in a data-driven world. Your technical skills and analytical expertise are also invaluable.
However, despite being in a relatively lucrative field, the rising cost of living and economic uncertainty could lead to future financial challenges. Side hustles are a great way to insulate yourself from potential disruption and build a financial cushion.
There are endless side hustles and gigs, but one that builds upon your existing skills and is closely related to your field can be more valuable. It takes advantage of your current experience and knowledge while expanding upon it to better position you for future opportunities.
Before we dive into this list of side hustles for data engineers, let's quickly discuss some of the benefits…
Benefits of Side Hustles for Data Engineers
- The first benefit is obvious. It helps to diversify your income and shore up your financial position.
- It also diversifies your skills. Acquiring additional expertise and experience closely related to your field boosts your credentials and adds value and diversity to your career potential.
- It may expand your professional network within the data industry.
- Working on new projects outside the scope of your current job can help you become a better problem solver during your daily data engineering challenges and even inspire new ideas that lead to unexpected opportunities.
Another benefit, although further down the road, could be turning your side hustle into a full-time data engineering or industry-related business.
But a side hustle demands more than just job skills. In addition to technical expertise, it may require a little marketing and sales. Whether doing freelance work or getting paid to fact-check technical articles, you’ll also need strategies to market your side hustle to potential clients.
So, diving into the data engineering (and industry-related) side hustles below, I'll also include some resources to help you get started.
Please note that the starting budgets and income potential provided in this article are only rough estimates and can vary significantly depending on various factors. These factors may include but are not limited to your location, experience level, competition, target market, marketing strategy, and overall economic conditions. The figures mentioned are not guaranteed and should be used for informational purposes only.
We encourage you to conduct thorough research and consult with professionals in your field to gain a better understanding of the costs and potential earnings associated with your chosen side hustle. For additional information on income potential, you may refer to resources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Glassdoor, and PayScale, which provide salary and income data for various professions and industries.
Side Hustles for Data Engineers
1. Become a Data Consultant
As a data engineer, providing data consulting services is a natural addition to your workload. With your expertise in database design, data analysis, and visualization, you can provide valuable guidance to businesses, helping them understand how to use their data effectively.
And there are countless industries and companies in need of your skills, providing you with many opportunities. Whether helping a startup optimize its data infrastructure or assisting a local business with its data analysis projects, this can be a rewarding side hustle.
You can start by identifying your areas of expertise and reaching out to businesses that might benefit from this service. Of course, not all businesses will, and as it is in sales, you’ll have to run some numbers here.
But knocking on doors, networking with people you know in the industry, and utilizing platforms like LinkedIn can help you find clients.
Starting Budget Estimate: $0 – $500 (depending on marketing and networking costs. You may also want to set up your own professional website.)
Income Potential: ZipRecruiter reports annual salaries for data consultants as high as $148,000 and as low as $32,500. The majority currently range between $81,000 (25th percentile) to $120,000 (75th percentile), with top earners pulling $134,500 annually.
With that said, these are employee numbers. Data consultants operating independently should be able to charge a rate comparable to what a consulting firm might charge. Less when starting out, but possibly more with a good reputation and strong roster of clients.
2. Create and Sell Online Courses and Webinars
Another thing you have as a data engineer is valuable knowledge and skills that others want to learn. Therefore, creating and selling online courses or hosting webinars is another great side hustle.
Not only are you helping others by sharing your expertise, but online course sales also generate passive income. Win-win.
A good place to start is by defining a particular niche or target audience.
For example, small businesses may need help analyzing and understanding specific sales and marketing data. And for those who can’t afford ongoing consultant fees, an online course that teaches them to do it themselves is an inexpensive alternative.
Begin by identifying a helpful topic or skill within the data engineering field that you’re skilled at or enjoy, and develop a course outline. You can then use popular platforms like Udemy or Coursera to create, host, and sell it.
Starting Budget Estimate: $0 – $3000 (depending on course creation materials, potential outsourcing costs, and marketing expenses)
Income Potential: Income from selling online courses can vary widely depending on several factors, including the subject of the course, the platform used, the price of the course, and the size of the audience.
According to Kajabi, the highest-selling courses are often career-related, including subjects with elements of data engineering like computers, technology, business, and entrepreneurship.
3. Data Engineer Freelancer
Freelancing is a flexible and lucrative side hustle for data engineers and may be the easiest way to get started.
By taking on short-term, contract-based projects, you can leverage your skills to help clients with their data engineering needs.
Start by creating your profile on freelancing platforms like Upwork, Freelancer, Fiverr, etc., highlighting your skills, experience, and any examples of previous work you can provide. Once set up, you can also search for job postings on freelance platforms and apply.
Starting Budget Estimate: $0 – $500 (depending on marketing and freelancing platform fees)
Income Potential: Experienced freelancers can earn over $100 per hour (shown below), depending on their rates and the number of projects they take on. However, freelance work is competitive, with some charging as little as $10 hourly (also shown below)…
4. Machine Learning Model Developer
Developing custom machine learning models is a unique gig that lets you play with cutting-edge AI technologies and challenge your data engineering skills. Depending on your current job, this may be a little outside of your comfort zone, but for the right data engineer, a lot of fun to explore.
Businesses increasingly look for ways to leverage machine learning to predict trends, optimize operations, and gain new insights from their data.
Start with smaller projects or open-source contributions. From there, you’ll build up a portfolio that demonstrates your expertise.
Once you have a solid foundation, you can search for businesses that might benefit from custom machine-learning models.
Starting Budget Estimate: $0 – $1000 (depending on project requirements and marketing costs)
Income Potential: High-end custom machine learning models can be sold for several thousand dollars or more, depending on the complexity and value they provide to the client.
However, this is also a moving target. There are obvious reasons to think demand (and supply) for machine learning models will increase. Therefore, the demand for hardware will also increase. But hardware performance also gets better as production costs go down, making it somewhat unpredictable, at least in the short term.
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5. Writing/Blogging About Industry-Related Topics
Writing articles and blog posts might seem a little mundane, but as someone who writes and blogs daily, I can say from experience that it can also be lucrative.
Your knowledge in data engineering is unique, and by sharing it with others, you can also generate income through various monetization strategies such as affiliate marketing, display ads, sponsored articles, and selling your own services, courses, software, or products.
Start by creating a personal website and optimizing your content for search engines to generate traffic. You can also submit guest posts to established tech blogs or write an e-book and publish it on platforms like Amazon Kindle to drive traffic back to your website.
Of course, learning how to generate traffic to your website goes beyond the scope of a few paragraphs, but this is a great side hustle that provides a semi-passive income if you put in the time.
Starting Budget Estimate: $0 – $500 (depending on website hosting, courses, SEO tools, etc.)
Income Potential: Income from writing and blogging will vary widely depending on the type of content you create, traffic strategies, monetization methods, etc. Successful bloggers can make thousands of dollars per month.
Additionally, being recognized as an online publisher in your industry gives you a unique advantage when approaching potential employers and clients.
6. Start a YouTube Channel on Industry-Related Topics
Creating and uploading videos to YouTube is not for everyone, but if you enjoy getting in front of a camera, it’s a great way to share what you know, build an audience, and potentially get paid.
Teaching is often a good way to deepen and solidify your own understanding of a subject, but it’s also one of the best ways to increase visibility, authority, and trust within the industry.
Display advertising and relevant sponsorships can generate revenue as your subscriber numbers and views grow. Also, your YouTube channel can drive traffic to your blog/website if you have one, or a podcast and social media accounts (and vice-versa).
Starting Budget Estimate: $0 – $500 (depending on video equipment and editing software)
Income Potential: Similar to blogging and writing, income from YouTube will also vary depending on viewership and ad revenue, ranging from a few bucks a month to thousands.
And again, like publishing text content, the intangible benefit of an established YouTube channel is more influence in your industry which can lead to more lucrative opportunities.
7. Data Migration Services
Data migration services are an opportunity (as you know) for data engineers to help businesses transfer data from one system or format to another while maintaining its integrity and accessibility. I could have used this service myself more than once over the years.
But anyway, as businesses transition to new systems, they need help transferring data smoothly and without incident. This is probably one of your specialties and one you can turn into a good side income.
Starting Budget Estimate: $0 – $1000 (depending on marketing and software requirements)
Income Potential: Income from data migration services can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the complexity and size of the project.
Including infrastructure costs, data migration project costs can range from $5,000 – $500,000 or more.
8. Data Security Consulting
Data security is another critical concern for businesses. Probably their biggest concern.
Data security may or may not be your specialty, but you surely have some experience with it. And your expertise is a valuable commodity in a world with endless cyber threats and data breaches.
It’s a perfect opportunity to capitalize on your knowledge by helping companies protect their data and adhere to data protection regulations.
It doesn’t hurt to get paid to assist businesses in identifying and mitigating (potential) risks, safeguarding data integrity, and maintaining compliance with appropriate regulations.
Starting Budget Estimate: $0 – $2000 (depending on certification requirements and marketing costs)
Income Potential: Salaried and hourly data security consultants earn roughly $27.00 to $92.00 per hour, depending on expertise and location. Freelance rates are significantly higher in some cases and lower in others, with consultants charging between $10 and $400 per consultation.
9. Generative AI Chatbot Development
Generative AI chatbot development is an exploding field, as you undoubtedly know. Many data engineers are in the middle of the storm.
This may be the greatest opportunity of our lifetimes (many would say it’s the opposite of opportunity), but either way, many data engineers are smack dab in the middle of this AI storm.
If AI-powered chatbots are not implemented into every business, it’ll likely be most. And they’ll probably steamroll through the human labor market that handles customer inquiries, support tasks, and even lead gen.
As a data engineer, AI may pose a significant threat to data analysis tasks, so redirecting your efforts to help businesses effectively implement generative AI chatbots into their workflows and systems is a good place to be.
This is a unique opportunity to leverage your skills and capitalize on the skyrocketing demand for chatbots.
Starting Budget Estimate: $0 – $1000 (depending on training and marketing costs)
Income Potential: Custom chatbot projects can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, with freelancer chatbot specialists charging anywhere from $40 to $200 per hour.
10. Data Recovery Services
Accidental data loss is devastating for businesses. Existential in some cases.
Therefore, data recovery services are in high demand. Of course, as a data engineer, you know this, and leveraging your skills to help businesses recover lost or mistakenly deleted data is an obvious option for a side hustle.
By offering data recovery services, you’ll provide what feels like life-saving assistance to businesses. And you’ll get to bask in their appreciation when they regain access to critical information. This gig is ripe with lucrative opportunities.
Starting Budget Estimate: $0 – $1,000 (depending on marketing and software tools)
Income Potential: This is another gig with a wide range of potential. Freelancer charge as low as $5.00 per hour up to $150. Of course, skill and trust will significantly affect what you can charge.
11. Market Research
Another talent that data engineers possess is the ability to conduct detailed market research and provide valuable insights into customer behavior, industry trends, and forecasts.
And it just so happens that businesses need this information to make informed decisions and develop effective growth strategies.
That creates a perfect opportunity to leverage your powers of analysis and deliver market research services to businesses. You can also get niche specific and become “the expert” in one type of business or industry.
Another advantage of honing this skill is that it’ll help you grow your own business, which could lead to bigger ventures.
Starting Budget Estimate: $0 – $1000 (depending on research software and marketing costs)
Income Potential: The wide range of services and client expectations that fall under the umbrella of market research makes it difficult to predict potential income. There’s also no standard pricing to work from.
Generally, your rate will be in line with how much you can save or make your client with your services. For example, if your analysis leads to key improvements that result in a $10K increase in your client’s monthly profit, you can charge more than if that increase is only $2K.
And that range is not necessarily determined by sales activity or the number of additional leads your service provides. An additional $10K in profit for one client might be a single sale, while $2K profit for another might take hundreds of smaller sales.
12. Participate in Competitions
Data engineering competitions are definitely an unconventional side hustle, if you can call it a side hustle. But they can also be lucrative.
I hadn’t heard of this before, but during my research, I stumbled upon data-related contests on Kaggle, with one paying out $200,000, so I thought it was worth including here.
These are mostly niche-specific contests, but you may find one suitable to your skill set. For example, one involves building a model that could have predicted the kind of people who were most likely to survive the sinking of the Titanic.
You can start your own team or apply to join someone else’s. If nothing else, it’s an exciting opportunity to use your skills while indulging in the challenge of solving interesting real-world problems.
As I mentioned, platforms like Kaggle are a great place to start. Of course, it may be difficult to jump into the $200,000 pool with a winning chance (maybe… I don’t know), but participating in any data engineering and data science competitions can help improve your reputation and help you gain some clout in the industry, opening doors to more lucrative opportunities.
Starting Budget Estimate: $0 – $1000 (depending on competition fees, courses, resources, etc.)
Income Potential: As mentioned above, prizes for data science competitions can range from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Your take will also depend on the size of the team, relative contributions, pre-arranged agreements if you win, etc.
13. Technical Writing, Fact Checking, Editing, and Proofreading
Technical writing, fact-checking, editing, and proofreading are all incredibly valuable skills that data engineers might not be aware they potentially possess.
Generalist writers are relatively abundant (although good ones can be difficult to find), and therefore, the pay is not the best. Prior to generative AI, general freelance writers with decent writing skills were charging between $0.04 – $0.08 per word.
But technical writers with expertise and experience could charge between $0.50 – $1.00 per word. So technical writing can be lucrative.
Since generative AI has a wide breadth of knowledge but lacks depth, it’s hard to compete as a generalist writer. On the other hand, because AI lacks a depth of knowledge in many subjects and can sometimes make things up, technical writers are still in high demand.
As a data engineer, you're perfectly situated to cash in on these roles.
You have the ability to create engaging technical content about complex data engineering concepts, technologies, and methodologies.
But there’s a new opportunity arising as well. With generative AI in the writing game with the ability to produce mountains of content, there's exploding demand for technical experts to fact-check, edit, and proofread that mountain of AI-written content.
Starting Budget Estimate: $0 – $500 (depending on marketing and writing platform fees)
Resources: How to Become a Freelance Writer
Income Potential: As mentioned above, established technical writers can earn significantly more than generalists, with rates ranging from $500 to $1000+ per 1000-word article.
14. AI Consulting
Another opportunity arising in the era of AI is helping businesses find ways of implementing it into their workflows and systems to increase productivity.
By offering AI consulting services, you can help businesses understand the benefits, guide them through the implementation process, and provide ongoing support and optimization.
Starting Budget Estimate: $0 – $1000 (depending on training and marketing costs)
Income Potential: This is (and will be) a relatively new and growing field. Whether the industry settles into standard rates is yet to be seen, and this may require some experimentation.
It’s likely much of the local work will require specialists with in-person services. And like marketing, your rates may be consistent with the amount of time and money your services ultimately save your client.
15. AI in Education
As in business, schools will be adopting AI in the coming years and will need help implementing it. Data engineers with connections to schools or the educational system may find great opportunities to be part of what will undoubtedly be an educational revolution.
If you’re more ambitious, you can also create AI-powered educational tools such as personalized learning platforms, study tools, or something more controversial like student behavior prediction models. And, if you’re going that far and brainstorming a little, who knows… maybe animal behavior prediction models for farms and zoos. Just throwing it out there.
Starting Budget Estimate: $0 – $2000 (depending on research and development costs)
Income Potential: Again, this is uncharted territory. Until now, implementing AI into the educational system or building AI tools to help educators hasn’t been a side hustle or business service.
Income potential in this sector will likely vary at first but could become standard due to the coordination and purchasing power of the schools system. Whether you’re working in public or private schools will be a factor.