Data Engineer Interview Questions: What to Expect


In an increasingly data-dominated world, data engineers are essential as they discover how to store, move, and cleanse an organization’s data. Scientists and data analysts, in turn, depend on the work of these engineers to extract data for valuable information.

Due to the complexity of their job, data engineers must have a variety of skills, including SQL programming and big data platforms such as Apache Hadoop and Scala. Large companies frequently hire data engineers, but they also want candidates who have the right mix of skills and experience to be successful in very large projects.

“Data has certainly not slowed down in its importance to businesses – it arrives so quickly and there is so much of it, and the function of the Data Engineer bridges the gap between the large amount of data coming in and making it. useful for the business, ”said David Harris, Senior Product Manager, Enterprise, Online Learning Specialist Udacity.

Dice Insights spoke with Harris about the critical role data engineers play in today’s organizations, the essential skills they must have, and the important questions they should ask themselves during the process. maintenance.

What are the challenges facing data engineers today?

Data engineers need to move data from one location to another and make sure it gets to its destination as clean and organized as possible (which is difficult with some more complicated data sets). Since data can come from hundreds or even thousands of sources, these engineers need to know as much as possible about formatting and structure (and the processes and tools needed to achieve it).

“Beyond that, there is the question of whether the data is correct and questions of data governance, how data is shared, how privacy plays into the information that is shared and routed to different places, ”Harris explained. “Data engineers really need to understand who is using the information, what it is for, understanding the risk if it is inaccurate or out of date. There is a lot to think about.

What questions do technical recruiters ask themselves?

“It’ll be like a software engineering interview: the types of projects you’ve worked on, tell me how you designed a pipeline or a data structure for a data warehouse,” Harris said. “Some companies will be looking for experience working with streaming data, with Spark or Kafka, so typically they are looking for specific experience with critical data engineering functions such as managing data lakes and data warehouses. , creating data pipelines to move data from one source to another. These are the biggest checkboxes they are looking for.

How can data engineers best prepare for a job interview?

Harris said there are two important areas to focus on when preparing for an interview: your experience and what you’ve learned from your previous projects (whether those projects were successful).

“One of the things every interview will ask is to describe a recent project,” Harris said. “So document the process you went through and the impact of the work you did, and how you made those decisions. ”

What are the most important skills to know?

According to Burning Glass, key skills for data engineers include Python, machine learning, and big data, so expect questions from recruiters and hiring managers in these areas. It’s also important to describe and defend the design of the data infrastructure, which means thinking about how you can store data in a data warehouse or lake, and being able to describe how you would implement it. these designs.

“When it comes to communication and collaboration skills, you need to be able to ask good probing questions to understand the needs of your users and the problems they are trying to solve,” Harris said. “It’s more than just taking over a data request and executing it – it’s about determining the impact it’s going to have. “

Beyond that, data engineers need to understand the tradeoffs they make when choosing to work on one project over another. “As an engineer, you have to prioritize and then figure out what to work on next,” added Harris. “Knowing who to communicate this strategy to is also very important to being an effective data engineer. ”

How to answer questions about “greatest accomplishments” or strengths / weaknesses?

The “Biggest Achievement” questions give you the opportunity to talk about projects that have really challenged you and that you are proud to have accomplished. “The enthusiasm you get to accomplish something that is really difficult is manifesting itself, so you have the opportunity to show why you are passionate about your job,” said Harris.

When it comes to weaknesses, highlight your development opportunities. If you’re weak at a particular area of ​​data engineering, that’s okay as long as you’re aware of yourself and want to improve yourself. Not everyone knows all the tools or skills; your ability to learn is crucial.

What questions should a data engineer ask during the interview?

Learn about your potential employer’s current data infrastructure; While they might not be able to share all the details with you, they can at least give you an idea of ​​how the business is handling their data on the move and at rest.

“Also ask what type of mentorship is available, how collaborative the teams are, how people ask questions and collaborate,” Harris said. Don’t be afraid to ask probing questions; you want as much information as possible about a business before you embark on a job as complex as data engineering.


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