How Do You Interview a Data Scientist?

January 9, 2013 Paul M. Davis

Image by Dmitry Baranovskiyvia Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

Since data science is a relatively nascent field, enterprises often have a hard time finding the best and the brightest. Compounding the confusion is that the best practitioners often come from diverse backgrounds. It’s difficult to assess creativity, inquisitiveness, and cross-disciplinary skills by going down a checklist. In a recent blog post, Hilary Mason, Chief Scientist at bitly, proposes a set of non-traditional interview questions she believes are far more revealing of a data scientist’s abilities and potential.

The questions include “What was the last thing that you made for fun?”, “What’s your favorite algorithm? Can you explain it to me?”, and “You clearly know a bit about our data and our work. When you look around, what’s the first thing that comes to mind as ‘why haven’t you done X?!'”. Mason explains, “In addition to the technical questions, I find it useful to have a few questions that draw out the more creative and less discrete elements of a candidate’s personality.”


The post has inspired debate in the data science community on Twitter and in the comments to Mason’s blog, with Drew Conway warning about “hammer syndrome”, in which a practitioner’s preference for a particular algorithm blinds them from better approaches. Check out the questions, and the ensuing debate, at Mason’s blog.

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