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Data Engineer Interview

25 Questions and Answers by Helen Lee
Updated June 15th, 2018 | Helen Lee is a freelance data analyst and writer with over 15 years of experience in marketing.
Job Interviews     Careers     Engineering    

Question 1 of 25

Do you have experience with data modeling? If so, what data modeling tools do you have experience using?

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Do you have experience with data modeling? If so, what data modeling tools do you have experience using?

As a Data Engineer, you likely have some experience data modeling- defining the data requirements required to support your company's data needs. Besides mentioning the tools you have used for this task, include what you know about data modeling on a general level and possibly what advantages and/or disadvantages you see in using the particular tool(s).

Helen's Answer

"Although I have worked in some companies where I was not highly involved with the data modeling process, I make it a goal to keep myself familiarized with the data models in the company. This always gives me a better understanding of the entire system. However, I have worked at some companies where I was more involved in the data modeling process and had the opportunity to utilize the tools available. I have experience using Oracle SQL Developer Data Modeler which allows us to create, browse and edit a variety of data models, and I found the ability to forward and reverse engineer very helpful as well. This tool helped us develop conceptual models as we work with business stakeholders, and also logical data models where we can define data models, structures and relationships in the database."


What led you to a career in Data Engineering?

Some arrived to the Data Engineering field along a very traditional path - earning a degree in a related area (Computer Science, Information Systems, Data Science, etc.) and working at data-related jobs along the way. Others may have started on an entirely unrelated career path and made the switch to Data Engineering. Either way, the answer to this question reveals more about your education and experiences and the decisions you made along the way. Do not be hesitant to share your background and experiences if you did not arrive to this field the traditional way. Instead, touch upon what general skills you may have attained while earning your degree and working at your other jobs.

Helen's Answer

"As long as I can remember, I have always had an interest in computers. Once I reached high school, I knew I wanted to pursue a degree in Computer Engineering. While in college, I began to realize that I enjoyed my math and statistics courses almost as much as my computer courses. Upon graduation, my first job was a Data Analyst position for a large financial services company. I found great satisfaction in using my math and statistical skills, but missed using more of my programming and data management skills. Through some associates in my company, I learned about the Data Engineering field and started taking courses to learn more about it. I found it to be the perfect combination of my interests and skills. Fortunately, within a year, a Data Engineering position opened up in my company and I was able to make the switch without a problem."


Some in the Big Data industry consider Data Engineering to be a non-analytic career path. Do you agree or disagree with that statement and why?

There can be a couple of different ways to interpret this statement. Yes, relative to other Big Data career paths, Data Engineers may not use their analytical skills as frequently as a Data Analyst. Therefore, relative to other career paths, Data Engineering may be considered non-analytic. However, this does not mean that Data Engineers do not use analytical skills at all. Hiring managers would like to know how you view a Data Engineer's role versus that of others in the company working with data. Express your understanding of a Data Engineer's role and how analytics is part of the required skill set. Cite at least one example of how you may have used analytics in your past roles as a Data Engineer.

Helen's Answer

"I would have to disagree with this statement as I have used analytical skills frequently as a Data Engineer. Whether conducting analyses to ensure data quality and integrity or evaluating new service providers or hardware, my analytical skills have been crucial to my performance on the job. In addition, my analytical skills have help me when working with Data Scientists and Analysts on various projects. They help me better understand the data they need for their projects."


Do you have extensive experience working in a cloud computing environment? What benefits and challenges do you see working in one?

It is well known in the industry that there are benefits and challenges to cloud computing. Whether or not you have experience working in a cloud computing environment, it is important to convey your understanding of the benefits and challenges. It reflects your understanding of current issues and technology in the industry. In addition, if the company you are applying to does utilize a cloud computing environment, at the very least, they will be assured that you are aware of possible issues that may arise from it.

Helen's Answer

"The prior companies I have worked for did not utilize a cloud computing environment. However, I am aware that many people feel that working in this type of environment may compromise data security and privacy since data is not kept within the walls of the company. In addition, you have limited control as the infrastructure is controlled by the service provider. However, benefits likely would include cost savings and more reliability as downtimes would be minimal since most service providers grant agreements guaranteeing a high level of service availability. In my opinion, whether cloud computing is right for a specific company would highly depend on the structure of its IT department and the resources available to it."


Data maintenance is one of the many responsibilities of a Data Engineer. In many cases, tasks related to this are fairly routine. Describe a time when you encountered a data maintenance problem that required you to deviate from your "routine".

Data maintenance usually occurs on a set schedule with a specified task list. With a good data maintenance strategy, these tasks tend not to change often which is a good sign - that means everything is operating as expected. Inevitably, there will be something unexpected that occurs that may throw things off and require extra attention. The interviewer would like to see that you have experience dealing with unexpected situations like these.

Helen's Answer #1

"As routine as data maintenance may become, it's alway important to keep a close eye on all the tasks involved, including ensuring that scripts are executing successfully. One of the data maintenance tasks involved conducting an integrity check. This allowed us to ensure our systems were not corrupted. After conducting this check, I was able to locate a corrupt index that may have caused larger issues in the future. Because of this discovery, I decided to implement an additional maintenance task as a extra safety precaution to help prevent corrupt indexes from being added to our databases."

Helen's Answer #2



Which certifications have you earned that are applicable to your job as a Data Engineer? Which was your most recent one and when did you earn it?

Certifications serve as proof that you received formal training for a skill and not did not just learn it on the job. The number of certifications may also be indicative of your dedication to increasing your knowledge and skill base. Technology in this area is always changing and keeping your skills up to date is vital, so recency of training and certifications could likely be taken into account. If you haven't had the opportunity to work towards any certifications, mention what training you receive on a regular basis to ensure you are up to date on all the technological advancements in your field.

Helen's Answer

"Over the past few years, I have become IBM Certified as a Data Engineer and also received professional certification through Google. I regularly look for training classes that will broaden my skill set and knowledge and also attend various Big Data conferences throughout the year. I am currently working towards a Microsoft Professional certification in Data Engineering with Azure."


Have you ever been in a data disaster recovery situation? If so, describe the situation and your role.

Beyond the completion of daily assignments, hiring managers are looking for Data Engineers who can quickly contribute to the remediation of emergency situations. When a data infrastructure fails and/or data becomes inaccessible, lost or destroyed, it can have damaging effects on the company's operations. Companies want to ensure that they are ready with the right resources to deal with these unfortunate events if they occur. In many cases, it becomes an 'all hands on deck' circumstance.

Helen's Answer

"In my most recent position, I was part of the group charged with developing a Disaster Recovery Plan. Therefore, I was familiar with what needed to take place when a data disaster recovery situation actually occurred. A corrupt file was somehow loaded into our system and caused databases to lock up and much of the data to become corrupted as well. I was responsible for working with our IT team to ensure that our data backups were ready to be loaded and that users throughout the company continued to have connectivity to the data they needed."


Describe a time when you found a new use for existing data that had a positive impact on the business.

As a Data Engineer, you may be one of the few who have a bird's eye view of the data throughout a company. In many situations, departments work with a specific set of tables within the corporate databases and therefore may unknowingly be limiting their analyses. To add the most value to the company's strategies, it is valuable, at a general level, to know the initiatives of each department. This gives Data Engineers the ability to provide valuable insight into what data is available and beneficial for analyses being conducted throughout the company.

Helen's Answer

"As a Data Engineer, I try to take time to understand the strategic initiatives being conducted across the company. I believe departments need to avoid working in silos and should have approved access to data owned by other groups within the company. From my perspective as a Data Engineer, I was able to connect employee data with sales data to better understand the reasons behind both high and low sales periods. Upon further analysis, it was revealed that hiring employees with a particular education and work experience profile resulted in significant increases in sales for an extended period of time. Prior to this discovery, human resource data was never used in conjunction with sales data for analyses."


What do you find to be the most difficult aspect of being a Data Engineer?

Reasonable hiring managers will understand that people run across difficult aspects of their job all the time. Avoid glossing over this question in fear of highlighting a weakness. Instead identify something you have may have struggled with and add how you dealt with it.

Helen's Answer

"One difficult aspect of being an Data Engineer is managing the sometimes conflicting demands of different departments within the company. Balancing the needs of the different departments with the capabilities of our infrastructure is one the biggest challenges I deal with on a regular basis. Although it has been difficult, I always try to see the positive aspect of the situation. Dealing with these conflicting demands has required me to learn more about the work of all of these departments. It gives me an invaluable holistic view of the company and allows me to see how all the 'pieces' fit together. So, in a way, I feel fortunate to have this challenge as there are only a few others who are exposed to this view of the company."


If you had the time and resources, what types of training courses would you enroll in to help you in your job as a Data Engineer?

With technology constantly changing, most ambitious Data Engineers could easily rattle off several training courses they would enroll in if they only had the time in their busy schedules. The answer to this question may not only reflect where your interests lie, but it can also be an indication of your perceived weaknesses. Find a way to offset any possible interpretations of weakness by mentioning strengths you have in related skills.

Helen's Answer

"I find it very important to keep up with advancements in my industry, so I believe enrolling in training courses on a regular basis should be a high priority for Data Engineers. At this time, I would choose to enroll in training courses related to ETL processes and the cloud environment. In current and past roles as a Data Engineer, we are always looking for ways to improve our processes to become more reliable and efficient. I have been fortunate enough to work in teams where our architecture and processes ran relatively smoothly and efficiently. However, it is always important to continuously evaluate your current situation and be proactive about finding ways to improve."


Do you have experience training others on thing such as software, applications, porcesses or architecture? If so, what have you found to be the most difficult aspect of doing so?

Training may be one of a Data Engineers many responsibilities. Co-workers may need to be trained on new processes or systems you have built or new employees may need training on well established architectures and pipelines. Technology is constantly changing so it is likely training opportunities will exist on a regular basis. When identifying the difficult aspect of training you experienced, be sure to also include how you dealt with it.

Helen's Answer

"Yes, I do have experience administering both individual and group training. Through my experiences I have found that one of the more difficult aspects is training new, but experience employees, who have come from a company that approached data from an entirely different perspective. These new employees may 'speak the language' and have the necessary skills, but sometimes have strong opinions on how to approach different projects. It becomes a challenge to train them when they struggle to be open-minded. I have learned it is helpful to highlight the successes we've had with our processes and architecture to help them realize there is never a 'one-size-fits-all' solution."


Outside of your technical skills, what skills do you find most valuable as a Data Engineer? These could be skills you attained from jobs unrelated to data.

Career-specific skills are important to have, but there are many atypical skills that are necessary to be a successful Data Engineer. When answering this question, try to 'think outside the box', and avoid answers such as Communication or Teamwork skills.

Helen's Answer

"Over the years, multitasking and prioritizing have become invaluable skills for me. I began strengthening these skills in a job unrelated to Data Engineering. As an administrative assistant working with a department of a dozen people, I had to learn to prioritize tasks and complete some of the simultaneously. This has become a skill I use frequently as a Data Engineer since I work with many different departments in the company. In any given week, I'm approached by different departments with several different data requests. I have to manage these requests by prioritizing their needs, and in order to get the requests fulfilled efficiently, I use my multi-tasking skills."


Do you prefer work in more of a Generalist role or concentrate your work on the Pipeline or Database?

Data Engineers may have not have a choice to the type of role they play. Much of it depends on the size and type of company at which they work. Generalists tend to be more highly skilled as they are responsible for a larger variety of data tasks. Those whose work is concentrated with the Pipeline tend to work more closely with Data Scientists and are more familiar with getting the data prepared for analysis. Data Scientists whose work is concentrated on databases may work more with the ETL process and table schemas. As you answer this question, be sure to include all your experiences (if you have worked in more than one type of role) and why you prefer one type over another.

Helen's Answer

"With the majority of my work experiences as a Data Engineer, I worked in more of a Generalist role. I prefer this over the other two types, because I enjoy having knowledge of the entire structure and process. I have received training on a variety of topics relevant to Data Engineers and enjoy utilizing all of my attained skills, if possible, instead of concentrating on a subset of them."


Are you comfortable working 'behind the scenes'? Alternatively, are you comfortable coming out and being in the 'spotlight'?

Compared to Data Scientists, Data Engineers tend to work 'behind-the-scenes' since their work is completed much earlier in the data analysis project timeline. Decision makers in the company aren't always interested in how the data is made available. Instead, they are usually more interested understanding the learnings Data Scientists glean from the data using their statistical and machine learning models. Your answer to this question will reveal a bit about your personality - whether you only thrive in the 'spotlight' or are you able to work in both types of situations?

Helen's Answer

"As a Data Engineer, I am used to working 'behind the scenes'. What's more important to me than being in the 'spotlight' is being an expert in my field and having a positive impact on the company through my work. I take pride in the work that I do and how I can set the company up for success. However, I do not shy away from the 'spotlight' when necessary. If there is an issue within my department that requires attention from my manager and/or company executives, such as the need for additional resources, I do not avoid bringing attention to it for the good of our team's work and ultimately the company."


What kind of experience have you had working with Data Scientists and what skills do you have in common with them?

Some working in the industry may think that Data Engineers and Data Scientists have some overlap in skills and possibly responsibilities. At the minimum, Data Engineers should have a general understanding of what type of projects Data Scientists work on. At a high level, the two positions differ in that Data Engineers deal with the maintenance, architecture and overall preparation of data for analytical purposes, while Data Scientist create use statistical and machine learning methods to glean learning from the data. As Data Scientists rely heavily on the work of Data Engineers, hiring managers may want to understand how you have interacted with them in the past and how well you understand their skills and work.

Helen's Answer

"In most of my positions, I have had the opportunity to work with Data Scientists. I met with many of them on a regular basis to better understand their roles and to aid them with their projects. I found that it was not difficult to work with them, because we both understood analytics and were trained in some of the same programming languages. Having these overlapping skills allowed me to more easily understand the Data Scientist's data needs, while she understood the limitations of our infrastructure and the data available. "

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