Hilary Mason interview questions for Data Scientists

Great data scientists come from very diverse backgrounds - here are some questions Hilary Mason (Chief Scientist for Bitly) uses to assess them.

Hilary Mason blog, Jan 3, 2013

Great data scientists come from such diverse backgrounds that it can be difficult to get a sense of whether someone is up to the job in just a short interview. 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. Here are a few of my favorite questions.

Editor: Hilary Mason also writes in comments that she has a set of technical and more typical questions she uses to establish professional competence. The questions below go beyond pure technical competency and help establish the fit. They also illuminate the environment at startups like Bitly. What questions would you use ?

1. What was the last thing that you made for fun? This is my favorite question by far - I want to work with the kind of people who don't turn their brains off when they go home. It's also a great way to learn what gets people excited.

2. What's your favorite algorithm? Can you explain it to me?
I don't know any data scientists who haven't fallen in love with an algorithm, and I want to see both that enthusiasm and that the candidate can explain it to a knowledgable audience.

3. Tell me about a data project you've done that was successful. How did you add unique value?
This is a chance for the candidate to walk us through a success and show off a bit. It's also a great gateway into talking about their process and preferred tools and experience.

4. Tell me about something that failed. What would you change if you had to do it over again? ...

5. 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"?! ...

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