How to Answer Common Data Engineer Interview Questions

 


KEY QUESTIONS:

  • How/why did you choose to become a data engineer? 
  • Tell me about a recent project you've been working on. 
  • What is the hardest part about being a data engineer? 
  • If you could do something different to improve one thing about a previous project, what would it be? 
  • Tell us about the data engineering certificates you’ve earned. 
  • Which ETL tools have you worked with? 
  • What are your top skills? 
  • Have you built data systems with the Hadoop framework? 

 

Data Engineering is slowly growing in demand, as businesses realize the importance of its applications in terms of their business' growth.  

If you’ve landed a job interview to become a Data Engineer, you need to properly prepare. How do you prove to your prospective employer or hiring manager that you’re the right one for their job among the sea of other applicants for that position?  

To get ready for a job interview, there are a few questions you should be prepared to answer. Here are some of the most common data engineer interview questions you might encounter, what they really mean, and how you can answer them. 

  

How/why did you choose to become a data engineer?  

What they really want to know: 

  • Your background, education, and work experience  

What to consider when answering: 

  • Did you purposely choose data engineering? Or was it something you gradually leaned into after similar jobs in the past? 
  • It might be good to mention what you enjoy most about being a data engineer – this will show your passion for the job 

  

Tell me about a recent project you’ve been working on. 

What they really want to know: 

  • How you work – they might be looking for how you communicate, work as a team, how eager you are about work, your decision-making process, or your workflow. 
  • Your background and work experience  

What to consider when answering: 

  • Talk about a project that’s related to the job you are applying to. Read the job description beforehand and think about projects you’ve done that align with their requirements 
  • Explain what you did and why. Outline your decisions and goals – what problems were you trying to solve? What were the solutions you considered?  
  • If you worked with a team, explain how you collaborated with everyone. What were their tasks, and what were your tasks? If you were in charge, how did you lead everyone to ensure that the task was properly completed? 

 

What is the hardest part about being a data engineer? 

What they really want to know: 

  • How you overcame challenges you’ve experienced in the past and what have you learned from those experiences 
  • What challenges you might encounter when working for them in the future  

What to consider when answering: 

  • What specific challenges have you encountered in your previous jobs? Think of specific examples that you encountered, not just general challenges you can think of. 
  • Focus on explaining how you overcame those challenges. Did you take online classes to develop your skills? Did you work with a mentor to help you through it? 

 

If you could do something different to improve one thing about a previous project, what would it be? 

What they really want to know: 

  • What you’ve learned, how you’ve grown, and how you’ve changed. 
  • If you have a desire to improve – data engineers should naturally be inquisitive and have a desire to improve to make things more accurate or efficient 

What to consider when answering:  

  • Critically assess the work you have done in the past. There is always something that needs to be improved. 
  • If you have difficulty thinking about this, start with the previous questions – what was a recent project you’ve worked on or what is the hardest part about being a data engineer. 
  • Were there problems that could have been prevented by doing something differently?  
  • Remember to be honest and talk about what you’ve learned in the process 

  

Tell us about the data engineering certificates you’ve earned. 

What they really want to know:

  • How updated you are with current technologies - updating your skills is important and one of the best ways is through online courses and certifications 
  • Why you took them - certifications prove to employers that you’ve invested time and effort developing your skills and shows how dedicated you are to the job  

What to consider when answering: 

  • What are the recent courses you took? 
  • Why did you take the courses? Was it because it is a new and emerging technology in the field? Or did you take a course on aspects of data engineering you aren’t familiar with so you can understand them better? Or were you simply curious?  
  • If you didn’t take any courses, you can talk about training your previous (or current) employers provided if any. 
  • If you didn’t have any previous training, you can talk about courses you plan to take 

 

Which ETL tools have you worked with? 

What they really want to know: 

  • If you have experience with the ETL process and if you have experience with various tools 
  • They might also want to check if your experiences match what is currently being done and used in the company  

What to consider when answering: 

  • Enumerate the different tools you’ve worked with, and point out what is your favorite or which one you’re most comfortable with. 
  • Explain why you prefer one tool over the other. Is it more efficient? Does it have a high-performance rate and flexibility?  
  • Talk about how you think that tool can help the business in terms of business data operations  

Some popular ETL tools you might want to learn how to use: 

  • Microsoft – SQL Server Integrated Services (SSIS) 
  • Skyvia 
  • Xplenty 
  • Informatica – PowerCenter 
  • IBM – Infosphere Information Server 
  • Oracle Data Integrator 
  • Oracle Warehouse Builder 
  • Apache Nifi 
  • SAS – Data Integration Studio 
  • SAP – BusinessObjects Data Integrator 

 

What are your top skills? 

What they really want to know: 

What to consider when answering: 

  • Enumerate your skills – ideally, all of these should already be in your resume/CV 
  • What are the languages you are familiar with? Operating systems? Cloud platforms? Data warehousing and ETL tools? 

You can check out this short guide on the essential skills you need to become a data engineer as a starting point for what you can talk about if the hiring manager asks you these questions. 

 

Have you built data systems with the Hadoop framework? 

What they really want to know: 

  • If you have experience with Hadoop and big data 
  • Specific projects you’ve worked on  

What to consider when answering: 

  • It isn’t enough to just say “yes”, give specific examples and highlights of any projects you’ve done so you can highlight your knowledge of the tool. 
  • Before jumping into the interview, you should have properly read the job description to see what tools they expect you to know. This means that if you don’t have experience with that tool or framework, the least you can do is research. Be honest and tell them you haven’t worked with that tool/framework but you are willing to learn. 

  

Final thoughts 

Generally, most of the questions that will be thrown at you will revolve around your skills and experience. They’ll want to know what tools you’ve used, programming languages you’re familiar with, level of experience with SQL and NoSQL databases, data modeling tools, cloud computing environments, etc. 

This is why before any interview, really look into your skills and previous experiences. Think back to specific times you’ve used these tools, or introduced new data analytics applications, faced any challenges in the past, or learned something new.  

It isn’t enough that you have the skills, you need to communicate and demonstrate that you truly have the skills. Anyone can easily say they’re an expert at something, but what will set you apart is explaining how your experiences in the past have developed your skills and turned you into the Data Engineer you are today – one that’s ready and a perfect fit for the new job. 

If you are looking for general interview questions you can practice with, you can also check out 42 of the most common interview questions here, which are the basic/introductory questions most hiring managers ask. 

 

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