11 Top Interview Questions for Data Engineers

Data engineers are currently some of the most highly sought after software developers.

According to a recent article on LinkedIn, the role made the list of fastest-growing jobs in every country but one. Eleven countries also had data engineer, data analyst, data consultant, data specialist, and data entry operator on their list.

However, identifying the best data engineer candidates can be difficult. That’s where having a strong set of questions to help you suss out the right ones for your company can help.  Here’s a list of the top 11 interview questions to ask data engineer talent.

What is a data engineer?

Before we delve into some of the best data engineer interview questions, let’s take a quick look at what makes the data engineer role.

A data engineer is a software engineer that prepares the infrastructure for “big data.” They are software developers that design, build, integrate, and manage data from various resources.

Candidates often have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, software/computer engineering, applied math, physics, statistics, or a related field.

Data engineer vs. data scientist

While data engineers are in charge of the data and its resources, a data scientist is responsible for interpreting the data, exploring it, and solving business problems using various datasets.

A good data scientist should have a broad understanding of data mining, analysis, machine learning, statistics, and big data infrastructures.

Data engineer interview questions

When evaluating data engineers, you’ll want to use a number of interview questions to learn about their experience and culture fit. Below, you’ll find a series of interview questions that we recommend using, but feel free to customize each question for your specific industry and role.

Explain data engineering.

Data engineering is a complex position with a number of different responsibilities and interpretations. Use this data engineer interview question to learn how they view their role and responsibilities.

How would you describe data modeling to someone who is unfamiliar with the position? How do you use data modeling in your current job?

A data engineer’s role is complex. This helps you understand how they’ll communicate with people in various positions that may not have an understanding of technical areas. 

Tell me about how you use both structured and unstructured data in your current role?

Structured and unstructured data are both valuable sources used by data engineers. How a data engineer uses, integrates, and manages these data sources can create valuable insight for your company.

Can you tell me about Hadoop and NameNode?

Hadoop is the most common framework for processing ‘Big Data’ and NameNode is the centerpiece of HDFS. This question is primarily used to verify their knowledge and experience in ‘Big Data’ engineering. 

Describe to me how you deploy a big data solution.

The nature of this role will be deploying various solutions to manage big data. Learn about your candidate’s process for deploying these solutions. 

What are the most important languages/skills you’ve learned and use on a daily basis?

Data engineers use a variety of languages and skills. Use this interview question to learn which languages they are most skilled/comfortable with using. 

Describe some of the projects from your current role. How do you think you’ll be able to apply your experience there with our company?

This data engineer interview question lets your candidate tell you in their own words why they’re a fit for your open position. Make sure to gain insight into their previous work experience and how it applies to your role.

Describe how our company could leverage your work and big data to increase revenue.

This interview question helps you gain insight into a data engineer and how they see their work impacting your company’s bottom line. This can also set the stage for potential projects that they can get excited about should you extend them an offer. 

What ETL tool are you using? Would you recommend it? Why/why not?

Learn what tools your candidate is familiar with and which they prefer. This can impact time-to-productivity and their efficiency if your existing toolset is something they like/dislike.

What are some of the most common problems you’ve run into with your work? What’s the biggest problem you’ve ever run into? How did you overcome these challenges?

Learning about challenges and how your candidate has overcome them can speak towards their creativity, resilience, and fit for your company. This data engineer interview question showcases their competency in data engineering and problem solving skills. 

Can you describe a time where you found a new use case for an existing database?

This interview question shows you how a candidate has helped create positive impacts at their previous companies using existing databases.  

Final thoughts: Data engineer interview questions

Using the above data engineer interview questions, you’ll be able to identify the best data engineers. Make sure to combine these interview questions with some of our other popular interview question lists, such as:

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Further reading