Chip Huyen (Snorkel)

Chip created the TensorFlow for Deep Learning Research course at Stanford University, has worked on production ML teams at Snorkel an Nvidia, and has published many popular resources for ML Engineers.
Machine Learning Interviews

Machine Learning Jobs

Research vs Applied Research

  • Research finds the answers to fundamental questions and expands the body of theoretical knowledge. Applied research finds solutions to practical problems.

  • Research focuses on long-term outcomes, while applied research focuses on immediate commercial outcomes.

  • Most cutting-edge research is spearheaded by big corporations.

  • Machine learning research is highly empirical at this point.

Research Scientist vs Research Engineer

  • A research scientist develops original ideas, while a research engineer actualizes those ideas.

  • A Ph.D. degree is often required for research scientist roles.

  • Starting as a research engineer is a natural path to become a research scientist.

  • In some organizations, these roles often overlap.

Data Scientist vs Machine Learning Engineer

  • A data scientist extracts knowledge and insights from data, while a machine learning engineer builds models to turn data into products.

  • Engineering skillset is a top priority for the latter.

  • ML Engineers at startups might spend more time on cleaning data, setting up infrastructure, and deploying models than training models.

Big Companies vs Startups

  • Big companies can afford research, while startups cannot.

  • Big companies can afford specialists, while startups need generalists.

  • Big companies have a standardized hiring process, while startups make up the process as they go.

Getting a Machine Learning Job

Six Common Paths

  1. BS/MS in ML → ML Engineer (Tech Ivies → FAANG/Startups)

  2. Ph.D. in ML → ML Researcher (Published at Top-Tier Conferences → FAANG/ML-First Startups)

  3. Data Scientist → On-The-Job Training → ML Engineer/ML Researcher (Data Scientists in companies that want to start using ML)

  4. Software Engineer → Courses → ML Engineer (Software Engineers who want to transition into ML)

  5. Adjacent Fields → On-The-Job Training → ML Researcher (Ph.D. from fields like physics, math, neuroscience)

  6. Unrelated Fields → Residency/Fellowship → ML Researcher (People in fields like healthcare, architecture, art, etc. who go through programs in big companies)

Senior Role vs Junior Role

  • Companies hire senior roles for skills and junior roles for attitude.

Ph.D. or Nah?

  • The only role that might require a Ph.D. is (applied) research scientist.

  • We need more engineers to improve and productize research.

Understanding The Interviewers' Mindset

  • Companies Hate Hiring:

    • Expensive for companies.

    • Stressful for hiring managers.

    • Boring for interviewers.

  • Companies want the best people who can do a reasonable job within time and monetary constraints.

  • Companies don't know what they are hiring for. The job descriptions are for reference purposes only.

  • Most recruiters rely on weak signals such as previous employers, degrees, awards/papers, GitHub/Kaggle, and referrals.

    • Placing too much importance on voluntary activities (like contributing to open-source or participating in Kaggle competitions) punishes candidates from less privileged backgrounds.

  • Most interviewers have little or no training (even at big companies).

  • The interview outcome depends on many random variables. They do not reflect your ability or your self-worth.

Interview Process

The Steps

  1. Resume Screen

  2. Phone Screen

  3. Coding Challenges or Take-Home Assignments

  4. Technical Offsite Interviews (1-2)

  5. Onsite Interviews (4-8)

Bad Interview Questions

  1. Questions that ask for retention of knowledge that can be easily looked up.

  2. Questions that evaluate irrelevant skills.

  3. Questions whose solutions rely on a single insight.

  4. Questions that try to evaluate multiple skills at once.

  5. Questions that use specific hard-to-remember names.

  6. Open-ended questions with one expected answer.

  7. Easy questions during later interview rounds.

⇒ For good interview questions, check out this list curated by Chip's herself.

Alternative Interview Formats

  • Multiple choice quiz

  • Code debugging

  • Pair programming

  • Good cop, bad cop

Recruiting Pipeline

  • The higher the onsite-to-offer ratio, the more likely offers are accepted.

  • Most junior roles are sourced through campus or referrals.

  • "Be so good they can't ignore you"

  • Candidates with negative experiences are less likely to accept offers.

Tips To Prepare for ML Interviews