Jan 16, 2019

The Best Approach for a Machine Learning Informational Interview

Landing a machine learning job can be a lot easier if you have a clear roadmap ahead of you. As with many other tech jobs, an informational interview can be key to making that happen.

A Question to Ask Yourself First

Informational interviews are a great way of getting information you can't really get anywhere else. Sure, that random guy on Reddit might say he's an expert in machine learning, but does he actually have a job title you'd want? First, ask yourself if you're talking to the right person. For a career field as advanced and complex as machine learning, you don't want to end up getting advice that isn't applicable for the actual position you want. For example, if you want to be a Self-Driving Car Engineer, try to talk to someone with a job title you'd want at a relevant company like Tesla or Waymo. If you aren't getting responses from anyone that suits your criteria, try to cast your net wider in hopes of networking your way to the right person.

Questions to Ask During the Interview

Once you've found a Machine Learning Engineer or other professional who seems like a good fit for your future career aspirations, you'll want to be prepared for your meeting. It's fine to ask follow-up questions to get the interviewee to elaborate, but it's important to know what you want to ask ahead of time so you make good use of this opportunity. These questions can get you started. Feel free to tailor them more specifically to the areas of knowledge you need most.

How did you end up in machine learning?

You can be more specific with this question by asking how the interviewee ended up in his or her current position. The goal of the question is to get a real-world example of what this career trajectory looks like. This is also a better way of asking the question "tell me what I need to do to get your job" because it shows interest in the interviewee and isn't quite so demanding.

What are your thoughts on ethics in the field?

Ethics are a part of machine learning to some degree at each organization that works on this technology. Asking this question in an informational interview can be a good way of getting an inside view into the conversation around ethics, particularly at a specific company you might be interested in working at. It could be that the company's vision conflicts with your own, signaling that you might not actually want to work there.

What industry-related resources or people should I be seeking out?

Machine learning is a fast-growing field, so it's important to know what people on the inside read and think about to stay current. This can also be an opportunity for you to open a line of friendly dialogue if the interviewee mentions something you've already read.