How to Land a Data Scientist Job at Your Dream Company — My Journey to Airbnb


By Kelly Peng, Data Scientist, Airbnb

I just started my new job at Airbnb as a data scientist a month ago, and I still feel that I’m too lucky to be here. Nobody knows how much I wanted to join this company — I had pictures of Airbnb office stuck in front of my desk; I had my iPhone wallpaper set as a photo of me standing in front of the Airbnb logo; I applied for positions at Airbnb four times, but only heard back from the recruiter in the last time…

Kelly Peng, data scientist, Airbnb

In the past, when people asked me, “Which company do you want to work for the most?” I dare not to say “Airbnb” because when I said that, they replied to me, “Do you know how many people want to work there? How many of them eventually got in? Come on, be realistic.”

The result proves that nothing is impossible. Since many of my friends asked me to share about my job search experience, I think it might be helpful to write it down and share with people.

Some data…

To provide an overview of my job search process:

  • Applications: 475
  • Phone interviews: 50
  • Finished data science take-home challenges: 9
  • Onsite interviews: 8
  • Offers: 2
  • Time spent: 6 months

As you probably can see from the data, I’m not a strong candidate because, otherwise, I would just apply for a few positions and receive a bunch of offers. Yes, I used to be super weak; I used to be the kind of candidates who are wasting interviewers’ time. But “who you were months ago doesn’t matter, what matters is who you are becoming.”

The road less traveled to a data scientist job

A little bit about my background, I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from a university in China and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After graduated, I worked as a data analyst for two years, with 7 months as a contractor at Google, and another 1 year 4 months at a startup. My work was mostly about writing SQL queries, building dashboards, and give data-driven recommendations.

After realizing that I was not learning and growing as expected, I left my job and applied for Galvanize Data Science Immerse program, which is a 12-week boot camp in San Francisco. I failed the statistics interview to enter the boot camp program for 4 times, got admitted after taking the statistics interview for the fifth time.

The content taught at Galvanize was heavy on Python and machine learning, and they assume you already have a strong foundation in statistics. Unsurprisingly, I struggled a lot in the beginning, because I didn’t know much about programming, nor was I strong in statistics. I had no choice but to work really hard. During my time at Galvanize, I had no break, no entertainment, no dating, nothing else but more than 12 hours study every day. And I got much more comfortable with the courses later on.

However, I still embarrassed myself for uncountable times in interviews when I first started the job search process. Because the gap between a real data scientist and I was so huge that even though I was hardworking, the 12-week study was far from enough to make a career transformation. So I applied, interviewed, failed, applied again, interviewed again, failed again. The good thing is, each time I got to learn something new, and became a little bit stronger.

In March 2018, I have been unemployed for almost a year since I quitted my previous job. With only ~$600 in my bank account, I had no idea how to pay for the next month’s rent. What’s even worse, if I couldn’t find a job by the end of April 2018, I have to leave the U.S. because my visa will expire.

Luckily, after so much practice and repetition, I’ve grown from someone who doesn’t know how to introduce herself properly, doesn’t remember which one of Lasso and Ridge is L1, knows nothing about programming algorithms, into someone who knows she is ready to get what she wants.

When I entered the final interview at Airbnb, I had one data scientist offer in hand; thus, I was not nervous at all. My goal for the final interview was to be the best version of myself and leave no regret. The interview turned out to be the best one I have ever had. They gave me the offer, and all the hard work and sleepless nights paid off.

Read the source blog post at Toward Data Science.