My First Job Interview

I had my first job interview in Fall 2007. That interview completely changed my career trajectory. Before that, I was a graduate student quitting a PhD program. After that, I joined the energy sector and started working on numerous forecasting projects.

In this blog series, I will discuss that interview (in this post) and share the lessons learned (in the following two posts). Hopefully these tips are useful to the folks interviewing for their first jobs in data science and the hiring managers trying to find their entry level data scientists.

It was a lunch interview with my future boss Richard, co-founder of a startup consulting company. Richard got the IEEE Fellow award in his mid-thirties, maybe the youngest IEEE Fellow at that time. 

The restaurant served Japanese and Thai food. The interview began after we placed the order. 

He started with the introduction of the company, which was probably the most tech-savvy firm in the utility industry at the time. The company had more IEEE Fellows than the entire ECE department of NC State University. I did get the key message from his introduction: they only hire people from two categories, experts and the ones who are going to become experts. I guessed he was putting me in the latter category.

After the introduction, he started asking me questions. The conversation went like this...

Richard: Do you know power system planning?
Tao: No.
Richard: How about power system analysis?
Tao: No.
Richard: Did you learn power flow in school?
Tao: Probably in college, but I don't remember anything by now.
Richard: Do you know anything about power systems?
Tao: Not much, but I'm taking a course called Power Systems Operations and Control this semester. 
Richard: Then why do you want to come to the utility industry?
Tao: Because my dad was working in a power company in China. I was born in the utility industry. 
(Years later, I asked Richard why he still hired me even though I knew virtually nothing about the field. He said this answer convinced him.)

Richard then asked me about the projects I did in graduate school. I briefly introduced some of my school projects. Most of them didn't have much to do with power systems. Fortunately, a recent one was on power systems fault prediction. I was analyzing power outage data using social networks. It would have been an exciting project to discuss in today's interviews. In 2007, however, data analytics was a brand new concept to power engineers.

The interview ended with this...

Richard: Are you an international student now?
Tao: Yes.
Richard: Do you need work visa and green card sponsorship?
Tao: Yes. 
Richard: OK. Don't worry. We will take care of those...

Two months later, I started my internship in Richard's group, and later became a full time employee.

To be continued...