How to Get a Job on Amazon’s Alexa Team
By Zara Kessler | October 27, 2016

Cheat Sheet is a regular series that takes you inside the hiring process. This week: Do you have the chops to tutor Alexa, Amazon.com’s voice service?
See all the cheat sheets here.

Interview Cheat Sheet #30
The Job
  • Position:
  • Machine Learning Scientist on the Alexa team
  • Hiring Manager:
  • Alborz Geramifard
  • Senior Machine Learning Scientist
  • Salary:
  • About $100,000-$135,000, base (Glassdoor, based on 11 reports)
  • Description:
  • Work in a group that builds algorithms and machine-learning models for Alexa, the Amazon virtual assistant that responds to voice commands. Focus on conversational artificial intelligence. For example, Geramifard said by e-mail, “if a user initiates a dialogue with Alexa by saying, ‘Alexa, what is the weather in New York City?’ and then in the following utterance the user says, ‘How about Boston?’, Alexa understands that the user is looking for weather in Boston, even though the word ‘weather’ is not explicitly mentioned.” Devise metrics to judge success in conversations with Alexa, improve algorithms through experimentation, design new algorithms and, working with software engineers, put them into wide use.
  • Qualifications:
  • Bachelor’s degree and knowledge of machine learning required. Preferred: Ph.D. or Master of Science in computer science, background in reinforcement learning and natural language processing, industry experience working with dialogue systems.

The Method

First Round:

Phone screen, of up to an hour, concentrating on coding, machine learning, and your background.

Second Round:

Day on-site to assess your experience and your facility in machine learning, coding, and problem solving. You’ll give a presentation, during which “we evaluate their communication skills, their thought process, and their depth of knowledge in the specific area of machine learning,” and have a series of one-on-one interviews, often including one with the hiring manager.

The Score:

Both rounds are conducted by scientists and engineers. “We evaluate the candidate's possession of the technical and functional knowledge and skills for the role and demonstration of our leadership principles throughout each phase of the process.” Interviewers give detailed written feedback.


How to Ace It

Do know Amazon’s Leadership Principles. “Understand and be able to speak to how your experience aligns” with them. Also, be ready to apply “them to questions/hypotheticals that are posed during the hiring process.”

Do “brush up your machine learning and coding capabilities.” For example, solve coding questions on the internet in 15 minutes, listen to online courses on machine learning, or dive into textbooks.

Do “rest well the night before the on-site interview. If you are flying long hours and arrive in the afternoon, request to take another day in between.”

Do speak up. “Be a loud thinker. Discuss your thought process.” Also, have “a clear communication style.”

Do ask questions about the job, and show that you’re “interested in our efforts and [have] new ideas on how to improve them.”

Do be obsessed with the customer. “We would like to see candidates that put a considerable amount of weight on the customer experience when making decisions.”

Do wear business casual. “No one wears suits at Amazon.”

Don’t be vague. For example, “to avoid ambiguity the candidate can reply: I used SVM to build a classifier given 100K data points,” instead of “I used some technique to build a classifier with the given data points.”

Don’t be stubborn. You don’t want to demonstrate “an inability to think flexibly and open-mindedly” or be “missing hints from the interviewer and insisting on a particular approach.”