Netflix Data Scientist Internship: A Complete Guide
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Most major technology companies offer structured internship programs with standardized application processes, interviews, and a clear track for interns to follow once they’re at the company. Not Netflix. The Los Gatos entertainment streaming company has not only forgone conventional internships, it accepts so few interns each year that a 2014 Business Insider article declared that the company had “banned” interns altogether.
While this isn’t entirely true, given that the company continues to post internship opportunities in its job listings, current and former employees explain that the reason there are so few interns at Netflix is because the company prioritizes hiring people with years of experience over newcomers.
“There is…no formal career development or structured ladder at Netflix,” said employee James Schek. “Employees do not start from a ‘bottom’ and are guided towards particular paths. Employees are expected to choose their own path and take ownership of their own career development—the company won’t do it for you.”
Tom Whitnah, an engineer who once interviewed with Netflix, put the company’s hiring strategy more bluntly: “[They] bring on strong people who already have a good amount of experience who can fully own an area themselves, and pay them much better than their competitors would (at least in salary terms),” he said. “They didn’t hire people out of college or people they thought would need hand-holding to get ramped up.”
Still, this doesn’t mean there isn’t room at Netflix for interns.
Of the FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google) companies, Netflix is the only one that doesn’t offer a formal internship program. But this doesn’t mean the company doesn’t take interns. Read on to learn more about internships at Netflix and how to get your foot in the door.
What does an intern at Netflix do?
By the company’s own admission, it does internships differently.
“Our aim is to offer an experience that mimics what it is like to actually work here,” Netflix writes in its internship job listings. “We match qualified interns with projects and groups based on interests and skill set, and fully embed interns within those groups for the summer.”
The company’s internships run for at least twelve weeks, with flexible timing to meet candidates’ needs. According to current listings, internships are remote during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the company aims to “bring the intern cohort together for an optional experience at some point during the summer.”
Given that there is no formal training or mentorship program, interns are expected to learn on the job. For example, in a recent listing for machine learning intern, the company tasks the successful candidate with:
- Working on applied machine learning problems relevant to Netflix, and helping push the state-of-the-art through research and development evaluation
- Interacting with and learning from machine learning researchers, data science expert and software engineers
- Working with massive data sets that affect real problems
- Present work at key research forums within Netflix
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What is the process to get a data science internship at Netflix?
Those who have secured internships at Netflix have said that a company hiring manager or senior data scientist reached out to them over LinkedIn. Former intern Chip Huyen wrote on her blog that the person who eventually became her manager was the one to directly contact her about the internship opportunity.
“I asked him why he, and not someone in HR, reached out to me,” Huyen said on her blog. “He said it’s just how Netflix works. Everyone takes initiative—if they want something, they go for it. Their hiring process for interns was unconventional. I met the manager, visited the office, and talked to the team, but there was no typical Silicon Valley-ish technical interview.”
Huyen emphasized the lack of hand-holding at the company, which is reflected in its internship job listings. For example, the role of machine learning intern requires that the successful candidate be pursuing their Ph.D. or Master’s degree in the machine learning space; have experience in deep learning, causal inference, computer vision and graphics, natural language processing, mathematical optimization, operations research, and conversational AI; know programming languages such as SQL or Python, and have great communication skills. Other internship listings require the successful candidate to have experience with analytics and experimentation, expertise in working with complex data sets, an understanding of data engineering, and the ability to glean and convey insights.
These listings—along with Huyen’s experience—highlight the importance of going above and beyond what is typically expected of internship candidates in order to be considered for a Netflix summer internship.
Are interns working in data science at Netflix paid?
Unlike other large tech companies, which pay interns a flat monthly rate and offer benefits such as relocation allowances, the lack of a formal internship program at Netflix means that its interns are brought on as contractors, according to Huyen.
Salary data from Glassdoor suggests that the average hourly wage of a Netflix data science intern ranges from $56-61.
What’s it like to be an intern in data science at Netflix?
“In the first couple of days, I was a bit lost,” said Chip Huyen, whose title while she was an intern was “research assistant”. “I arrived at the office, they gave me a laptop, identification pin, a piece of paper with instructions on how to access various company resources, and I was off to do work.”
An enormous departure from other tech internships, Huyen said the Netflix experience offers no orientation, no meet and greet opportunities, and no hand-holding. That said, Huyen found that her colleagues were more than happy to help her when she asked.
“Everyone [was] super helpful when I reached out to them,” she said. “[At Netflix], they make a point of hiring only people with experience…and their employees are supposed to know how to get things done. If they don’t know, they’re supposed to know how to ask.”
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