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It seems that this is true for now (for 'traditional companies').

Soon, however, one could argue that 'traditional companies' will no longer be the norm - data science, ML, etc. will play such a crucial role in the majority of tech firms that the number of companies using it will rise. That's when I expect we'll see a huge portion of software engineers knowing ML concepts. Alternatively, I wonder if we might see the rise of smaller companies contracting out all of their ML to larger ones.

I would also be curious to know if ML background helps one to get a job at a place like Amazon/Google for even 'traditional' positions right now. The amount of data they have now must drive demand for engineers who can write software that takes advantage of it, regardless of position. Of course, like you said, they'll always require engineers to fill more traditional roles with no data interaction.

You need a friend at GooMAzonSoft to refer you. It's always been and will always be the easiest way in. Then traditional uninteresting phone call and uninspired 6 hours on site with people who probably didn't read your resume.

Maybe if you have a good profile and you get lucky, you'll go interview straight for one group who's interested in you, but I wouldn't bet on that.

Referrals from your friends do little to nothing at those companies. At Microsoft, for instance, all it does is assign a "handler" to the applications you put in. They just let you know if anyone is looking at them. Which, as you can imagine, is useless.

Almost no one, except for maybe very high level hires, get a pass for the initial weed-out interviews.

Not true. I'm a run of the mill developer. I had another offer, I called google, told them I had another offer. They skipped all the rounds but the final.

They skipped screening and whiteboarding because you simply said you had another offer?

You can't get into the interview pipeline without a referral.

I've gotten into the interview pipeline without a referral in other places. My friend got into the interview pipeline in Microsoft without a referral.

Did you know that your use of that term uniquely fingerprints you? (Google it)

An interesting remark indeed.

Assuming the other people who used that word are me.

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