Top Databricks Interview Questions & Answers

1. Introduction

Preparing for an interview can be daunting, especially when it involves technical roles at cutting-edge technology companies. This article deep-dives into databricks interview questions, providing potential candidates with a comprehensive guide to navigating the intricacies of Databricks-related roles. Whether you are a seasoned developer, a data scientist, or just starting your career in big data, the questions we cover will help you brace for what lies ahead in your interview process with Databricks.

Databricks Platform Insights

Above: Typical Databricks architecture on AWS. Image Source: Databricks documentation

Databricks has rapidly become a leader in big data analytics and artificial intelligence, thanks to its integration with Apache Spark. Candidates interested in roles with Databricks must understand not only the technical aspects of the platform but also the company’s culture and mission to empower clients to solve the world’s toughest data problems. Proficiency in Databricks signifies an expertise in handling vast datasets with speed and efficiency, a skill increasingly in demand across industries.

Databricks positions itself at the forefront of innovation, so a successful candidate will typically be expected to demonstrate a strong blend of technical knowledge, problem-solving skills, and a passion for continuous learning and adaptation in a fast-paced environment.

Q1. Can you explain what Databricks is and how it integrates with Apache Spark? (Databricks Platform Knowledge)

Databricks is a cloud-based platform service that provides a collaborative environment for data engineers, data scientists, and business analysts to work together. It is built on top of Apache Spark, which is an open-source, distributed processing system used for big data workloads. Databricks offers a managed Spark environment that simplifies operational aspects, such as cluster management, and provides an enhanced notebook environment along with a collaborative workspace.

Databricks integrates with Apache Spark by providing a fully managed Spark service, which includes automated cluster management and optimized Spark configuration tailored to specific workloads. Users can interact with Spark through Databricks’ notebooks or the REST API. Databricks also extends Spark’s capabilities with additional features such as:

  • An interactive workspace for running and sharing notebook-based analysis.
  • Databricks Runtime, which includes performance optimizations and additional libraries.
  • Delta Lake, which provides reliability to data lakes by offering ACID transactions, scalable metadata handling, and unifying streaming and batch data processing.

Q2. Why do you want to work with Databricks? (Motivation & Cultural Fit)

How to Answer: When answering this question, consider your personal motivations and how they align with the mission and culture of Databricks. Highlight aspects of the company that resonate with your career goals and values, such as innovation, collaboration, or the impact of their technology on the industry.

My Answer: I am passionate about working with data-driven technologies that have the potential to transform industries and solve complex problems. Databricks stands out to me as a leader in the space, with its innovative approach to simplifying big data analytics and collaborative data science. The opportunity to contribute to the development of cutting-edge solutions in a culture that values innovation, inclusion, and continuous learning excites me. I am particularly drawn to the company’s commitment to open-source projects and its role in the development of Apache Spark, which is a testament to its influence and dedication to community-driven innovation.

Q3. What are the main components of the Databricks ecosystem? (Databricks Components Understanding)

The main components of the Databricks ecosystem are:

  • Workspace: A collaborative environment where data scientists, engineers, and analysts can write and share notebook-based analyses.
  • Databricks Runtime: A set of performance-optimized versions of Apache Spark, including additional libraries for machine learning and graph processing.
  • Databricks File System (DBFS): An abstraction layer over a cloud object store, which allows users to access data as if it were on a local file system.
  • Databricks Jobs: A scheduler for batch and streaming workloads, with the ability to run notebooks or JARs on a schedule or in response to events.
  • Databricks MLflow: An open-source platform for managing the end-to-end machine learning lifecycle including experimentation, reproducibility, and deployment.
  • Delta Lake: An open-source storage layer that brings reliability to data lakes, supporting ACID transactions and scalable metadata handling.
  • Databricks SQL Analytics (formerly Databricks SQL): A serverless SQL query engine that enables data analysts to run BI workloads directly on the data lake.

Q4. How would you optimize a Spark job on Databricks for both speed and cost? (Performance Tuning & Cost Efficiency)

To optimize a Spark job on Databricks for both speed and cost, you can take the following steps:

  • Choose the Right Cluster Size and Type: Use Databricks’ autoscaling feature to dynamically adjust the number of nodes in your cluster based on the workload. Select instance types that offer the best balance between performance and cost for your specific job.
  • Data Partitioning and Skewness Management: Ensure data is evenly partitioned to prevent skewed processing. Use techniques such as salting or custom partitioning to address data skew.
  • Caching and Persistence: Use the cache() or persist() methods selectively for datasets that are accessed multiple times. Choose the appropriate storage level based on the dataset size and access patterns.
  • Optimize Data Formats and Storage: Use efficient data formats like Parquet or Delta Lake, which are both columnar storage formats that provide compression and improved read performance.
  • Tune Spark Configuration: Adjust Spark configuration parameters, like spark.executor.memoryspark.driver.memory, and spark.sql.shuffle.partitions, to optimize memory and parallelism.
  • Leverage Databricks Runtime Optimizations: Use Databricks Runtime’s built-in optimizations such as data skipping, z-ordering (for multi-dimensional clustering), and adaptive query execution.

Q5. Describe the process of data ingestion into Databricks and the tools you would use. (Data Ingestion Knowledge)

The process of data ingestion into Databricks typically involves the following steps:

  1. Identify Data Sources: Data can come from various sources like databases, data warehouses, IoT devices, web services, and more.
  2. Choose Ingestion Tools: Depending on the source and data types, different tools can be used:
    • Batch ingestion can be done using Apache Spark’s built-in data source APIs.
    • For streaming data, tools like Apache Kafka, Azure Event Hubs, or AWS Kinesis can be integrated with Spark Structured Streaming.
    • For integrations with existing data stores, Databricks can connect to services like JDBC databases, Amazon S3, or Azure Blob Storage.
  3. Preprocess Data: Data may need to be cleaned, transformed, or enriched before ingestion using Spark transformations.
  4. Load Data: Load the processed data into DBFS or directly into Delta Lake for further analysis and processing.

Here is a markdown list of the tools and services often used in the data ingestion process:

  • Batch Ingestion: Apache Spark APIs, Databricks File System (DBFS), Delta Lake.
  • Stream Processing: Apache Kafka, Spark Structured Streaming, Azure Event Hubs, AWS Kinesis.
  • Data Storage: Amazon S3, Azure Blob Storage, JDBC databases for relational data, NoSQL databases like Cassandra.
  • Data Transformation: Spark DataFrame Transformations, UDFs (User-Defined Functions), Databricks notebooks.

Q6. Can you walk me through how to handle data skew in Spark within Databricks? (Data Skew Mitigation Techniques)

Handling data skew in Spark within Databricks is a common challenge that can lead to inefficient resource utilization and long processing times. The following are some techniques to mitigate data skew:

  • Salting: Add a random prefix (salt) to the key which causes the data to be distributed more evenly. After processing, the salt can be removed or ignored as appropriate.
from pyspark.sql.functions import monotonically_increasing_id, col

# Adding a salt to the key
df = df.withColumn("salted_key", concat(col("key"), lit("_"), (monotonically_increasing_id() % 100).cast("string")))
  • Repartitioning: Explicitly repartition the data based on a column that has a more even distribution.
df = df.repartition("more_evenly_distributed_column")
  • Custom partitioner: Implement a custom partitioner that distributes the data more evenly.
from pyspark.rdd import portable_hash
from pyspark import Partitioner

class CustomPartitioner(Partitioner):
    def __init__(self, partitions):
        self.partitions = partitions
    def numPartitions(self):
        return self.partitions
    def getPartition(self, key):
        return portable_hash(key) % self.partitions

# Apply custom partitioner
rdd = df.rdd.partitionBy(100, CustomPartitioner)
  • Broadcasting smaller DataFrame: If a skewed join is occurring, and one DataFrame is significantly smaller, broadcast the smaller DataFrame to each node.
from pyspark.sql.functions import broadcast

# Apply broadcast join
df_large.join(broadcast(df_small), "key")
  • Filtering out large keys: If specific keys are known to be problematic, these can be processed separately.
large_keys_df = df.filter(col("key").isin(large_keys_list))
rest_df = df.filter(~col("key").isin(large_keys_list))
  • Increasing task parallelism: Increase the number of partitions to create more tasks which may help in utilizing resources better.
df = df.repartition(200)  # Increase to a higher number of partitions

Each of these techniques has its place, and often a combination of them is necessary to effectively mitigate data skew.

Q7. In a Databricks environment, how would you implement security best practices? (Security & Compliance)

Implementing security best practices in a Databricks environment involves multiple layers of security. Here’s a table with some of the critical aspects to consider:

Security AspectBest Practices
AuthenticationEnforce multi-factor authentication (MFA) and integrate with identity providers like Azure Active Directory or Okta.
AuthorizationUtilize Databricks’ built-in role-based access control (RBAC) to restrict access to clusters, jobs, and data.
Network SecuritySet up Virtual Network (VNet) injection and Network Security Groups (NSGs) to control inbound and outbound traffic.
Data EncryptionEnsure that data is encrypted at rest using customer-managed keys and in transit with TLS encryption.
Audit LoggingEnable audit logging to track user activities and changes in the environment.
ComplianceAdhere to compliance standards such as GDPR, HIPAA, SOC 2, and leverage the built-in features of Databricks for compliance.

Security & Compliance is an ongoing process that requires regular reviews and updates to the security posture as new threats emerge and as Databricks adds new features.

Q8. Explain how Delta Lake works with Databricks and its advantages. (Delta Lake & Databricks Integration)

Delta Lake is an open-source storage layer that brings ACID (atomicity, consistency, isolation, durability) transactions to Apache Spark and big data workloads. When integrated with Databricks, it offers several advantages:

  • ACID Transactions: Delta Lake ensures that each operation is either completed fully or does not happen at all, providing transactional integrity.
  • Scalable Metadata Handling: It can handle petabytes of data and billions of files without performance degradation.
  • Unified Batch and Streaming Source and Sink: Delta Lake tables can be used as a source and sink for both batch and streaming workloads.
  • Schema Enforcement and Evolution: Delta Lake provides schema enforcement to ensure data quality and allows for schema evolution without affecting existing jobs.
  • Time Travel: The ability to query previous versions of the data (data versioning) for audit purposes or to roll back to a previous state in case of issues.
  • Deletion and GDPR Compliance: Delta Lake allows you to delete data for compliance with privacy regulations like GDPR.

Delta Lake’s integration with Databricks enhances the performance and scalability of data pipelines while providing robust data governance.

Q9. How do you approach monitoring and logging in a Databricks cluster? (Monitoring & Logging)

Monitoring and logging in a Databricks cluster are critical for maintaining the health, performance, and security of your data workloads. Here are the steps and tools you might use:

  • Built-in Databricks Monitoring: Utilize Databricks’ own monitoring capabilities to track job performance, cluster health, and cost management.
  • External Monitoring Tools: Integrate with external monitoring tools like Azure Monitor, AWS CloudWatch, or Grafana for advanced monitoring capabilities.
  • Log Delivery: Enable log delivery to a centralized logging system like Azure Blob Storage, AWS S3, or a Splunk instance.
  • Querying Logs: Use Spark or other querying tools to analyze and visualize logs for insights into application behavior and performance.
  • Alerting: Set up alerts based on thresholds or anomalies detected in your monitoring system to be proactive in addressing issues.

A comprehensive monitoring and logging strategy helps in quick identification and resolution of issues, as well as in optimization of performance and costs.

Q10. What are some of the common challenges you’ve encountered with Databricks and how did you overcome them? (Problem Solving)

Here are a few common challenges with Databricks and strategies to overcome them:

  • Integration with Other Services: Integrating Databricks with services not natively supported can be challenging.
    • Solution: Use Databricks’ REST APIs to create custom connectors or leverage third-party services to bridge the gap.
  • Cost Management: Databricks can become expensive, especially with unoptimized workloads.
    • Solution: Employ job and cluster optimization techniques, use spot instances, and shut down unused resources.
  • Spark Complexity: Apache Spark, at the heart of Databricks, has a steep learning curve.
    • Solution: Invest in training for the team, utilize Databricks’ documentation and community forums, and start with smaller, less critical workloads.
  • Data Skew: As addressed in Q6, data skew can cause performance issues.
    • Solution: Implement data skew mitigation techniques like salting or custom partitioning.

Each challenge requires a tailored approach, often involving a mix of technical solutions and best practices.

Q11. How would you use MLflow in Databricks for machine learning lifecycle management? (MLflow & Machine Learning Lifecycle)

MLflow is an open-source platform for managing the end-to-end machine learning lifecycle. It includes tools for tracking experiments, packaging code into reproducible runs, and sharing and deploying models. In Databricks, MLflow is integrated into the platform, enabling users to manage machine learning processes efficiently.

To use MLflow in Databricks for machine learning lifecycle management, you can follow these steps:

  • Experiment Tracking: Use MLflow Tracking to log parameters, code versions, metrics, and output files when running your machine learning code and compare these runs to later stage the best model.
  • Project Packaging: Utilize MLflow Projects to package your data science code in a reusable and reproducible format to share with other data scientists or transfer to production.
  • Model Management: Leverage MLflow Models to manage, annotate, and version your models before and after deployment.
  • Model Deployment: Deploy machine learning models using MLflow to various serving environments, such as Databricks REST endpoint for real-time serving or batch serving using Databricks jobs.

Here is a simple code snippet showing how to log parameters and metrics with MLflow in a Databricks notebook:

import mlflow

# Start MLflow run
with mlflow.start_run():
    # Log parameters (key-value pairs)
    mlflow.log_param("num_trees", 100)
    mlflow.log_param("max_depth", 5)
    # Train your model (this is just a placeholder for actual model training)
    model = train_model(data, num_trees=100, max_depth=5)
    # Log metrics (key-value pairs)
    mlflow.log_metric("accuracy", model.accuracy)
    mlflow.log_metric("precision", model.precision)
    # Log the model
    mlflow.sklearn.log_model(model, "model")

Q12. Describe the architecture of a typical Databricks deployment and its components. (Databricks Architecture)

The architecture of a typical Databricks deployment includes several key components:

  • Workspace: The workspace is a web-based environment where data teams can collaborate using notebooks. It is the central interface for accessing all Databricks features and assets.
  • Notebooks: Databricks notebooks support multiple programming languages and are used for data engineering, data science, and machine learning tasks. They allow for collaborative work and can be version-controlled.
  • Clusters: Databricks clusters are groups of computers that work together to run data processing jobs. They can be created on-demand, autoscaled, and support different data and compute workloads.
  • Jobs Scheduler: This component is used to schedule and run workflows which can be defined by notebooks, JARs, or Python scripts.
  • DBFS (Databricks File System): A distributed file system that allows you to store data within Databricks and access it across various clusters.
  • Databricks Runtime: A set of core components that run on the clusters, optimized for both performance and data analytics.
  • Databricks SQL Analytics: An engine for running interactive SQL queries on your data.

This table summarizes the architecture components:

WorkspaceWeb-based collaborative environment with access to notebooks and data.
NotebooksInteractive coding environment supporting Scala, Python, R, and SQL.
ClustersCompute resources for running data processing tasks, can be autoscaled.
Jobs SchedulerTool for scheduling and automating jobs, including notebooks and scripts.
DBFSDistributed file storage system integrated with Databricks.
Databricks RuntimeSet of optimized components for performance in data processing.
Databricks SQL AnalyticsInteractive SQL query engine for data analysis.

Q13. Discuss how you would use Databricks Notebooks for collaborative data science. (Collaboration & Notebooks)

Databricks Notebooks are designed to facilitate collaborative data science. They support multiple languages and can be used for a wide range of tasks from data cleaning and exploration to machine learning and reporting. Here’s how you can use them for collaboration:

  • Shared Workspaces: Team members can access collaborative notebooks in shared workspaces. This allows for easy sharing of work and collaboration on projects.
  • Real-Time Collaboration: Similar to Google Docs, multiple users can work on a notebook simultaneously, seeing each other’s inputs and outputs in real-time.
  • Comments and Feedback: Team members can leave comments directly in the notebook to give feedback or suggest changes.
  • Version Control: Notebooks can be linked with version control systems like Git for tracking changes and managing contributions from different team members.
  • Role-Based Access Control: Teams can control who has access to specific notebooks, clusters, and data, ensuring security and compliance.

Here is a markdown list highlighting some of the collaborative features of Databricks Notebooks:

  • Real-time collaboration on notebooks
  • Integration with version control systems like Git
  • Ability to comment and provide feedback within notebooks
  • Role-based access control for notebooks and data
  • Interactive dashboards that can be shared with stakeholders
  • Scheduled jobs for automated notebook execution

Q14. Explain the role of a Job Scheduler in Databricks and how to configure it. (Job Scheduling)

The Job Scheduler in Databricks allows you to schedule and automate workflows, which can include running notebooks, JARs, and Python scripts. It plays a critical role in operationalizing data workflows and ensuring timely execution of data processing tasks.

To configure a Job Scheduler in Databricks, follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to the Jobs UI in your Databricks workspace.
  2. Click on ‘Create Job’ to initiate a new job setup.
  3. Choose the notebook, JAR, or Python script you want to run.
  4. Set up the cluster configuration, specifying the required resources and runtime.
  5. Schedule the job by defining the trigger type (e.g., a specific time, on completion of another job, or manually).
  6. Configure alerts to notify you if the job succeeds or fails.
  7. Save the job configuration.

Q15. How can you ensure data governance and compliance when using Databricks? (Data Governance & Compliance)

Ensuring data governance and compliance in Databricks involves several key practices and features:

  • Audit Logging: Keep detailed logs of all activities within the workspace for monitoring and auditing purposes.
  • Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): Define roles with specific permissions to control user access to data and resources.
  • Data Encryption: Utilize Databricks’ built-in encryption for data at rest and in transit to protect sensitive information.
  • Compliance Standards: Follow industry and regional compliance standards such as GDPR, HIPAA, or SOC 2, which Databricks is designed to support.
  • Data Lineage: Use third-party tools or services that integrate with Databricks to track data lineage and ensure transparency.

In addition, regularly review and update your data governance policies, ensure that all team members are trained on compliance requirements, and conduct periodic audits to detect and resolve any issues.

Q16. What is your experience with integrating Databricks with other cloud services? (Cloud Integration)

I have extensive experience integrating Databricks with various cloud services across different cloud providers such as AWS, Azure, and GCP. My integration projects typically involve:

  • Data Storage: Integrating Databricks with cloud object storage like S3, ADLS, or GCS for data IO operations.
  • Data Warehousing: Connecting to services like Redshift, Azure Synapse, or BigQuery for complex SQL workloads.
  • Real-time Data Streams: Hooking up with services like Apache Kafka, Amazon Kinesis, or Azure Event Hubs for stream processing.
  • ETL Processes: Orchestrating ETL jobs with cloud-based tools such as AWS Glue, Azure Data Factory, or Google Cloud Dataflow.
  • Machine Learning: Utilizing cloud services like AWS SageMaker, Azure ML, or Google AI Platform for model training and deployment alongside Databricks MLflow.
  • Identity Providers: Integrating with IAM services for user authentication and authorization.

Q17. Can you explain the differences between Databricks Runtime and the open-source Apache Spark? (Databricks Runtime Knowledge)

Databricks Runtime is a set of optimized components built on top of the open-source Apache Spark that provides an enhanced experience with additional performance improvements and functionalities:

  • Performance: Databricks Runtime includes performance optimizations such as enhanced caching and I/O improvements that can lead to faster query execution compared to Apache Spark.
  • Delta Lake Integration: It offers native support for Delta Lake, which is an open-source storage layer that brings ACID transactions to Apache Spark.
  • Data Science Tools: Enhanced tooling for data science workloads, including support for MLflow, a platform for managing the complete Machine Learning lifecycle.
  • Optimized IO: The Databricks Runtime has optimizations for reading and writing to various data sources, with a focus on cloud storage systems.
  • Proprietary Components: While Apache Spark is fully open-source, Databricks Runtime includes proprietary features that may not be available in the open-source version.

Q18. How would you perform data exploration and visualization in Databricks? (Data Exploration & Visualization)

In Databricks, data exploration and visualization can be performed using Databricks notebooks, which provide a collaborative environment for data analysis. Here are the typical steps I take:

  • Load Data: Import data from a variety of sources like cloud storage, databases, or streaming services.
  • Exploration: Use Spark DataFrames API or SQL queries to explore the data, compute summary statistics, and perform data cleansing.
  • Visualization:
    • Use built-in visualization tools in Databricks notebooks to create charts and graphs directly from query results.
    • Integrate with external libraries like Matplotlib, Seaborn, or Bokeh for more advanced visualizations.
    • Connect to BI tools like Tableau or Power BI using Databricks’ connectors for richer dashboards and reports.

Q19. What strategies would you employ to scale out a Databricks cluster to handle increasing data loads? (Scalability)

To scale out a Databricks cluster effectively, I would employ the following strategies:

  • Autoscaling: Use Databricks’ autoscaling feature to automatically adjust the number of worker nodes based on the workload.
  • Cluster Management: Choose the right cluster manager (e.g., YARN, Mesos, Kubernetes) that suits the scaling needs.
  • Node Types: Select appropriate node types with the required CPU and memory resources for efficient scaling.
  • Partitioning: Ensure data is partitioned effectively to optimize parallelism and reduce data shuffling.
  • Caching: Use caching strategically for frequently accessed data to reduce I/O operations.

Q20. How do you approach disaster recovery and backup in a Databricks environment? (Disaster Recovery & Backup Planning)

How to Answer: When answering this question, focus on the ability to maintain data integrity and availability in case of a system failure, and your understanding of Databricks’ features related to backup and disaster recovery.

My Answer: I approach disaster recovery and backup in Databricks by implementing a multi-faceted strategy:

  • Regular Backups: Ensure regular snapshots of notebooks, jobs, and configurations. Databricks workspace assets like notebooks can be backed up using Databricks Repos or third-party version control systems.
  • Delta Lake: Utilize Delta Lake’s time travel feature that allows access to previous versions of the data for recovery.
  • Replication: Use cloud provider replication services to replicate Databricks-managed storage across regions.
  • Job Recovery: Use Databricks’ job output checkpointing to enable recovery of streaming jobs from the last saved state.
Regular BackupsBackup notebooks, jobs, and configurations.Automate using APIs and integrate with VCS.
Delta LakeBenefit from ACID transactions and time travel.Maintain regular snapshots and transaction logs.
ReplicationReplicate data and compute resources across cloud regions.Choose regions based on latency and cost factors.
Job RecoveryEmploy checkpointing for streaming jobs.Determine frequency of checkpoints based on SLAs.


In summary, excelling in a Databricks interview demands a robust understanding of its platform, Apache Spark integration, and the big data landscape. Candidates should showcase their technical proficiency, problem-solving skills, and commitment to continual learning. It’s essential to grasp the nuances of Databricks’ functionalities, ranging from data processing to machine learning, and demonstrate an understanding of best practices in scalability, security, and compliance.

Ultimately, success in interviews involving Databricks will typically hinge on blending technical acumen with a passion for innovation and a collaborative mindset, ready to address complex data challenges in a rapidly evolving field.