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Technical Interview - I feel dumb now.... :) Expand / Collapse
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Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 8:36 AM
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Hello, I wanted to post this out to the community to guage my level of "dumbness". Let me start by saying I currently have a DBA position as a contractor to the Army and I make very good money. I have been doing SQL Server Development/Aministration for over 10 years and I have a masters and a bachelors.

So, I got a call from a recruiter who is hiring for a company in Nashville and they pay relocation (I'm comfortable where I'm at but would love to move out of DC Area). So, I said sure what the heck. Its an internal company position, no contracting, very creative place and they are always upgrading to the latest and greatest. They are a real "development" shop.

I'm also apparently at the tippy top of their pay scale (actually 5k over their max) and they make anyone with over 100k salary take some sort of super hard critical thinking test... umm ok.

So, I had a technical phone interview. I consider myself very knowledgable about SQL and like I said I've been doing it for over 10 years. I did study the frequently asked technical interview questions and such so I tried to brush up on my textbook definitions of things... overall I think I did well but a few of the questions I was kinda like "duhhhhh" on.

First question he asked me was about schema binding. He asked me what it was and if I use it. I started talking about not referencing schema names in queries and trying to keep everything in the dbo schema and he was like "while that is great info on how to use schemas, that's not what I was referring to". And I was like oh sorry then no I don't use that. I have since looked it up and I'm like wow how did I not know what that is.

The other thing he asked me was how do you code to avoid page splits. I've never actually sat down and said ok I'm gonna code this to avoid a page split... so I admitted that I had never done that and then we kinda talked through it and I was able to explain what a page split is. I am not really deeply versed in the underlying architecture of SQL but I believe I have a good grasp of the concepts and stuff.

I think a lot of this stuff I probably just do commonly and not really know the textbook answer to what it is that I'm doing. He also asked me a lot about indexes, deadlocks, locking hints, how I would handle a server that had a 100% maxed cpu, partitioning, how I handle large tables, b-tree and a few other situational things. The rest of the questions I believe I answered really well but I'm left feeling awkward.

I've never actually worked in a real development shop surrounded by other developers that are strictly following best practices and using advanced SQL stuff. I know of these things and of course have studied them or participated in conversations about it. But I've never actually used it. Hell, the system I'm working on now doesn't even have referential integrity on their tables! I'm also usually the only DBA on the team or with one other person that just kinda fell into SQL.

Should I be concerned that I don't fully comprehend how a b-tree structure works in the database or that I had to look up the ACID principles? To me the ACID principles are more like a "duh" type of thing where of course things should adhere to those principles but I don't actually sit down and code and say ok, I'm going to make sure my transaction follows every ACID property.

In the grand scheme of things if they think I'm not worth the money I'm asking for I guess I don't really care... I'm not really looking for a job anyways but you know it just sits in the back of your mind. I really hate interviews that just sit there and ask you test questions. One it makes me super nervous and it just feels so fake I would much rather just have a conversation where we talk about scenarios or situations and explain, in a totally technical manner, how you would solve something or things that you have worked on.

Post #1275118
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 8:47 AM


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I think we all have to swallow our pride and admit we don't and can't know everything - it is humbling when you can't answer an interview question - but everything really is just 'a google away.' If you take every moment of ignorance as an opportunity to do a quick google to at least understand the basic premise, you'll be constantly adding to your knowledge arsenal.

With that being said, I do believe it's necessary (if only for the sake of looking smart and confident in interviews and to your peers) to memorize certain items - the ACID acronym and concept, for example. Even if you only have a surface understanding of a concept, you look much smarter if you can rattle off that basic concept with alacrity.

With THAT being said, you also have to have a thick skin, and be confident in your intelligence and abilities. Don't let anyone make you feel dumb just because you can't rattle off certain buzzwords. Confidence is much more important than performance in most cases, I think.


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Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 9:00 AM
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seth delconte (3/29/2012)
I think we all have to swallow our pride and admit we don't and can't know everything - it is humbling when you can't answer an interview question - but everything really is just 'a google away.' If you take every moment of ignorance as an opportunity to do a quick google to at least understand the basic premise, you'll be constantly adding to your knowledge arsenal.

With that being said, I do believe it's necessary (if only for the sake of looking smart and confident in interviews and to your peers) to memorize certain items - the ACID acronym and concept, for example. Even if you only have a surface understanding of a concept, you look much smarter if you can rattle off that basic concept with alacrity.

With THAT being said, you also have to have a thick skin, and be confident in your intelligence and abilities. Don't let anyone make you feel dumb just because you can't rattle off certain buzzwords. Confidence is much more important than performance in most cases, I think.


Yea definately, I totally agree. I KNOW I don't know everything. I didn't mean to say that I don't know what ACID means or stands for but I just meant that in my day to day work I am not specifically thinking of gee is what I'm doing adhering fully to ACID?

Yea I think I'm good about faking the thick skin thing outwardly but inside it still bugs me. I think the only reason I'm annoyed by this is because the recruiter puffed me up so much and made this huge big deal about how I'd be the most senior person on their team and because I want so much money they are going to expect me to be some mega guru. So, they like built me up and I felt like I really had to impress this guy so he doesn't walk away thinking "what the hell she's not what they said".

I did make sure I told him though that I'm incredibly resourceful and if I don't know how to do something I will figure it out or look it up. I may not know syntax for everything but I know what I'm looking for. I didn't mean for this to be a "poor me" thread or I'm deflated by it...but just looking for feedback... if I should be able to rattle off these deeply technical questions then I suppose I should be brushing up more! :D
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Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 12:54 PM


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There are times that I think I know a good bit about SQL Server and then I go to work somewhere that they use it in a different fashion than what I have in the past, whether different aspects of it or in a larger scale. At those times I quickly realize just how much I don't know. So, I find it best to take the role of a perpetual learner and whenever possible share what I have learned.

All that being said, interviews are tough. The interviewer has that experience of their environment and needs, and they can pick what they want to ask. The best thing that we can do is admit when we don't know something but be clear that we can research that immediately following, and if possible let them know what you found. It goes a long way. I know, I've used that before. :)

Enjoy. Humility is tasty.


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Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 1:02 PM
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Hehe ya, if I'm coming off as arrogant or something that wasn't my intention. I never expected to be a know it all nor do I believe that I do. I was simply wondering if these nitty gritty technical details SHOULD be something I should know with the amount of experience I have.

I think maybe I'm hindered because the places I have been working are not condusive of doing and learning a lot more of the advanced stuff I'd like.
Post #1275318
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 1:08 PM


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No, you weren't coming off as arrogant. My apologies if my reply, specifically the statement about humility, seemed that I was implying such.

What you stated is really my point, we become "specific" in our knowledge of SQL Server based on where we work and how the technology is used. If indexed views aren't part of your normal development cycle then schemabinding wouldn't be something you were familiar with. There is a lot to this DBMS and there are few places that use it extensively. If you can find a place that does, it gets really exciting. Even then though, there is always more to learn.

Thanks for sharing your experience.



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Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 1:34 PM
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Gotchya!

Thanks.

I'll let ya'll know if they invite me down to Nashville for a face to face panel interview... *gulp*.
Post #1275344
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 1:39 PM
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Haha, I was sent by a recruiting firm to a first interview that without my knowing was a tech interview. POP QUIZ! It was horribly embarassing especially since my position at the time was using Oracle and not SQL Server and it had been months since I'd been DBA'ing and coding for SQL Server. I think this happens to everyone at some point - the interview from hell. I learned never to trust a recruiter again and to make sure I'd brushed up on the academics prior to each interview and had some concrete examples of what I've done from performance troubleshooting, tricky report requests and upgrade/installation implementation. That way I could show off the stuff that I do know and reassure the interviewers that I had the tech chops.

I know it's hard to determine this in a couple of interviews, but aren't critical thinking skills and being break down a problem to get to a solution more important than giving out a definition of schema binding? If I were you, if wouldn't beat myself up for not being able to do the latter if you can do the former.

MWise



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Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 1:48 PM


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Interesting conversation.

Here in my company I have a friend who told me that one of the most experienced DBAs (+10 years) failed the SQL Server 2008 certification on implementation & maintenance. I know it's a different matter because some of the questions focus on new feature or case scenarios that people are not used to but it's something interesting to think about.

I lack too much experience and to me it's harder than lacking too much theory because theory you can learn by yourself. I try to learn the DBA way from what I can by myself but, in practice, it's really hard to emulate an environment like in real life.

I admire you for being humble and accepting that you do not know everything.
We're forever students, it doesn't matter how old we are.


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Post #1275352
Posted Thursday, March 29, 2012 2:05 PM


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Schema Binding is pretty specific, and not that common a concept. It's got it's uses, mainly in high-end performance-tuning, but I wouldn't consider that a pass/fail question on an interview.

Coding to avoid page splits can be critical in very high transactionality environments with extreme uptime requirements, but isn't usually critical outside of that situation. Again, not usually a pass/fail on the interview all by itself.

ACID is critical in most data designs, either as strict adherence or deliberately ignore it (NoSQL) for performance purposes. This one I'd consider more critical in terms of weighing a candidate for a DBA/database dev position. Not necessarily "get this right or don't call us and we won't be calling you", but definitely high-priority.

Judging by the questions, I'd guess they're dealing with a large, highly transactional OLTP system with very strict uptime needs. (Page splits mainly matter because they cause index fragmentation, either clustered or unclustered, and rebuilding indexes can cause downtime if not managed perfectly.) If that's the case, they might actually need those things.

Knowledge of b-tree structures is again mainly about extreme performance tuning.

If you're looking to hire someone to administer such a system, and the candidate is asking for top-of-scale compensation, I probably would expect/require knowledge of those things. They might be willing to overlook those if you nailed other questions quite well (it sounds like you did), or if you indicated adequate understanding of the concepts to learn their specific needs quickly and easily.

So, no, I wouldn't call it "dumb" to not know those things. They're somewhat essoteric, even in performance tuning specialties. But it might weigh against asking top-tier on compensation if they have specific needs on those things.

Even the ACID thing wouldn't constitute "dumb". Probably more like, "SQL Server usually handles that for me, and I haven't had to manually account for it recently enough to have the data at my fingertips". Even if you skip the other bits, I'd still recommend brushing up on that one.

Not saying it'll take it negative on the interview. No way for me to know that, of course. But it is something to take into account on it.

On the flip-side of that, you can also run into a company that has highly overrated ideas of their needs, and completely incorrect assessments of what constitutes a good interview question. I've had interviews like that. One spent 15-20 minutes grilling me on firewalls and DMZs, even after I indicated I didn't know much of anything about that beyond being able to define both terms, and also indicated that I wasn't sure what that had to do with a DBA's usual duties (I'm accustomed to network/security admins handling that kind of thing, not DBAs).


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