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Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005 4:21 AM
SSC-Enthusiastic

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I've been on both sides of the interview desk also.

When hiring, it's not just all technical, but if they're coming in for a technical job, they better be able to make a reasonable statement as to what the basics (and some of the finer points) mean, when under pressure.
Being a DBA means that you end up having to explain to non technically literate people exactly what it is you're trying to achieve, and why they should refrain from calling you every 2 minutes when the servers are down.
If the can't make a decent, and unambiguous answer in interview, why would I trust them in an emergency situation?

That being said, the guy who seems to have a clue about the big picture, but is just a little rusty as to the implementation (knows design methodologies and good practice processes, just doesn't know the syntax for the particular DB/System), and puts their hand up saying "Until I get used to it, I'll be reading the manual a lot" gets treated seriously.

I'm a firm believer in maintaining a small library of books. I may not know what I want to know to achieve something all the time, but give me a little time, and I will do.

The final swing to it is indeed personal. Someone may be highly skilled, and technically superb.
But if I don't think I can comfortably work with them shoulder to shoulder when the world going awry, then they're far less likely to get the role.

Ten to fifteen years ago, the tech world was a different place, and you could get by with being an eccentric locked away from sight performing arcane duties. These days, you need to be a businessman, advisor and hard core tech in one.
Post #211423
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005 4:52 AM
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Excellent article and thread

My 2p - in interviews I deliberately ask one or two questions nobody in their sane mind outght to know the answer to immediately - the most valuable answer you can get from an interviewee is 'You know, I just don't know the answer to that question. I could guess, but I'd much rather look it up in BOL, MSDN, etc'. I want to know that an prospective employee/colleague can admit to not knowing everything (let's face it, nobody can know everything about computing these days, not by a long straw), and more importantly, they know how to find the authoritative answer!

Of course, cultural fit is crucial, knowing you can work with somebody and that you can trust them to get on with the job is more of a gut feel thing, however technical questions are really useful interview tools



Post #211431
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005 5:13 AM


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I have a similar list of basic questions I ask DBA candidates and am often surprised at the discrepancy between stated experience level and the answers given.  Even worse is that I am not necessarily looking for the correct answer.  If a candidate says that they do not know the answer and then proceeds to describe how they would go about getting the answer, that is as good as answering the question correctly.  More often than not I turn to BOL, MSDN, SQLServerCentral or other resources to get answers to questions.  An ability to critically think through the question and knowing where to find answers is every bit as good (if not better) than being able to spout the answer from memory.

Of course, some items should be ingrained: like the difference between a char and a varchar.  Other things (e.g. how to fix a page break) can be easily looked up and one should know how to use the resources at hand.  Even with 10 years of experience, they may be items that one has never encountered.  A DBA could easily go 10 years without ever having to work with Replication, or clustered servers, or a number of other items.  That is why I always ask candidates how the go about learning new techniques and where they turn to for answers (searching the internet is not acceptable as the only answer!). 

 

Gordon



Gordon Pollokoff

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Post #211439
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005 5:17 AM
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My 2cents (South African cents = +- 0/16 p )

The "SEM" also through me. I refer to it as EM, or more frequently as Enterprise Damager ... (too many users have had access in too many places ... *sigh*)

I can add a few:

q> What is your opion of nulls?

a> (2nd time around, after asking if we could come back to it) they are used to enforce referential integrity.

This was from someone who had impressed the tech-manager by getting 90+% on the measure-up MCSE questions that we sue to pre-filter applicants. Needless to say, the interview went seriously downhill from here, but I did manage not to laugh in the interview itself, but it was a total guess session (and he wasn't good at guessing).

Post #211441
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005 6:50 AM


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Can you tell us what those questions are.
Post #211465
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005 7:00 AM


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An excellent article!!!!

We've been doing some interviewing for SQL developers and about 1/2 the time I walk out of there saying  hmmm..... well I guess we'll have jobs forever 'cause these people just don't get it.

Spouting facts is one thing but being able to actually walk the walk is more important - so the kinds of questions to ask are not what property does what, moreso situational like how would you fix the performance on an sp that does....

 

Mark

Post #211472
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005 7:40 AM
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Very good article, having worked with databases 12 years, mixture of foxpro, sql server dba and currently oracle dba. I can totally understand a lot of points raised. You are employed for your technical skills and if you falter on basic questions, you should lose the opportunity, simple as that. I have lost brillant roles because i have struggled to remember basic sql syntax in the interview even i know the answer. Anyone can bluff their way into a role nowadays with basic knowledge, personality and the ability to sell yourself is more prevalent in interviews nowadays, as well as technical ability. For the record i know a lot of people who hold years of experience and mcdba, who in my honest opinion shouldnt be left alone near a calculator let alone a database server

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Post #211500
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005 7:51 AM


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I've done both sides as well, and I've actually had a few good technical interviews given to me. The best was doubleclick where 3 guys interviewed me, round robin around the table for about 90 minutes asking questions. the worst ones are usually managers quizzing you on what you've done, and the "classis" interview questions, best job, worst job, deal with conflict, name a time ...

When I interview people, I'm mostly concerned with their personality and how they think, trying to find a match for them to fit in with the team. That's not to say I don't ask tough questions. I usually start working my way through some questions, adding in additional ones as they get things right and wrong. To me this is a good time to probe and find the boundaries of their knowledge.

However, I've not had the bad luck that Sean, and Andy, have had with some questions. I'd have terminated the interview after some of these questions because they display a fundamental problem: the person doesn't understand SQL Server.







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Post #211508
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005 8:08 AM
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I believe some of these folks have worked for me over the years

Most sound like they might benefit from a tidbit of wisdom that Chip Foose (a very prominent custom car designer) said his father passed on to him:  "The most important education I ever received was the things I learned after I knew it all".  Too often people, especially professionals, seem to forget that education is an ongoing process that ends only when your days on earth end.  They learn just enough to get the job and presume that they know everything they need to know.

Even more irritating is the management philosophy of "not actually knowing anything", but being able to BS your way to the top.  Unfortunately, most folks I have reported to fall into this category.




Post #211529
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005 8:14 AM
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I bow my head in shame...

As a DBA with 8 to 9 years experience, I flopped on the Page Fault question... In an interview, because I would have been thinking of physical pages on disk, not memory pages and swap files, I would have most likely given a similar, and just as faulty answer.  And worse, I would have thought that I was on the right track... I just looked up the Page Fault and realized that though I intuitively knew about the Page Fault problem (I ran into it when I was using Table Variables with very large table sizes) I never linked that name to it.

To think, I've gone all this time in my career, from one small company to another, the only DBA guy in each company, so no one to turn to, teaching my self as I read from books to solve business questions and get my certifications, I hold a MCDBA in SQL 7.0 and SQL2000, and yet I didn't know something as basic as the Page Fault.

Now I know that... But that doesn't relieve my guilt and shame. I mean, SQL is so big, and I know that there are thousands of other things out there that I still don't get. I feel like such a fraud. So, I was wondering, should I turn in my MCDBA's? And how do I go about doing that?

Post #211536
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