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How do you spell S-Q-L? Expand / Collapse
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005 1:25 PM
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Oh yeah. I guy I know went for an interview 5 years ago for a junior consultant role. His CV said that he had "some experience of using Oracle". When probed it turned out that he had been extracting from an Oracle instance via ODBC from MS Access.

I have to confess...the guy was me!! And I got the job somehow as well. The guy who hired me is now a good mate and we still laugh about this to this day!



Jamie Thomson
Post #211801
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005 2:04 PM


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I really believe that much of this lack in knowledge comes from the advent of MS SQL server.  I am not putting down MS SQL; I have been working with it since the original version .  But before MS SQL Server the only other database engine that I can think of, that didn’t require command line administration was Sybase.  Before MS SQL you actually had to know what you were doing when you worked on main frame databases.  And yes, SQL databases existed on main frames well before MS SQL server.  Originally I worked on main frame SQL Databases, SQL/DS and Ingress writing FORTRAN with embedded SQL.  There were no wizards or tools, not even a GUI to help you create a database and its’ objects.  Every thing was command line and you had to understand what you were doing.  The database engines were not forgiving so you had to understand how to tune to get the best performance.  I was lucky enough to work for a manager who fully understood database architecture and fundamentals and who insisted that his employees get the proper training.


With the advent of MS SQL server, companies who before could not afford a database now had the opportunity of running database applications.  That along with the internet boom caused a high demand for all types of IT people making it easier for those with less than adequate skills and even non-technical individuals to obtain work in the industry.  This also pertains to management.  Many managers can not determine whether their systems are being efficiently and properly administered so these DBAs with less than adequate skills continue to hold down positions and are not required to get proper training and skills.  Many of these database people have never worked with any one who does have good experience from which they can learn.  I can’t count the times I have seen the word “sequel” written by a manager or even a CIO when referring to SQL. And by the way, how many people know that it stands for Structured Query Language?  


In the past 7 years I have worked with so many so-called DBAs who have no experience prior to MS SQL 7.0 and when you ask them to set up maintenance they use the Wizard and couldn’t begin to write a script to do maintenance.  Microsoft it’s self, with the roll out of MS SQL 7.0, marketed and totted that MS SQL server was basically a self contained database that needed minimal administration.  So why would you need to hire technically experienced individuals to be a DBA.  An individual could much more easily take a course to teach them how to take the MS certification tests and get a job.  But passing the test and getting a certification does not always mean they have obtained the knowledge.


I would never claim to be a SQL Guru however I have passed many 2 to 3 hour technical interviews and the positions I have held are indications that I can answer the basics and many of the more complex SQL characteristics.  In the first two companies where I worked as a Database developer/DBA I had the good fortune of working with highly competent and knowledgeable individuals.  My first couple of years I had some great mentors and as I became more experienced I still had highly skilled individuals to bounce things off of.  That is why I could not believe 7 years later, when I moved to a new area and started contracting for a different company, the abundances of DBA’s/Database developers who do not know such basics as those questions.  I started asking my self why there were so many people that had such little SQL knowledge and I started seeing the pattern, as I mentioned above, that 90% of these individual’s only database experience was with MS SQL and had never had to really understand a database engine.  Many of these individuals were hired during a time when the demand was high and supply was low.


The pendulum has gone from a point, where 20 years ago you needed mathematics or an engineering degree to be in the computer industry to the other extreme where 16 years old that have played around with coding can get a job.  Like most things the pendulum with time usually balances out.

Post #211826
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005 2:50 PM
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I really want to thank Sean McCown for this article. I've been the only SQL DBA at my small company for about 5 years. When we first got SQL 7 back in 2000, we hired a consultant to help me get on the right track with SQL programming and administration, but I haven't had the chance to actually work with anyone else who knew more about SQL than I know.

I've been considering getting my resume together, just to see what's out there, but I've been intimidated by my perceived lack of experience. Sure, I've been writing SQL in my sleep for years, but I had no idea how I stacked up against other potential candidates. I don't have a degree in computer science, or even any formal training outside of one VB class at the local community college. But I know the answers to most of these questions, and I'd like to think I'd admit to my ignorance of ones I couldn't answer.

I'm not saying this article represents the population of applicants I would be up against, or even a representative sample. I think the most valid point in the article is "Pick up a book." I don't have the opportunity to do a lot of stuff with SQL Server in my small organization, but I'd like to think I could talk about a lot of things I'd never done, in theory at least, in a job interview or with a peer. Therefore, I'm always reading this Web site, Inside SQL Server 2000, The Guru's Guide series, etc.

I also agree that honesty is important. I've never been the type to try to BS myself into a job. I guess I've been lucky enough that I haven't had to do that so far.

Post #211854
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005 3:00 PM
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Good comic relief but you could have left out the "with a bottle of lotion in one hand, and a Kleenex in the other" comment!
Post #211865
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005 3:02 PM
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Q - what's the difference between char() and varchar()
My answer, nothing, they'll both give you the same syntax error.  They also can both store just one character:
--DECLARE @cr char(),@vcr varchar()
--Line 1: Incorrect syntax near ')'.
DECLARE @cr char,@vcr varchar
set @cr='Ftest'
set @vcr='Vtest'
select @vcr variable,@cr fixed

I'd probably shoot the DBA that would declare a field or variable varchar(1) or char(1000).  Oh, wait, I've got to shoot myself because of that example.

Post #211870
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005 3:32 PM
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I think that jvarunok quite eloquently stated the change in the profession that I've chosen to call the 'command line' DBA de-evoultion into the 'GUI' DBA. I'll stay a dinosaur thank you ... take away the GUI and mouse then watch Darwin-ism take over !

Rudy Komacsar
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Post #211881
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005 4:27 PM
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I agree with earlier posters that SQL EM or EM are more common abbreviations than SEM.

My favorite question probably is about 2PC which is not about 2 PCs (2 personal computers) but about.... (hint: related to the word Distributed)


Yelena Varshal

Post #211890
Posted Friday, August 19, 2005 2:17 AM
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I also hadn't heard the abbreviation - interviewers and job description writers need to be more careful in assuming that their abbreviation is the norm. For my present job the description included ETL which I'd never heard of, but I am well competent with SQL DTS! Thanks to Google I put the right bits on the application form.

London salaries aren't that surprising when you look at London living costs and house prices.

As a DBA in the wilds of beautiful rural Wiltshire I can buy a four bed house with a decent sized garden, double garage and plenty of off road parking for my cars and boats for only ten times my salary. I can drive into work in 10 to 15 minutes without any traffic jams and am as likely to meet deer as cars on the way. I can also be at the sailing club or walking in the country (or in a country pub!) within 10 minutes of leaving the office.

£50 to 100K in the city sounds wonderful but I reckon my lower salaried post has the far, far better quality of life. If not why do so many Londoners queue their way down the A303 each Friday night to join us in the West Country??

Post #211975
Posted Friday, August 19, 2005 3:12 AM
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Have been on both sides. Interviewed at MS for a SQL Support position (way way back). Walked in with the attitude that "these people know a LOT more than you do, don't bluff, be honest".

Of the 15 people interviewed, one other person and myself got the jobs.

For anyone else chasing a job at Microsoft, personal fit is Massively important, as this illustrates!

Post #211996
Posted Friday, August 19, 2005 3:45 AM
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This article was laugh-out-loud funny! It's amazing what some nervous, nerdy DBAs will come up with when their minds go blank during an interview. Of course, it's not funny either, because we've all been there haven't we? When I first started interviewing, I was always uncomfortable when somebody asked me factual questions or gave me a 'corporate test' to prove my competency. Such 'weed out' questions were a source of dread for me that often left me flat-footed during interviews. I mean... if they didn't think I was qualified, why did they bring me in here in the FIRST place? I mean, once you get into the interview, isn't it more a question of character than competence?

By the time I interviewed for my first DBA position, however, I had conducted enough interviews that I knew exactly what to do. Just answer the questions as best you can and be honest if you don't know the answer. Also keep in mind that knowing the right answers doesn't necessarily mean you are the best candidate for the job. Lots of people can talk a good game during an interview but that doesn't make them the most suitable person for the job. Quite the opposite is true, in fact.

From a certain perspective, I suppose your article was a bit arrogant, wasn't it? I mean, every smart person secretly believes they are smarter than everyone else. But, really, does asking questions or giving tests really 'weed out' the worst candidates?

My gut answer is 'sometimes yes, but mostly no'. Let's face it, some people used to be good but they lost their touch as they aged. DBAs with 10 years of experience who can't tell the difference between char() and varchar() have not been paying attention. On the other hand, some people who would make FANTASTIC DBAs might screw up questions like these due to their introversion, nervousness, or because they are amazed that anyone would ask such an irrelevant question. I mean...who CARES? Being a DBA is more about how you handle yourself during a crisis and your ability to plan for disaster when it strikes.

I mean, let's face it: These kinds of questions are sensationalist. Most people who get into an interview situation ARE ABSOLUTELY QUALIFIED FOR THE JOB. Period. No one would waste their time interviewing unqualified candidates. By the time they get into the interview room, the only question is whether they have the right personality to mesh well with the team. There may also be a question about suitability based on their judgement and suitability for the particular job in question.

During interviews, I like to ask situational questions. Like 'how would you handle this situation?' or 'Tell me about a difficult time when [something terrible] happened.'

I think that pretending to be Alex Trebeck puts you in more jeopardy than the candidate, quite frankly. You risk losing a good DBA by trivializing the interview process.

I reserve the right to be wrong, but I appreciate the opportunity to express my opinion. Thanks for listening!


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