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A Database Design Test

By Steve Jones,

I was watching a presentation recently on database design and the speaker talked about how he hires developers. These are full stack developers, for whom the database is a portion of their responsibility. One of the tasks he gives them is a short database design test, designed to get a rough idea of their knowledge of databases.

The test is a short story, with a classroom/course/scheduling scenario. There are descriptions in some business terms, and the instructions ask the reader to to decide how to put entities together and link them. There is a sample unlabeled diagram with only a couple boxes. The diagram is meant to clue them in to the way to indicate relationships, and there are names of different structures in the test in bold. For someone experienced in databases, this would seem trivial as the entities are listed in bold, and the test is designed to be completed in 5 minutes. Extra points for not crossing any relationship lines.

I found this to be a nice, short test to gauge a developer's knowledge. The speaker noted that they didn't worry too much about time taken, or the exact notation used in the digram. This is mostly a way to measure if an individual thinks in terms of entities and connections. This is part of a few tests used for a basic evaluation of how a developer solves practical problems, and avoids the trivia based examination used by many interviewers.

I was intrigued since I've never been really asked to design anything and I've had quite a few jobs where that would be a portion of my job duties. No one has given me a scenario and asked me to produce an ER diagram. The most I've gotten is some theoretical questions on normalization, or what keys are. I wonder if I'm alone. For those of you reading this, have you ever had a design test of any kind in an interview? Can you disclose the types of questions or scenarios? When were you tested? It would be interesting to see if this is used by much of anyone.

There seem to be so few ER diagrams in the real world, especially from vendors, who should always produce one for clients. I suspect that few people understand them, or even write them, even though they can be invaluable when trying to write reports and understand the relationships between different entities. Many ask, but could those people produce one? Or read it beyond realizing which field in table a connects to which field in table b? Let me know this week if you've been tested on your database design skills.

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