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Interview questions: What’s the first thing you would do if a user reports slowness.

We’ve been doing a fair amount of interviewing recently and one of our big questions is What do you do if a user reports slowness? Like many of our questions, it’s huge and open-ended. I mean there are so many possibilities that could be wrong and depending on your experience you could go in so many different directions.

The most common starting point I hear is Check for blocking, followed closely by Check the DMVs and in third place is Check for CPU, memory, etc pressure on the server. None of these are bad answers, but really what I’m hoping for. I’m a nice guy though so I always give a leading question in my second question.

How would you handle an automated alert differently? Say at 1am?

Now fair enough, we are on to a new question, not that initial one, but I did have one person go back and add what I was looking for. But in all the interviews I’ve been part of exactly one person hit on it first try. So don’t feel bad if you haven’t gotten it yet, or heck, if you are actually one of those interviewees.

So what am I hoping for? What is the first thing you should do when a user reports a problem? TALK TO THE USER.

  • What exactly is going wrong?
  • Are you the only one experiencing the problem?
  • When did you start noticing a problem? Has anything changed since then?
  • Do you see an error? If so please send it to me. The exact error, not just in general.
  • Can you reproduce the problem?

I mean really, if you don’t know what the problem is, how are you going to fix it? You can certainly start checking the most common issues, but you are just as likely to be looking in entirely the wrong place.

So talk to the user first, ask some questions, narrow the field down, then start looking for an answer.

All of that said, I frequently have a script up that’s similar to sp_WhoIsActive so while the phone is dialing I’ve probably already checked for blocking and a few other generic performance issues.


My name is Kenneth Fisher and I am Senior DBA for a large (multi-national) insurance company. I have been working with databases for over 20 years starting with Clarion and Foxpro. I’ve been working with SQL Server for 12 years but have only really started “studying” the subject for the last 3. I don’t have any real "specialities" but I enjoy trouble shooting and teaching. Thus far I’ve earned by MCITP Database Administrator 2008, MCTS Database Administrator 2005, and MCTS Database Developer 2008. I’m currently studying for my MCITP Database Developer 2008 and should start in on the 2012 exams next year. My blog is at www.sqlstudies.com.


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