SQL Server Interview Questions and Answers – Book Review

I read a lot of technical books – stuff on SQL Server, VMware, storage – and they all start to blend together.  Within the first few pages of reading SQL Server Interview Questions and Answers by Pinal Dave and Vinod Kumar, though, it jumped out and grabbed me because it’s really different.

Just kidding. When I'm talking to a recruiter, I read The Art of War
This is gonna be the year I get a better job, I swear. I’m outta this hole.

When buying this book, you need to appreciate it for what it is: a series of questions and answers.  No more, no less.

There’s almost no code, no syntax – and believe it or not, that’s refreshing.  It’s just plain English dialog.  That’s not to say the book is shallow, either, because it touches on topics that all of us could stand a refresher on.  This book works really well for its purpose in much the same way that Applied Architecture Patterns works; it doesn’t teach you as much as it just exposes you to subjects.  From there, it’s up to you to follow the trail if you’re interested in the topic, and that’s where Pinal and Vinod break new ground.

Check out this quote from page 50:

“What is a filtered index?  A filtered index is used to index a portion of the rows in a table.  This means it applies a filter on an INDEX which improves query performance, reduces index maintenance costs, and reduces index storage costs when compared with full-table indices.  When we see an index created with a WHERE clause, then that is actually a Filtered Index.  (Read more here http://bit.ly/sqlinterview27)”

The “read more here” part is actually in the book, and it links to one of Pinal’s intro posts about filtered indexes.  Just like all of Pinal’s posts, it includes clear, easy-to-follow script examples and screenshots.  Having said that, if you don’t like Pinal’s blog, you’re probably not going to like the book either.  The book has less technical details than the blog, and there are grammatical/editing issues.  That kind of thing doesn’t bother me as much with this book because of its intended market – it’s just a series of questions and answers.

Will The Answers Help or Hurt the Interview Process?

In my DBA interview questions and SQL developer interview questions blog posts, I went out of my way not to include the answers.  I wanted to give managers some starting points for questions that they could use to filter out candidates, but I didn’t want to give unqualified candidates a leg up in the interview process.  Those blog posts are consistently popular in Google searches, but based on the search terms being used, I know the candidates are looking for ways to cheat the interview process.  Therefore, my first concern going into this book was, “Are unqualified candidates going to sneak into jobs by reading this book?”

I don’t think that’s going to be a problem because the book is more of a refresher than a cheat sheet.  As I read the questions, I found myself nodding and saying, “Yep, that’s a great way to answer that question, but if somebody doesn’t understand the underlying concepts, they’re still going to fail the interview as soon as somebody drills down.”  An interviewer can see past the fakers just by asking, “And how have you used that concept in your work?”  The book also doesn’t stand alone as a complete interview process: managers still need to ask candidates to whiteboard concepts or reverse engineer a stored procedure to see what it’s doing.  Frankly, if somebody walked into an interview with this book memorized start to finish, and they didn’t have any other skills whatsoever, they’d still be more qualified than a lot of candidates I’ve interviewed.

My second concern about the book was that an incorrect or poorly-worded answer might cause a good candidate to miss out on a job.  If a non-SQL-savvy manager asked questions verbatim out of this book and expected verbatim answers, the book could lead to problems.  Some of the book’s answers are open to interpretation – for example, on page 41, the book asks, “What is OLTP?”  The book’s answer doesn’t match with what I would give, nor with Wikipedia’s definition.  Some of the answers are more clear-cut, though, like when page 54 says there’s a limit of 256 tables per query, and that’s wrong.  I’d recommend keeping the book’s online errata handy.

I get really nervous about the thought of a manager relying on this book’s answers as their only gauge of a candidate’s knowledge.  However, I’ve been through interviews like that myself – having a disagreement with a manager about the answer to a particular topic – and that’s a place that should be inside every DBA’s comfort zone.  We work with developers, project managers, and end users who have all kinds of incorrect assumptions about technology, and they’ve got books or blog posts to back up those assumptions.  We have to be able to back up our own answers, and sometimes that means saying to a manager, “We both believe we’re right – can you pop open a search engine and let’s check the latest documentation on SQL Server from Microsoft itself?”

Is This Book Just for Job Candidates?

I also bet that any of my readers will learn at least one thing reading this book, and it’ll drive you to go dive deeper into a particular topic.  I’d already learned something by page 34 when the book covers the order of the logical query processing phases: FROM, ON, OUTER, WHERE, GROUP BY, CUBE | ROLLUP, HAVING, SELECT, DISTINCT, ORDER BY, TOP.  I read that and a little light went on above my head – I’ve seen this kind of thing before, but I hadn’t thought about it in years, and it inspired me to go hit Google and learn more about the phases again.

The funny part about this book is that I like all of the questions, most of the answers for accuracy, and the rest for provoking thought.  I know that wasn’t the original intent, and it’s a hilarious thing for me to write in a book review, but there it is.

This book is a good starting point for MCITP test-takers, too.  The questions give you an idea of your qualifications because when an answer doesn’t feel natural to you, you can go drill down into the web to learn more about the topic.  If a topic feels like a no-brainer to you, then you probably shouldn’t waste time studying MCITP information about that topic either.

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23 Comments. Leave new

  • Oh, I didn’t know Pinal had written a book! Agree that having the right questions trumps having the right answers, as the former gets you to think, not regurgitate. And keeping it code-free seems wise–paper isn’t nearly as conducive to reading code as a screen is.

  • Let me go back in past and talk about two points.
    — Memories Starts —
    I remember one of the Brent’s Presentation. Where he saws one image of Einstein and suggests if this is you, my session is not for you. Right after that he suggests another image and every body starts laughing and gets the idea.

    When we were writing book, we were constant referring to this example (again and again and again). We wanted to be simple and wanted to the point.

    One and Half Year ago, I attended professional development session by Brent and Buck Woody. An excellent session. Brent said keeping an interesting name of the session always helps to get people to the door but presenting great content keeps them within a door (not the exact words – I remember now).
    — Memories Ends —

    Interview Questions and Answers is very popular theme around in India and many parts of the world. When we were writing this book, the goals were simple 1) Igniting the Learning and 2) Mastering the Basics. I am glad that SQL Server MCM “The” Brent Ozar has even touched this book. As a author we feel honored and we feel fortunate.

    I value feedback, I do make mistakes, I do accept my mistakes and stay vigilant for not repeating them. We are glad to receive this feedback/review from Brent. Every single words matter.

    We are taking few learning points from this post i.e. erratas, grammar/phrases etc. I promise on behalf of every body who is involved in this book that we take it positively and do better in future.

    Once again we are honored and obliged.

  • Thanks Brent for taking time in reviewing our book. There is always something to learn and improve. Your candid feedbacks do help us become better.

  • Nice review, Brent. Pinal is a very sincere, friendly guy who makes a good effort to help less experienced people learn more about SQL Server. I think he provides a lot of value to the community.

  • I have been reading a couple of the the SQLJoes2Pros books. I really enjoyed SQL Wait Stats. This one sounds like a fun read, I may have to download it to my Kindle.

    Please keep doing your book reviews. They are also enjoyable to read.

  • I can easily see the reviews are fake. I bought the book

    The book is full of joke. How can you past URL of your blog on your interview question book. I went for a interview people asked me BI and this book had nothing.

    Sorry the above are not honest reviews.

    • Hi well Well,

      Sorry to see you disappointed.

      This book is focused on SQL Server and Relational engine. If you go on Amazon and see first few chapter (free sample). You will quickly notice the same.

      BI is such a wide and exhaustive topic. It is not possible to cover them in a single book. For the same reasons, we have not mentioned BI anywhere in the title, table of content, or anywhere else. BI would be another project.

      As Brent said and we keep on iterating, this book is a refresher – if you do not have real world experience and hand’s on practical knowledge, interview or any real job will be difficult.

      Just for quick reference here is the table of content.

      Table Of Contents

      Database Concepts With Sql Server
      Common Generic Questions & Answers
      Common Developer Questions
      Common Tricky Questions
      Miscellaneous Questions On Sql Server 2008
      Dba Skills Related Questions
      Data Warehousing Interview Questions & Answers
      General Best Practices

  • I must say i was suprised to see Brent give such a positive review of a book that is so full of errata and uses very poor language to top it. I bought it for just the same reason stated – as a refresher, but i find it annoying just to read it that way, bol makes a much better refresher. The authors need to get strong techical and grammer reviewers to look into and correct the book, not publish one small post of errata which covers very few errors actually in the book. Language and content are two sides of the same coin,the book uses largely colloquial english spoken in some parts of india (not even in all) and if you answer interviews in the same way lot of mistaken impressions can be created even if you technical answer is correct.The fact that it sold millions and has so many indian techies reviewing it and not pointing out one single error is also to me not comforting at all. In short, please get a book reviewed BEFORE you publish it, not after, thanks.

    • Hi Madura,

      We have all the ears to hear feedback. We appreciate it and we improve based on it. Please send your suggestions at books ‘at’ sqlauthority.com and we will incorporate as many as we can.

      We will truly appreciate your suggestions about language and grammar. Awaiting your suggestions.


      • Pinal, it is not reader’s job to find all the mistakes in the book and provide you feedback. Reader has already spent money buying the book,and time reading it.As a writer you need to find people who can do it for you.
        Brent, very disappointed that you think grammatical mistakes are fine for the intended audience.There are lot of people here in India who speak English well and expect good writing. I hope you will consider better.It is a writer’s job to produce quality work even if that is true.

  • Its a just a hyped book. It sells just because of name of the book. Some points , as i felt very bad after ordering the book. It was frankly not useful.

    1. Please see english.

    2. Many things are copy pasted from your joes book why ?. I see lots of duplication between your joes book and this book.

    3. Why do you paste links to your site. It should be all in the book right. If i am reading your book on a train you expect me to go to your site read the remaining.

    I am so sorry the reviews on the flipkart made me buy it and later i was convinced those reviews where by your fans or freinds. I am can say those reviews where not true.
    I am hurt to see now Brent who is a well know MVP commenting false.

    I appreciate your work but it was not worth to me so much.

    thanks sorry i know this will not get published it would be great if you read and incorporate the same in your book.

    • Karuna – I’m sorry to hear about your disappointment, but I’d like to clarify a few things.

      As I explained in the review, books SHOULD have links to their sites because they can’t keep everything in the book. Publishers often give authors a limit on the number of pages in the book. More pages cost more money to edit and print, and they raise the price of the book. The Interview book is affordable because it’s small, and if you want to dive deeper, you can follow the links.

      I can’t comment as to duplication between books, but that’s not unusual either. I’ve seen several prominent authors that keep “writing” the same content over and over, but publishing it in different packages.

      I was very honest in my review about the errors in the book. I’m disappointed that you think my review was false, but please feel free to point out specific areas of my review that you believe aren’t true, and I’d be glad to respond. I totally agree about the gushing reviews on other sites though – that happens with every book. My mom and my sister posted reviews for SQL Server Troubleshooting & Internals when our book went live, and I couldn’t stop laughing – those reviews just weren’t right.

  • Well written Brent, Well Written Pinal, to everybody else…as Brent mentioned if you don’t like Pinal’s blog you won’t like this book.

    I do disagree with the links, but I do understand the purpose of the book and how it’s written to be straight to the point with an extra research option!

    Pinal, good job, keep it up…

    Brent..keep reviewing .. “This is gonna be the year I get a better job, I swear. I’m outta this hole.” LOL

  • Well done Brent & Pinal… This book is purely to refresh ourself before interview. We can’t expect everything in text.

    Keep rocking Brent&Pinal. Am your true follower.

  • Recently, I completed reading this real-world, compact, ready-reckoner for SQL Developers & Administrators from Pinal & Vinod.

    One of the best things I liked about the book is that it contains Vinod & Pinal’s trademark simple, flowing language. For engineers already having practical, hands-on experience on SQL Server, I found that this book is a refresher course on the basics. For students, the questions in this book offer a great way to revise things.

    When reading the book, I found myself thinking about a concept that I hadn’t touched in a while, or which I was not sure about. In such cases, I went over to the reference links at the end of such questions that are available where one can go to for additional information.

    With real world questions and practical answers, this is one book I simply could not have missed.

  • Two thumbs up for Brent!!!

  • I had taken this book from a friend. Definetly this review is not truthful. I mean the book has links to the authors site , it has references of some joes pros book. It was just advertising pamplet for the other books and the authors website. I am travelling for interview in a bus and you want me go those links , how by clicking with a finger hahahahah.

    Its a connected world where people promote each other and this review is just written to promote the book. I think the reviewer must have got some money as well.

    Sorry to be harsh.

  • Its not a opinion its a reality.5 authors have opted cheap way of earning money. sorry again.

  • For me by far the best book I came across when preparing for the interview was “TOP 30 SQL Interview Coding Tasks” by Matthew Urban. Very well written, small book, you can find all the most common questions used during discussion when interviewing for SQL.


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