Interview Question Follow-up: How do you respond?

SQL Server

Normally I’d update the original post

But I wanted to add a bit more than was appropriate. For my interview question, I asked how you’d respond to a developer showing you progress they’d made on tuning a sometimes slow stored procedure.

While a lot of you gave technically correct answers about the recompile hint, and the filtered index, and the table variable, no one really addressed the fact that I was asking you to respond to a person that you work with about a problem on a system that you share.

To be honest, if I asked this question in an interview and someone started reading me a riot act of things that were wrong with the example, I’d be really concerned that they’re unable to work as part of a team, and that they’re not really a good fit for a lead or mentoring type role. I’m not saying you’re not technically proficient, just that I don’t want to hire the Don’t Bother Asking style DBA. I’ve been guilty of this myself at times, and I really regret it.

This is true about, and a problem for, us as a technical community. Very few people have learned everything the hard way. The nature of most SQL Server users is community and sharing oriented. Blogging, presenting, writing free scripts, etc. And that rules. If you’re interested in something, but don’t have direct experience with it, you can usually find endless information about it, or ask for help on forums like, SQL Server Central, etc. and so forth.

We’re really lucky to have way-smart people working on the same product and sharing their insights so that we don’t always have to struggle and find 10,000 ways to not make a light bulb. Or deal with XML. Whatever. Who else would have this much of an answer about making a function schemabound? Not many! Even fewer would ever find this out on their own. You would likely do what I do, and recoil in horror at the site of a scalar valued function. Pavlov was right, and he never invented a lightbulb.

Let’s look at this together

What I really wanted to get was some sense that you are able to talk to people, not just recite facts in an endless loop. When someone junior to you shows some promise, and excitement, but perhaps not the depth of knowledge you have, make some time for them. It doesn’t have to be the second an email comes through. Let’s not pretend that every second of being a DBA is a white-knuckled, F5 bashing emergency. You can spare 30 minutes to sit down and talk through that little bit of code instead of side-eyeing your monitoring dashboard.

That’s far more powerful than just telling them everything that’s wrong with what they’ve spent a chunk of their time working on.

Acknowledging effort is powerful

“Hey! You’ve really been cranking on this!” or “Cool, those are some interesting choices.” or at least leading with some positive words about their attempt to make things better is a far more appropriate way to start a conversation with a co-worker than pointing out issues like you had to parse, bind, optimize, and execute the thing yourself.

They may not be right about everything, or maybe anything, but if you just shut them down, they’ll start shutting you out. That does not make for good morale, and they won’t be the only people who notice.

Make an effort

When you spend most of your time in front of a computer, you start to forget that there are actual people on the other end. If they’re coming to you for help, guidance, or even just to show you something, it’s a sign of respect. Don’t waste it by being Typical Tech person.

Thanks for reading!

Angie says:  As the only team member to most recently be a Junior DBA, I’d like to point out how much I appreciated it when my mentors came to MY desk to watch me try and do something, or when they locked their computer when I was at their desk with questions so it was clear that I had their full attention.  It’s the little things that make the most impact sometimes!

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20 Comments. Leave new

  • Brian Williamson
    June 27, 2016 8:56 am

    I have to agree with everything here. I think it also shows different skills sets and experience on how people reply to a question. If you have ever consulted or been client facing, heck even worked help desk before becoming a DBA ( which I did ) you can appreciate the ” Soft skills ” of communication. Companies that I have worked for and ones that I interviewed with are starting to place a higher priority on the soft skills. Yes as a DBA I have to be responsible for the Availability, Reliability, Recovery and Security of everything in my area of expertise, but I also have to be able to convey the status of things to a non-technical client if needed in ways they can understand. Technical skills are essential for a DBA, but unless you can convey that skillset to fellow co-workers and clients it’s not quite as valuable as you would think.

  • I’m really pleased to see this post. I only have the great job I have because one day a few years ago, an older DBA was happy to spend some time showing me what he did and how he did it.

    The best DBAs don’t try to protect their own jobs by shutting down people who want to learn. If you’re really good (and not just winging it), you’ll be generous to those people coming after you.

  • I had the same experience as “Lizzie”. If i didn’t had a great mentor i would have not been at the place today. I am continuing the tradition by sharing what i have learned with others.

  • Whaaat? How can you come to this/these conclusions based on a semi-trick question?

    In the orignial post you asked “what could go wrong?” and not “how would you handle this situation?” or as you write in this post “How would you respond to the developer?”.

    People answered thinking you were asking a technical question since the question was:
    “What could go wrong here?”

    And not:
    “HOW would you respond to the developer”.

    Then you write:
    “To be honest, if I asked this question in an interview and someone started reading me a riot act of things that were wrong with the example, I’d be really concerned that they’re unable to work as part of a team, and that they’re not really a good fit for a lead or mentoring type role.”

    Erik Daaaarling, how can you come to this conclusion with somewhat of a trick question?

    While I understand that the A+ answer is the mentoring approach even though you ask the Trixter question. I do not agree with how you almost try to drive home the fact that people that gave technical answers might not be fit to work in a team? And that they only would only tell them everything that is wrong with the code that they spent their blood sweat and tears producing.

    While I buy the message of this post and I was going to sing praises about it, I do not agree with how you did it. I would be pissed off if I spent my time giving you the correct technical answer and then got the “oh but you are not able to work in a team sir” response.. how do you know?

    • Rade – oh my goodness. Are you implying that interviews have trick questions?

      Whoa. Stop the presses.

      • Brent – Oh my word.
        Yes of course I am implying that, just as much as you are implying that everybody that commented on blog post one are not team oriented and not fit to be a mentors.

        Whaaa, do not start the presses just yet.

        • 😉

          • My actual honest response to your comment was:
            “Hey Eric got tattoos, maybe he can handle this without daddy’s help?”

            Didn’t dare.. but then YOLO!

          • Erik Darling
            June 28, 2016 9:41 am

            People confer a lot of strange powers on tattoos. Ability to respond to blog comments is probably a first — for me anyway.

            And I know, that question was tricky, just like my name being spelled with a “k” is tricky. I hope someday I can regain your trust, but more importantly, I hope that the next time you go out on an interview, you think beyond the technical portion of the question.

    • Interestingly, I also gave a technical answer to Erik’s interview question based on how it was worded. The thing is though, it is still my fault for giving the wrong answer. If I was in a face to face interview, I would have asked clarifying questions and I should have applied those same steps to this scenario. Good thing that this was practice and not the real deal. I am very thankful that this issue was brought up through Eric’s post rather than in a real life scenario. Thank you for this Erik. Also, you wrote a good article above, it made me rethink about one of Jeff Atwood’s (Co-founder of Stack Overflow and Discourse) articles on Empathy, which can be found here: I think it is worth the read.

      • Erik Darling
        June 28, 2016 12:12 pm

        Good read! I hadn’t seen that one before.

      • I gave a technical answer based on the question as well. Even as a trick question, it could’ve been worded better.
        It is a pet peeve of mine to see things that reinforce a strong stereotype about tech people and especially DBAs. Not team players, not sociable, etc.
        Have we reinforced that stereotype with our responses? I don’t know.
        Regardless, I think this is somewhat of a stretch “I’d be really concerned that they’re unable to work as part of a team, and that they’re not really a good fit for a lead or mentoring type role. ”

        This seems like quite a lot of information to glean from how someone responds to a trick question. It’s probably a good thing you wouldn’t hire them in this scenario because right off the bat, two assumptions are made: 1) not a team player 2) probably not capable of advancement in the organization

        I would take the opposite approach, a non-technical answer would be welcome but not disqualifying. I would hire the people with the most accurate technical answers and then understand that it’s my job to get them working together.

        • Erik Darling
          June 28, 2016 2:22 pm

          Could it have been worded better to tip you off that it’s a trick question? Sure, but that takes some of the fun out of it for me. If anything, I thought the obviousness of the potential gotchas with the code as-written was a good clue.

  • I appreciate your points, Erik. I’ve considered the issues with professional positioning within the tech community a lot recently…

    I focus on the odd trend where certain folks can be overly confident of the knowledge they have, sometimes condescending to and marginalizing their juniors or even peers, while at the same time being highly insecure of the knowledge that they don’t – sometimes resenting, either themselves or, the folks they consider smarter… a wild fear in their eyes when faced with challenge that shouldn’t even be taken as one. And, how this behavior is corrosive; not only to working relationships but, learning in general – and personal growth, therefore.

    I’ve had experience with seniors at both extremes – the kind where everything one does is moronic to them, and the kind that says something like “Your code was fine. All I had to do was [the easiest thing to remember when writing code.]” Without saying, “You’re a dumb@$$!” Because they know you’re going to do that to yourself anyway.

    Be frivolous with knowledge! Or, better yet, “be excellent to one another!”

  • Erik.
    Regain trust in you? Forget that 😉
    Just kidding.. Come on! You are the new DBA blog sensation! Jonathan Kehayias level of interesting, and he surpassed his masters at the skills crew.
    Your posts rock. The point you made in this blogpost is superb.
    So that’s that regarding trust issues.

    Regarding interviews and looking beyond technical aspects when dealing with lesser lifeforms (joke!), that’s how I roll! That’s why I got engaged in this post but slightly sidetracked by your tiny miss.

  • Rade – Go home, you’re drunk.

  • Even after reading this I’m not entirely sure what sort of feedback you are looking for. While yes a lot of the comments just provided technical answers. I felt like I tried to explain how I would attempt to teach the developer better troubleshooting techniques and good coding habits.

    Since I pride myself on my ability to talk to my devs and help them grow and learn, I was surprised to learn none of the comments in the previous thread were satisfactory. I attempted to make the point that I wanted to court the developer to better troubleshooting techniques and am a bit concerned that it didn’t come across that way.

    • Erik Darling
      June 29, 2016 1:41 pm

      It’s entirely possible that I missed your comment. I’m totally guilty of comment skimming, especially if I’m reading early in the morning.

  • Enrique Argüelles
    July 14, 2016 1:57 pm

    I do that, my former member was the type to promote me, to challenge and and I am really grateful, I try not to quick to judge which is a old habit of me I do appreciate someone who is willing to learn and put effort into it, and it excite me to be able to mentor such person.


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