Friday, 25 December 2015

The DBA interview: Non-technical Questions

Welcome to the first post in a series dedicated to the DBA job interview process. 

This particular post isn't going to go into any of the technical questions you might get asked but rather stay on the more general side of things. Whilst relatively high level I use these questions (or rather your answers) to look into how you operate as a DBA, what your attitude is to learning and if you're passionate about what you do. 

I find that these questions are particularly useful for first interview situations or perhaps when interviewing for a junior DBA position.

One of the most common questions you will be asked is to name some of the industry experts that you follow. Maybe you read their blogs or watch their videos. I always ask this question and I'm not just looking for a list of names either, I will always follow up a response and ask why.

And it is the 'why?' that is most important. Anybody can mention a Brent Ozar or a Paul Randal, anyone could have also looked those names up that very morning. If a candidate can go into extra detail, perhaps talk about specific articles, training videos and why they like them then that is a big plus in my book.

This shows an active interest in the DBA life because we all use an awful lot of the resource out there. It also highlights if you enjoy learning new things so another question that I often ask is what a candidates preferred learning style is i.e. do you enjoy reading technical manuals or video how to guides.

Now I will always follow this question up by asking a candidate what was the last thing they learnt. You will be amazed at how often people have frozen at this question and it isn't even a googly (curve ball for my US friends). An appropriate answer doesn't have to be too in-depth just enough to show me that you take learning seriously or perhaps more to the point, that you enjoy it.

I can actually remember one particular candidate answering this question by talking about the forthcoming In-Memory technology (at the time) and we discussed some of the key benefits and limitations of it. It was a great little discussion and that really stood out for me. And when you think about it, that actually is the main point of an interview, to stand out! So keep these sort of things in mind.

You'll stand out for sure but for all the wrong reasons!

I mentioned the DBA community earlier. Another common question that you might get asked is how you interact with fellow professionals. Not so much team members (that's a given, you'll get asked that!) but in the wider community. Not just by reading blogs but do you contribute by posting in forums perhaps? Have you ever asked the community for help and if so how? It could be specific websites or using social media like the twitter hashtag #sqlhelp. Just being able to demonstrate how you interact with other database professionals is another big tick in the box, especially if you are helping others too.

To finish this particular post I will go into the #1 question in the DBA interview and that is why be a DBA? It encompasses answers from the last questions that I have mentioned; the community, learning, helping others and it could be certain technical aspects too. For me asking this question will show me if a person is passionate about working as a DBA or if they are just ticking over. No prizes for guessing which is better in my eyes!

So there you go, I've gone over some of the general non-technical questions that are often asked in DBA interviews. Of course there is a lot more to cover, soft skills and the technical questions too but for now hopefully there's a little bit to think about on what people are looking for when hiring a DBA.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Non-technical questions ?
    The question "Why be a DBA ?" is more that just a 'non-technical question' ...

    What if a candidate answer that question telling something like ... "I've been working as Client-server SQL application developer for almost 15 years and now, I feel I'd be a good administrator of SQL databases and I'd like to make good money being a SQL Server DBA in a large Enterprise..."

    So, Are you hiring a good programmer that could be able to be a GOOD DBA or a DBA that have the plus of being a good developer ???

    It was my dilema when my current employer decided to hire me.
    I made my choice. I decided I'd be a GOOD DEVELOPER that some day could be a great DBA. I got a good salary anyway. I am happy. But now I do a lot of things that are catalogued as 'DBA Activities' ( Security, User Profiles, BACKUPS And , Restore Database PLANS, Disaster Recovery Plans, T-SQL Scripts, user technical support, programming and so on... )

    Why be a DBA ...?? Simply, I'm one. ( I didn't say.. 'The One' )
    DBA is just a label, even if you're a developer, "SQL DBA" is not a job description, being a DBA is a life style. How high you'd like to fly... ??? It's up to you.

    1. Very good points sir, thank you for the reply.

      Just to clarify, I am being very black and white here as most interviews for the DBA role compose of two distinct sets of questions (normally a mixture of both I hasten to add). The non-technical aspects which cover attitude, personal skills etc and the technical ones that test technical knowledge and experience. I'll be covering those soon.

      You've actually given me a perfect example of why the 'why a DBA?' question is extremely relevant, having worked on the development side for song long. Looking at your reply, I would certainly ask about why you feel you would be a good admin of databases as it gives a perfect opportunity for you to explain what you are going to bring to the role.

      I am an ex developer who moved into the DBA role full time some time ago so I have been asked the question quite a few times myself! And I 100% agree, to me it is more than a job description, it is very much a life style and when I ask 'why a DBA?' I am seeing if a candidate is of the same mindset.