Friday, 25 December 2015

The DBA Interview: The questions you need to ask.

It's the golden rule of interviews, make sure you ask questions! It's true, the interview is very much a two way process but what should you ask that is actually going to be of some benefit to you rather than just fill time?

I've compiled a list of questions that you can ask at a job interview to help you understand what type of DBA they are looking for and what the role will entail. The information will also help you get a few pointers about what the company is like and give you a few ideas of things you could be looking into to help with the new role.

Does the role sit within a dedicated DBA team or does it sit in another area like infrastructure or development? 
Depending on where you sit could dictate the type of work you're expected to do. In a development team you could well be be code heavy conversely in an infrastructure team you might be expected to perform system administration tasks. I can hear many DBA's reading this and saying "well, I'm supposed to do everything!". There is that too :-)

Ask questions about the SQL estate. 
What is the largest database and what is the maximum concurrent users? Are your instances physical, virtual, cloud based? Are there defined maintenance periods where downtime is accepted? Ask about recovery objectives and what high availability solutions are currently employed? You might want to ask if the estate is documented because you want to know if you're paying Inheritance Tax

All of these questions will give you a good impression of what you will be working with. Lots of "don't knows" to these questions might raise an alarm bell or two! 

Don't just ask about production instances.
Ask about a typical route to production. Are changes promoted through development, test and pre-prod etc? I also like to ask if resource is available for dedicated SQL sandbox and development environments. Why? Well, I want to test my database restores, query tuning, patching etc etc.

Will you be working with other database types? 
This is an extremely important question to ask. Even more so if you'll be the only DBA in the office because that means you're the only database guy and that means every single database, whether its MySQL or Oracle. Maybe even Access if you're really unlucky!

In addition to databases are you going to working with other products in the Microsoft SQL stack? 
In my time of a DBA I have had to undertake a lot of work using Reporting Services and Integration Services too. For the record, not so much Analysis Services apart from backups but even so, you might be expected to.

What applications will I be supporting? 
SQL is the backbone of many applications used today, BizTalk, CRM and Dynamics AX to name just a couple. If you've managed any of these applications before then you have now opened up a great opportunity to discuss your previous experience. If you haven't then getting a heads up on gives you the opportunity to research their typical behaviour, configuration and maintenance requirements etc.

Is home working provisioned for? 
Silly question I hear you say, this is the 21st century man! Well take it from me, not every company out there embraces "new technology" like being able to dial in from home. If you're not able to do that then consider how you're going to fix a full transaction log at 3am in the morning.

What training opportunities are available?
The company may have a training library or prefer to send you on training courses. If you're really lucky, maybe they want to send you to SQL Cruise! For me, I like to know that a company is just as keen at keeping my skills up to date as I am. 

All of the above should give you plenty of information about the type of company you could be working for, what type of DBA they need and highlight some areas that might need your attention when you get there. 

Armed with this information you can hit the ground running like an Olympic champion when you arrive!

Good luck.

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