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Re: Case study for interviewing Oracle DBA

From: Joel Garry <>
Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2005 15:55:21 -0800
Message-ID: <>

rachel carmichael wrote:

>But most of what I learned for that degree is totally useless
>and.or irrelevant to what I do today . But the fact that I had one was
>more important than any book or reputation I might have

Sounds like you may actually be overqualified for that job! :-) (More likely, the HR droid was underqualified to decide) Even back in the early '80's, I found myself having trouble convincing people that all the courses and experience I had plus my degree was equal to a CS degree. My university had a CS degree but it was too much like work, so I went pre-med :-)

Niall Litchfield wrote:

>but really technical knowledge is almost the least important part of
the job.

That shouldn't be true, but is. But how true, and how relatively important the truth is, vary by site and management style. In some places, simply being able to follow directions is a too-rare skill. ("But sql-server doesn't work that way!")

>In fact I'd argue that if you really, really just want skills then you
>aren't after an employee but a contractor or consultant for a short
>period of time.

Far too many companies have figured that out, to the detriment of many. Overuse of that sort leads to loss of institutional knowledge. Also called "bad strategic planning." And I've personally observered that you often wind up with large values of "short period of time." :-)

>The criteria that are used to justify the position *are* the important
>criteria. There are no others. You of course may have your own agenda
>in taking a given position (I know I do) but you will be judged on the
>way in which you perform against the reasons for creating that position

>in the first place.

The criteria are important in the sense of "you must meet them to get your foot in the door," but not in the sense of "do they make sense." I've seen some criteria that are just plain wrong. Criteria that reject those who would do best in the job are bad criteria. That is why it is best to simply skip the HR department and go directly to the hiring manager. That's what networking is all about. That rare beast, "good headhunters" (as opposed to order clerks) do that too.

>Understanding when to rebuild indexes is really rather uninteresting.

#$%#!@#%! Isn't that a recipe for institutionalized myth-making? Or at least, "badly distributed resource usage." ("Sorry honey, I have to spend Saturday rebuilding indexes, 'cause [some useless tool] told me to.") When Ault published his old "what to look for in a DBA," I didn't agree with some of what he said, but his characterization of a good DBA as being intellectually curious was not merely verisimilitude.

Noons wrote:

>Just make sure you drop a line to the "powers that be" that
>is a two-way street: the HR person should also have one before they can

>claim to "know" how to select technical people.

I gotta say, some of the worst interviews have been from these people. They've taken the test, so they think the test is good and relevant, and structure their interview accordingly. So anything bad ever said about OCP applies derivatively to this. If you are saying this to apply pressure to the non-techies in HR, they just delegate it, else you have the even worse situation of OCP that won't get any experience because they are HR people, or even worse, COBOL people who moved to HR and got certs. And you can imagine me trying to hide gritting my teeth when being interviewed by college students for the technical unix part...

>Or an employee that will hang around for a while and be an asset to
>the company? Yes, business knowledge IS a company asset. How much
>does it cost to train a new person in the particulars of the business?
>There you go: that IS the value of the asset.

In accounting terms, this is goodwill, the value of the company beyond its quantifiable assets. So a dollar value tends to be put on it globally, but it is difficult to value in terms of one techie. That's why strategic planning on these issues is so important, and why with MBA's doing it with a bean-counter eye, it turns out so wrong.

>and who KNOWS the business as well. Unapplied IT knowledge is
>worthless outside of academic environments.

I think this is more of a case for having business analysts than requiring technical people to understand the business. I've seen cases where I understand the business better than the customer, but have to keep my mouth shut until they figure it out or hire a con... understanding where a business is out-of-it is an art in itself. Some things apply to all business, some intra-vertical things are so bizarro for historical reasons ain't nuthin' you can do. Then there's laws and regulations... If you want to argue it is easier to train a business person to do technical things, I would counter-argue all those single-user viewpoint problems that drive db people nuts.

(agree entirely with your "deranged hiring policies").

ryan_gaffuri wrote:

>They are leaving families behind. Taking a lower level position back
>is probably a better option for many of them.

I did this after I got married, and it was perhaps a mistake. It took me several years to get back up to where I was. The trick is to get the high pay in the low cost area! So find a nice, mid cost area with good schools that is not too far from a high-cost area that will grow towards it. Many growing areas have planning commissions with published plans for 20 years out. I explicitly decided 20 years ago, with the newfangled telecommuting I could choose where to live, then get a job anywhere. I was only half-right in the latter, but am definitely glad I picked a nice place in the meantime. Now, a Jr. couldn't afford to live here (at least, not after their first layoff).

Mark Powell wrote:

>The only way to know if someone is a good fit is to talk to them
>about what the job is and why he or she is interested.

Which would be true, except how do you sift out those giving the "right answer?" Apologies for my cynicism.

Tim Gorman wrote:

>One of his most reliable indicators was the presence
>of an over-qualified employee. Idle minds truly are
>the devil's playground.

That might be because people who work in banks tended to stay there for 30 years, so a senior person getting a new job probably had something bad happen. In the IT field, it is the mode for normal people to move around a lot, often that is the only way they can become senior. I would be much more worried about the under-25 crowd, who may not have grown up in a milieu of honesty. (Sorry for the ageism, but I wish I could recall where someone published research on that, not long ago - might have been referenced on /.).

Joel Garry

Received on Wed Mar 02 2005 - 18:58:33 CST

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