Feb 5, 2010
Top 10 Junior DBA Interview Tips
The start of a new year is a time for self reflection and along with it perhaps a desire to do something new with your career. Maybe you are considering becoming a Junior Database Administrator (DBA)?
Acquiring your very first role as a Junior DBA is no easy feat. Just browse any one of the many job sites advertising SQL Server DBA job vacancies you will quickly come to realise that almost all Junior positions list a number of years of SQL Server experience as a necessary requirement.
How Most Junior DBA’s Earn Their Stripes
The truth is that a significant proportion of SQL Server Database Administrators (DBA’s) start out in an alternative discipline, that is to say they are Accidental DBA’s. For example, a Windows Server Administrator may also be tasked with looking after the businesses SQL Server infrastructure, perhaps as the result of a DBA having left the company or through cross training opportunities within the organisation. These individuals acquire the necessary experience on the job within their existing role in order to make the transition to a Junior DBA position.
If you are seriously interested in either starting out on the path to becoming a SQL Server Database Administrator or perhaps wish to make a lateral move from an alternative IT discipline, this revelation can be quite disheartening. You may feel that it is somewhat of no win scenario, as right now you have limited experience working with SQL Server, hence why you are considering junior opportunities in the first place.
Help is at Hand
Well fear not my friend, for all is not lost. It may surprise you to hear that I am of the opinion that SQL Server experience alone is NOT the most desirable quality of a Junior DBA! You see the Accidental DBA will often be self taught and so although more experienced than perhaps you are currently, they have acquired their knowledge of SQL Server the hard way. The very same knowledge can be passed on to a newly hired Junior DBA by an experienced mentor in a fraction of the time. For this reason there are a number of very desirable qualities other than SQL Server experience alone, that can provide you with a serious edge over the competition.
Over the years I have interviewed many aspiring data professionals and I want to share with you what I look for when hiring Junior DBA’s.
My Top 10 Interview Tips for Junior DBA’s
1. Are You a Problem Solver?
At the core of being a successful Database Administrator is an ability and a drive to problem solve.
You need to be able to effectively demonstrate your passion for problem solving. Problem solving is not really a skill that you can teach but it can certainly be improved and enhanced through practice.
You must be able to demonstrate a good level of problem solving to the interviewer.
Be prepared for your interview whether it be face to face or over the telephone, with a whole host of examples that demonstrate your ability and flair to problem solve.
2. Do You Know The Primary Responsibility of a DBA?
Do you know what the primary responsibility of a DBA is? If not then you need to read this now! Think of it as the DBA Prime Directive. Everything that you do as a data professional is built on this.
3. What do You Know About Database Backups?
Ideally you should get to grips with the basics of SQL Server backups but as a very minimum you must know why they are necessary and why they are important.
4. Why do You Want to be a DBA?
I look for candidates who know why they want to be a Database Administrator. There is no right or wrong answer here but you must be able to demonstrate to the interviewer that your reasons are clear and have been thought out.
5. Can you provide quality examples of your previous projects?
You will almost certainly be quizzed by your interviewer on the details of your past projects. This will enable you to demonstrate a wealth of qualities about yourself.
The key is to ensure that you have prepared ahead of time, a number of projects that you can discuss with your interviewer. Although preferable, your examples do not have to be SQL Server Specific or even IT Project work for that matter. Anything from University projects to work experience or examples of problem solving from part time jobs. Just be sure to have sufficient detail readily available and clear in your mind.
This is your opportunity to demonstrate to the the interviewer any number of your qualities and skills. To get you started, you may with to consider how you can discuss your project work to demonstrate:
- Working in groups
- Working independently and without supervision
- Project Management
- Time Management
- Problem Solving
6. Can you Demonstrate Overcoming Adversity?
Be prepared to provide examples of how you have overcome problems or difficulties.
Show that you are keen to develop professionally by providing insight and evaluation of your own performance. Consider, ahead of time, how could you have done things differently?
7. Do You Have a Basic Grasp of the Relational Model?
You must at least learn and understand the fundamentals of The Relational Model before applying for a DBA position. There is simply no excuse in the Internet era for not having an overall understanding of the basics. Don’t like studying online then get yourself a good book. Perhaps Database Systems by Connolly & Beg would be a good place to start for you and is an excellent text used by many Computer Science Degree courses.
8. Do you Have a Personal Development Plan?
In order to be a data professional you have to continually be learning about your chosen subject. In an ideal world your employer would assist you with this endeavour however you should take charge of managing your own professional development. Your prospective employer may have budget to allocate to your training but may not know how it should be spent or what courses would be appropriate for you. Individuals that can clearly demonstrate that they are proactive about managing their own professional development are sought after.
Consider how you are going to increase your skills and knowledge of SQL Server. The more detailed your plans the more attractive a proposition you are to a perspective employer.
Some tips to get you started include:
- Join your local SQL Server User Group
- Study for SQL Server Certifications such as MCTS or MCITP.
- What SQL Server texts are you currently reading and would like to read? You have a reading list right?
- Follow SQL Server Bloggers by subscribing to their RSS feeds.
- Follow SQL Server DBA’s on Twitter to keep up to date on what’s going on the SQL Server Community.
- Visit SQL Server Forums to both review questions and contribute answers.
- Frequent some of the many excellent SQL Server Community sites such as SQLServerCentral, SQLServerPedia and SQLTeam.
9. Do You Have Any Goals?
Ensure that you can provide details of both your short (within the next year) and medium term (next five years) goals. This may link in to your Professional Development plan but you may also wish to include details of your life goals. Again there is no right or wrong answer here, as the objective is to demonstrate that you are forward thinking and ambitious but if you want to get serious about your goals then you will want to make sure that they are SMART goals.
10. Do You Know What You Don’t Know?
The more you learn and the more experience you acquire, the more you will realise what you don’t know. Let me tell you now that there is not a single data professional that knows absolutely all there is to know about SQL Server. It is simply too large a subject. That is why there are specialist SQL Server roles, such as Database Developer, Database Administrator, Business Intelligence Analyst, Report Writer and many more.
The key point to take away here is that it is perfectly acceptable and expected for you to not know the answer to a particular SQL Server question or problem. Personally I consider it a strength to know what it is that you do not know. Knowing your limits means that you can identify when it is time to call in the cavalry.
When you are stumped by a question in your interview don’t panic! Simply tell the interviewer that this is not an aspect of SQL Server that you are currently familiar with and then immediately go on to explain, if possible, how you would go about finding out the information required. Remember, it’s all about problem solving. There will be times in you career as a data professional that you do not have the answer to an issue immediately before you but if you have the means to find the solution then you are indeed a valuable asset.
What Are Your DBA Interview Tips?
I’d love to know what are your DBA interview tips? Leave your thoughts and feedback below.