An Essential DBA Skill (Part I)
I have attended many interviews for Oracle DBA positions in my career and, with rare exceptions, always found that the interviewers set great store on knowledge of Oracle syntax. A big problem is that the typical interviewer usually only asks questions about those Oracle features that he or she uses on the job and is most familiar with. Any candidate who has not used those Oracle features is then automatically eliminated. In an interview published in the journal of the Northern California Oracle Users Group (NoCOUG), I asked Jeremiah Wilton the following question:
My daughter’s piano teacher likes to say that practice makes permanent, not perfect. Just because I’ve been a database administrator a long time doesn’t qualify me as a “senior” database administrator—or does it? Who is a “senior” database administrator? Do I need a college degree? Do I need to be a “syntax junkie?” Do I really need experience with Oracle Streams or ASM to claim the title?
In his reply, Jeremiah suggested that anybody with a few years of experience under their belt was entitled to call themselves a senior DBA, but he did not value years of experience and knowledge of Oracle syntax very much:
To me, senior means that you have used a lot of Oracle’s features, solved a lot of problems, and experienced a variety of production situations. Do these qualities necessarily mean that I will want to hire you? No. Of far greater importance than seniority is a DBA’s ability to solve problems in a deductive and logical manner, to synthesize creative solutions to problems, and to forge positive and constructive business relationships with colleagues and clients. For years at Amazon, we simply tried to hire extraordinarily smart people with a strong interest in working with Oracle and others. Some of Amazon’s most senior DBAs started with little or no Oracle experience. I believe that the focus on experience in specific technologies and seniority causes employers to pay more and get less than they could when filling DBA positions.
When a DBA candidate is interviewed at Database Specialists, the focus is on the candidate’s analytical and communication skills. The candidate is first given an extract from the Oracle alert log and asked to write a report discussing the Oracle errors listed in the extract. There is no expectation that the candidate has had previous experience with those errors, and the candidate is welcome to research the answers online; this mimics the approach used by real database administrators in real life.
The second exercise mimics a common event in the life of a database administrator—a critical problem that has high visibility and requires a number of participants. The candidate is given access to a lab system owned by Database Specialists and is asked to join a telephonic conference. To prepare for the exercise, the candidate is directed to a white paper—available on the Database Specialists web site—that discusses the problem-solving approaches that would be useful during the exercise. Participating on the conference call are members of the Database Specialists team, one of whom represents the customer while the rest represent other IT personnel such as system administrators. The customer describes the problem, and the candidate is expected to ask questions, diagnose, and solve the problem with the help of the other participants on the call. The problem is actually simulated in a lab database, and the candidate is expected to check the database and communicate the findings. The candidate is welcome to research the problem online, since there is no expectation that he or she has any experience with the specific problem that is being simulated.
Searching for information online is an essential DBA skill. Here is a little challenge to test your searching skills. I received the following email message from a correspondent:
From: [name withheld]
To: Iggy Hotmail
Sent: Wednesday, December 27, 2006 6:21 AM
[name withheld] wants to know the author of this verse
“Small minds inquire, belongs this man
To mine own creed or kith or clan?
But larger hearted men embrace
As brothers, all the human race.”
Who is the author of the above verse, what is the correct text, and what is the larger context? The first correct answer will receive a copy of my book.
Click here for Part II of this article.