Testing Skills

This editorial was originally published on May 11, 2009. It is being re-run as Steve is on vacation.

How can you measure someone’s skills? Is there a good way to actually assess how well a DBA or developer will do in your company? If you have one, there is some money to be made by passing the information along.

Traditional interviews where you ask lots of questions typically haven’t necessarily proven to be a great way to do this.  Some people give tests, but they often are thrown together, and might contain multiple choice answers to make them easy to grade. However the other day someone posted a technique they used that I liked.

This person suggested that a VM be configured with Windows and SQL Server and then with a certain number of things wrong with the install. Or at least things that would be seen as wrong in that particular  environment. You then give it to a candidate and ask them to tell you what’s wrong. You could let them work through it in a stream of consciousness way, telling you what was wrong as they found it. You could also give them some time, say an hour, and then come back and let them explain what is wrong.

Actually I’d recommend you give the candidate the choice since some people work better alone.

I’ve thought about asking them to accomplish certain tasks before, but after considering this technique, I like it a bit more. Just asking them “what’s wrong?” or “what would you change?” is a good way to see how people think. Interacting with them, getting them to dig into a real system, is a great way to assess not only technical skills, but also some interaction. See how they debate, argue, or question a co-worker is important, at least it’s important to me.

Is this is a better way to interview people and assess skills? Would you like to be interviewed like this? Maybe this would even be a fun competition at somewhere like the PASS Summit.

Steve Jones


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