Oracle Technical Interview Questions Answered - Part1
December 4, 2003
The interview process can be quite stressful. Here is the first part of a two part series on helping you answer those tough questions that you might experience in your quest for an Oracle DBA position.
Ever since I wrote the past article on the Oracle Technical Interview, I have been bombarded with e-mails asking for help on getting through the interview questions that I presented. Most of you I have answered, others I was reluctant to post all of the answers so that you could begin your own quest for the answers. Now, however, I have decided to post the answers knowing that we can all benefit from them. If there are any questions here that you still need clarification on, please e-mail me and I will do my best to further explain the answer I have given. Please remember that as you go through the article, it is not enough to know the answer to a particular question, you must try and put yourself in an interview situation and experience answering the question for yourself. Therefore, after you have gone through the questions and answers read the question yourself and then answer it with your own words. As always, good luck, and cheers.
This part of the interview question is not to be regarded as insignificant. If the interviewer asks you these questions take it as a sign that they are interested in you, your qualities, and how you interact with people throughout the day. Take it as an opportunity to prove that you have been around the block a few times, are willing to work with other people, and enjoy the job you do. Many times people see DBA types as stuffy and pointed, not willing to work with others, and only concerned with the database and its day-to-day operational needs. Put aside the needs of the database and talk about how you work with people and the different departments in the organization and are concerned with providing them with top notch database services.
1. What DBA activities did you to do today?
Wow, this is a loaded question and almost begs for you to answer it with "What DBA activities do you LIKE to do on a daily basis?." And that is how I would answer this question. Again, do not get caught up in the "typical" day-to-day operational issues of database administration. Sure, you can talk about the index you rebuilt, the monitoring of system and session waits that were occurring, or the space you added to a data file, these are all good and great and you should convey that you understand the day-to-day operational issues. What you should also throw into this answer are the meetings that you attend to provide direction in the database arena, the people that you meet and talk with daily to answer adhoc questions about database use, the modeling of business needs within the database, and the extra time you spend early in the morning or late at night to get the job done. Just because the question stipulates "today" do not take "today" to mean "today." Make sure you wrap up a few good days into "today" and talk about them. This question also begs you to ask the question of "What typical DBA activities are performed day to day within X Corporation?"
2. What is your typical day like?
If you spend enough time on question 1, this question will never be asked. It is really a continuation of question 1 to try and get you to open up and talk about the type of things you like to do. Personally, I would continue with the theme of question 1 if you are cut short or this question is asked later in the interview process. Just note that this question is not all geared toward the day-to-day operational issues you experience as a DBA. This question also gives you the opportunity to see if they want to know about you as an individual. Since the question did not stipulate "on the job" I would throw in a few items like, I get up at 5:00am to get into work and get some quiet time to read up on new trends or you help coach your son/daughter's soccer team. Just test the waters to what is acceptable. If the interviewer starts to pull you back to "job" related issues, do not go to personal. Also, if you go to the office of the interviewer please notice the surroundings, if there are pictures of his/her family, it is probably a good idea to venture down the personal path. If there is a fly-fishing picture on the wall, do not say you like deep-sea fishing. You get the picture.
3. What other parts of your organization do you interact with and how?
Again, if you have exhausted question 1 and 2 you may never get to this question. But if you have been apprehensive to opening up and explaining yourself, take note that you may have an issue and the interviewer might also be already getting tired of the interview process. If you get to this question consider yourself in trouble. You really need to forget all your hang-ups and start explaining what it is that you like to do as a DBA, and why you want to work for this particular company. You are going to have to reel this interviewer back into the interview process or you might not get to the true technical question part of the interview.
4. Do you consider yourself a development DBA or a production DBA and why?
I take this as a trick question and explain it that way. Never in my database carrier have I distinguished between "development" and "production." Just ask your development staff or VP of engineering how much time and money is lost if development systems are down. Explain to the interviewer that both systems are equally important to the operation of the company and both should be considered as production systems because there are people relying on them and money is lost if either one of them is down. Ok you may be saying, and I know you are, that we lose more money if the production system is down. Ok, convey that to the interviewer and you won't get anyone to disagree with you unless your company sells software or there are million dollar deals on the table that are expecting the next release of your product or service.
5. Are you a nuts-n-bolts DBA or a tools-n-props DBA
This question begs for me to give definition around the terms I basically group DBAs into. These are not good or bad groups but something I like to think about when talking to DBAs. A nuts-n-bolts DBA is the type that likes to figure out every little item about how the database works. He/she is a DBA who typically hates a GUI environment and prefers the command line to execute commands and accomplish tasks. A nuts-n-bolts DBA like to feel in control of the database and only feels comfortable at the command line and vi as an editor. The tools-n-props DBA is mostly the opposite of a nuts-n-bolts DBA, they like the feel of a GUI, the ease at which things can be accomplished without knowing much about the database. They want to get the job done with the least amount of intervention from having to figure out what everything is doing behind the scenes. Now the answer, I would explain myself as a combination of the two. I, having been in this business for over 20 years, have grown up in a command line era where the GUIs never seemed to work. There was high complexity in systems and not much good documentation on how things worked. Thus, I had to learn everything about most aspects of the database environment I was working in and thus became a nuts-n-bolts DBA. I was a true command line and vi bigot. Times have changed and the GUIs are very reliable, understand the environment they are installed on, and can generally get the job done quicker for individuals new to database administration. I too am slowly slipping over to the dark side of GUI administration. If you find yourself as a tools-n-props DBA, try to convey that you are aware of some tasks that require you to be a nuts-n-bolts DBA.