The hubris of years: IT prowess can't be measured only by time on the job

Nobody cares how long you've been a DBA, only how good you are.

I've been doing quite a bit of interviewing lately (again) and there's one thing that really smacks me in the face whenever I do this.  And that is how much everyone seems to prize how long they've been doing something over how well they do it. 

And in fact, when I'm giving my tech screenings, the number of times I ask someone a fairly easy question that they can't answer is staggering.  Now, I'm talking really about guys who have been doing this like 10-15yrs.  And they don't even know the basics. 

I had a guy not long ago interview with me and he did very poorly.  He hardly knew any basics when it came to SQL, or troubleshooting, or even basic operations management.  I told him how poorly he did and he agreed.  And since I was interviewing for a senior-level position, I told him he just wasn't strong enough but that I would consider him should the position end up dropping down to a mid-level gig.  He thanked me and we went our separate ways.  Then he emailed me a few times asking about the gig just to keep tabs and a couple months later, I wrote him to tell him that the gig had indeed been moved to a mid-level position and what I expected from someone in this position because I strongly believe in teaching my DBAs.  And he wrote back and said that it sounded like what I really wanted was someone who would shut up and do what they were told instead of someone who had 10+yrs of experience.  Really dude?  After the horrendous performance you showed at the tech screening, and all the emails bugging me to come work for me, you're going to sit there and honestly get uppity with me and tell me how long you've been doing SQL when you can't even prove the most basic knowledge?  Where does this conceit come from?  What have you done to show me that you've been doing SQL for that long?

And he's not the only one, or even the 10th one to tell me something like that.  I had another guy tell me that the reason he couldn't answer the basic questions is because he's a real enterprise DBA and he can't be expected to remember all that piddly basic stuff... he had gotten past all that.  And one day when I'm at the level he is, I'll understand that. 

So really what's going on here is these guys don't have 10yrs of SQL experience, they have 1yr 10 times.  And there's a big distinction here because that really means that they haven't bothered really furthering their knowledge.  They've done a few things again and again and that's it.  It's seriously like driving to work every day in stop and go gridlock traffic and then applying for a job as a formula racecar driver.  And then in the interview, while not knowing any of the answers to any of the questions about the basics of a formula racecar, you tell them that you don't have to know any of that crap because you've been driving for 20+yrs.

So for all of you out there who are thinking that you're really good because you've been doing SQL (or whatever your field in IT) for a long time, I'd like to tell you to take a step back and try to look at yourself more objectively.  Put yourself through a couple tests, push the level of your skills, do some more interesting scenarios, etc.  Be honest with yourself.  One of the things I've done is I go through the different menus in SSMS and if I don't know what all the options are, I find out.  And do I also know how to script that option?  Do I know when I would and wouldn't use it?  These are just basic things you can research to really get to know even just the basics of SQL Server.  Do you know what all the flags for the backup commands mean?  Do you know how to perform all the types of SQL backup (full, diff, filegroup, etc)?

So forget your hubris about how long you've been doing your job, and concentrate on what you can actually do.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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