Russ Thomas – SQL Judo

The Art of SQL Server Database Administration, Development, and Career Skills for the Technically Minded

The next DBA I hire. Junior ?

There are some initiatives on the horizon that even the mustaches upstairs can interpret as creating a future that will require more hands on deck. So I was given some spots to expand the team.  With some effort we were able to land a couple great hires without too many months on the prowl – but I did have to go slightly over budget.

With one last position to fill I knew I would need to go in and grovel for a little larger allowance to make up for the previous indulgences.  While the big boss said he’d consider approving more money he also said I really needed to start thinking about what would truly be a perfect fit for that last slot.

The concept of a “perfect fit” got me thinking.  What would define perfection in the next DBA I hire?


– Brent Ozar’s reputation?
– Jes Borland’s energy?
– Matt Hubble’s sponge-like brain?
– Grant Fritchey’s mad dog stare?
– Paul White’s insatiable curiosity?
– Robert Davis’ wit?
– Adam Machanic’s impact?
– Paul Randal’s resume?
– Phil Factor’s secret identity?
– Thomas LaRock’s discernment?
– Kalen Delaney’s bandwidth of knowledge?
– Jonathan Kehayias’ dedication?
– Aaron Bertrand’s Stack Exch. rep?
– Steve Jones’ taste in shirts?

When the big boss came back with my refined final budget, I knew I’d have to adjust my expectations.  At best I’d be able to afford a senior DBA with a criminal record and low self esteem.  Maybe I should hire a junior instead?  The last junior we had literally turned into one of the best talents I’d ever worked with – see Hubble in list above.

The problem is hiring a junior is hard.  I’m taking a risk on trying to build a fresh recruit from scratch after all… so, I have to be really picky.

After I originally started this draft John Sansom wrote an excellent piece that lined up very nicely with a lot of the same concepts in what an entry level applicant should consider.  I highly recommend his post as well.

What are my must haves in a potential Junior DBA?

Demonstrated geekery:

The particular flavor of geekery doesn’t HAVE to be database related, but I want to work with someone geeky.  Someone who has taught themselves scripting, or a programming language; fiddled around with robotics.  I want a demonstrated curiosity about technology.  The more closely it relates to moving or storing data the better; but it must be geeky.

What someone has done as a homework assignment doesn’t count here.  What have they done just because it’s interesting?

Have an accomplishment:

Sansom talks about college in his post.  I agree whole-heartedly.  It is a great demonstrator that an individual can make a multi-year investment of time and money and see it through to the end.  I don’t get caught up too much in the actual degree – I just like what it represents.  Did they take a military route instead?  Great.  What about a vocational school?  Depends on the vocation but could be just fine.  I just need to KNOW that you can take on a large, bigger than you, multi-year project successfully.  Your demonstrated geekery will fill in any missing tech gaps.

Have a story I care about:

“I heard DBAs make pretty good money”.  Sorry, you lost me.

“I made an Access database for my brother’s business.  I really enjoyed it and want to move up to doing this in a client-server multi-user environment”.  Yeah, that’s a little better.  Bonus points for realizing Access is not a good fit for a multi-user environment.

“My favorite part of building websites is writing the SQL queries and thinking about how the data is stored.  I want to learn more about this side of the server.”  Nice.

“I’ve been working on the help desk and the database related questions always seemed the most interesting.  I really want to know how you guys fix these issues”.

Be excited about being a rookie:

When I was working in law enforcement it was usually easy to identify a new recruit that wasn’t going to work out.  Very often they refused to embrace that they were a rookie.  They wanted the swagger and knowledge of a seasoned veteran without having put in the time.  They couldn’t admit when they were in a situation that was way over their head.

I want a Jr that understands just how much they actually don’t know.  Because even that is probably an under-estimate.  The best seniors in the biz regularly admit… yeah, I don’t know crap about <insert topic>.  Every time Microsoft releases a new version of SQL we all just became rookies again – and good senior level guys love it.

I enjoy working on this blog.  I also enjoy speaking and presenting.  It’s not because I’m the smartest guy in the room.  Frankly, I’m lucky anyone let me in the room at all.  I learn more through these processes than I probably ever teach – and that right there is why I like it.  It’s a great opportunity for continual learning and food for my own insatiable curiosity.

Where do I find this cat?

Hiring a senior through the traditional apply and interview process is much easier than finding a good junior.  If you claim you have experience with failover mirrors or clusters… I can quickly verify if that is true – but any applicant will tell you they have a passion for learning.  Verifying that is hard but that’s what a good junior comes down to – someone who has both a capacity for learning and a passion for it as well.

When bringing a junior on board I am much more comfortable with someone I’ve been able to get to know naturally / organically.  A person that works at the same place I do, maybe just in a different role; someone I’ve spent time with outside of work; user group meetings – now that’s a great place to find juniors.  I rarely check references on a senior – but a junior?  If I don’t know you personally it really helps if I know your references.

If you are a senior DBA.  How did you end up in your first database gig?  Were you hired off the street or did you find your way in through a different door?  Managers – how have you groomed long term talent from the cradle?  After all – even the all star cake batter I’m mixing above started out somewhere as a snot nosed junior.

2 comments on “The next DBA I hire. Junior ?

  1. Robert L Davis
    January 23, 2014

    Good luck in the search. I recall one interview where he wanted to know if I really had a passion for learning SQL, so he quizzed me on SQL bloggers. First, he asked me which blogs I regularly read. Then he threw out some names and had me tell him what that person’s area of expertise was to see if I was really in tuned with who the SQL experts are.

  2. brento
    January 23, 2014

    HA! Brent Ozar’s reputation, that’s funny.

    When we hire people, the #1 thing we look for is a willingness to give back to the community. When somebody cares enough about what they’re doing to help others do it too, that means they’re passionate about their job, plus they’re passionate about helping others. You just know those kinds of people are going to succeed.

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This entry was posted on January 22, 2014 by in Career Skills.
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