Interview Questions: Curiosity

As a Senior DBA I’m occasionally asked to participate in interviews for other prospective data professionals. Full disclosure: I actually love doing this because, and this may sound odd, I really enjoy asking people questions. Unlike most of my IT colleagues, my university studies featured a huge helping of journalism classes, so interrogating, err, interviewing is something that comes naturally to me.

I try to look at an interview as something more than just a way to reveal technical knowledge. Too often, I’ve found myself working with someone who is smart enough to do the job, but they don’t share the same enthusiasm for the work that I and other colleagues have. And if I’m being honest, many years ago in my career I was that guy too.

A lack of enthusiasm means a lack of curiosity to learn more, and when you stop wanting to learn in a constantly-evolving field like, well, anything having to do with software and technology, you’re in trouble. You’re just the “Groundhog Day” DBA, doing the same tasks over and over, slowly letting your skill set become obsolete. Pro Tip: don’t do that.

If we ever cross paths in an interview, then you should definitely expect to hear me ask a broad question like this: “As a database professional, how do you learn new stuff?”

The intention of the question is to allow the interviewee to color their response however they want. There really isn’t a wrong answer to this question other than not having a clear answer. I want to know if they want to learn more or are content to be a “Groundhog Day” DBA.

An interviewee can say they read books, although most technical books are pretty dry and only used for reference. They usually just sit on a bookshelf and say to the world “hey, I bought a book!” But it is possible, I suppose.

They can say they watch videos or online webinars, which are extraordinarily plentiful. Seriously, we live in the golden age of free learning. There are so many PASS groups that have weekly or monthly sessions you have to have your head in proverbial sand to avoid them. Moreover, those sessions are usually recorded, as are sessions from GroupBy and SQLBits and others, so there’s no limit to what you can learn.

They can say they talk with other data professionals, which is a great response for demonstrating how important collaboration and communication are to the interviewee. I don’t know how many times in my career I didn’t know something and couldn’t find a particular answer online, but when I reached out to a current or former colleague I was guided towards a solution. No one individually knows everything, not even Paul Randal or Bob Ward, but if you can form a good circle of associates you should collectively be able to resolve most problems.

They can say they like to build their own environment and test new features. This is an especially good answer because it shows proactive learning, and hopefully solving problems with better technologies. Bonus points for using Azure or Microsoft Virtual Labs, which are great ways to test features if you are between jobs and only have a laptop.

They can say they read blogs, and in truth this interview question was derived from an interview years ago where I was asked what blogs I read. I was totally caught off guard and had no answer because I didn’t read any. I didn’t know of any blogs, and as an interviewee it was a pivotal moment in my career because this question very clearly showed me I wasn’t trying to learn and get better at what I was doing. It struck a nerve, and right after the interview I started searching for sites to review regularly.

Whatever the answer to my question, I’ll probably follow up with another question like “What was the last cool thing you learned?” and “Have you tested or had a chance to implement that yet?” Again, these are all trying to gauge the curiosity of the interviewee and to see just how enthusiastic they are about using newer technologies in their chosen field.

As I have learned the hard way, you need to stoke the fire for learning. If you’re not enthusiastic about learning and using newer technologies then your interviews, with me or anyone else, won’t likely go as well as you had hoped. More importantly, neither will your career.

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