Do Candidate Oracle DBAs Exaggerate Their Skills?

In my last three decades in Information Technology, I’ve often been asked to perform deep technical interviews with candidates for open positions. I’ve discovered a rather unnerving trend that’s begun to accelerate over the last five years: a significant uptick in the number of candidate Oracle DBAs who apparently see nothing wrong with exaggerating their experience in a particular technology. Some recent and particularly disturbing examples:

  • An interviewee whose CV claimed she had significant experience with Oracle Database Real Application Clusters couldn’t explain to me what would happen to the database instance on a node if I accidentally terminated a crucial background process. (She insisted that I’d have to restart the instance manually.)
  • Another interviewee was unable to explain why ASM was elemental to the efficient operation of storage cells on an Exadata Database Machine … even though his resume claimed he had almost seven years of deep Exadata experience.
  • A third interviewee’s CV claimed deep understanding of Oracle Data Guard technology … but he couldn’t explain why Data Guard Broker would be of particular value, especially when managing a switchover operation.

Based on informal discussions with my students when I taught classes for Oracle University, these were actually rather tame experiences, as these candidates had merely exaggerated their skills. I’ve heard numerous anecdotes about Oracle DBA candidates with excellent resumes and stellar technical interview results that were hired as full-time employees. By then it was too late to discover that they didn’t know how to diagnose simple application performance issues, perform basic database backup and recovery tasks, or even explain the simplest concepts of how an Oracle database actually works.

I’ve often said that the profession of Oracle DBA is much like that of a surgeon or airline pilot because if we make a serious mistake, production data could be lost or corrupted, and that could mean that someone’s health – or even someone’s life – could be at stake. But that’s where the comparison also ends: A phony or incompetent airline pilot is usually detected fairly quickly and fired, and incompetent surgeons lose their status with their state board of review, and are prohibited from practicing medicine, but an incompetent DBA is often simply demoted to lesser duties, or in rare cases terminated … and usually continues to work somewhere else without any disciplinary action being taken.

If you’ve recently encountered similar experiences, please send them to me using the form below with as much detail as possible. I’d like to know if I’m alone in these observations, or if other Oracle DBA professionals have seen a similar uptick. If it turns out that this is a real epidemic, I have some ideas on how to stem its tide as well.

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