CTO RoundTable

For the past 100 years or so we’ve been living in the era of broadcasting. Radio and then television took us to places we never dreamed of, but at the same time we started to forget how to actually listen to each other.

At our BitWise CTO RoundTable, we’re reviving the art of communication and of listening by  discussing topics ranging from “How To Hire A Great DBA” to “Tech Myths and Fairytales”. It’s an informal place to meet CTO leadership from around the world, exchange opinions, and share best practice. These sessions are facilitated to keep the discussion on point, on time, and ensure all voices are heard. Based on the results of these lively conversations, the BitWise team creates practical, shareable resources that can be downloaded and adapted for your own use.

If you would like an invitation to the next RoundTable or just communicate with your peers, please contact: info@bitwisemnm.com – we like humans, so we’re looking forward to hearing from you!

CTO Roundtable #1 - How To Hire A Great DBA

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Finding (and retaining) good DBA talent doesn’t have to be difficult. 


There are three main areas CTOs need to look at when hiring: Domain-specific technical knowledge, Holistic understanding of systems, and Communication skills. 


The following checklist can help you in your interview process, including example questions you can ask.


There are 10 discrete question areas, and you can score your candidate /10 for each numbered question. Technical knowledge is given the most weight (60%), and Holistic understanding of systems is weighted equally with Communication Skills (each 20%).

 

Ask one, some, or all of the sample questions for each number, and score your candidate /100.


Please let us know at BitWise how this tool works for you!
 

  1. TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE – Make sure s/he understands:

     

  1. Server internals (they’re platform-specific e.g. SQL Server) 

    • What is a query cache memory pressure and how can it affect the server performance? 

    • What’s the difference between small and large environments?

  1. Query performance

    • What are some of the tools that you can use to troubleshoot a query performance problem?

    • What are some popular methods for SQL table optimization and query speed improvement?

 

  1. Set-based querying and data processing

    • How can you convert a row-by-row operation to a set based operation?

    • What are some of the differences between set-based and procedural approaches in SQL?

 

  1. Data relationships

    • How can you figure out a relationship between entities even if foreign keys were not specified?

    • What are the five types of relations in databases (one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-one, many-to-many, and self-referencing relationships) – and what’s the difference between these database relationship types?

       

  2. Data modeling

    • What is a difference between a “thing” and a representation of a “thing”?

    • What’s the difference between a conceptual model, a logical model, and a physical model of data entities and their relationships? When would you choose one over another? 

    • Explain the role of math behind data? (enables quicker design)

       

  3. Servers/networks/applications

    • How does server I/O work?

    • How can you monitor server OS performance?

    • How can you configure a network and set up routing between endpoints?

    • How do connection strings and data access methods work in different programming languages?

 

B. HOLISTIC UNDERSTANDING OF SYSTEMS – Can s/he articulate:

  1. CI/CD Continuous integration and deployment

    • Is this DevOps or DBA territory?

    • What’s the difference between DataOps and DevOps?

    • What’s your view on the need to become more “full stacky”? (Databases are becoming more DevOpsy, merge into one deployment, move from reactive to proactive)

 

  1. Generally speaking

    • What is your role in a Sprint? (Communicate with developers and do code review – mistakes are becoming more costly)

    • What do you use parsing tools for? (Speed and quality of thought are not contradictory)

    • What are some things to consider when troubleshooting?

    • What are your top tips for server hardware issues?

    • What are some key things to consider when assisting users?

    • What does the scientific method have to do with being a great DBA?

    • How do you develop and maintain a data dictionary?

 

C. COMMUNICATION SKILLS – Observe if s/he:

 

  1. Proper communication with all stakeholders

    • Do they know how to properly listen and take notes?

    • Can they analyze the information that they were given and rephrase it and/or request clarification, or do they just say “yes”, “got it” to everything?

    • Assess how their personality would fit in with your current team / management style.

    • Can they clearly explain their concerns in a non-technical jargon without being condescending?

    • What’s their communication style like? Do they display empathy, talk about collaboration skills?

  1. Ask behavioral questions

    • What do they know about your organization and what is unique about your brand? 

    • How have they handled an uncomfortable situation in the past?

    • What are their career ambitions and what they are interested in learning or improving on? 

    • Present a typical technical concept as if to a non-technical stakeholder.

    • Describe a time when they successfully solved a DB emergency for a client.

    • Talk about any unique tools they have developed themselves.

    • What do they like most / least about DBA work?

    • If applicable, what do they know about working remotely / across time zones / with diverse- multicultural co-workers?

    • What questions do they have for you? (No questions is a red flag). Good answers might include: “Tell me a bit more about the team I’ll be working with” / “Tell me about your current big project” / “What would a successful DBA in this role be doing 2 years from now?” “How do you recognize great work?”

CTO RoundTable #2 - Hiring Myths and Fairytales

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In our CTO Rountables, BitWise discusses some of the common myths and fairytales prevalent in the tech world. These notes are for everyone who is recruiting, hiring and seeking great talent.


There are three main myths that are preventing many CTOs from moving forward: Chasing talent, Hiring for cultural fit, and the technical / soft-skills split. 



MYTH 1: YOU HAVE TO CHASE TALENT

  • Hiring managers are trying to hire like they’re ordering at a sandwich counter – but people aren’t a sandwich to which you get to add your “10 requirements”

  • Job descriptions are littered with fad phrases like “agile’ and “family” that have no meaning behind them

  • Hiring managers are not discerning between primary, secondary, and tertiary candidate attributes

  • In the tech world, bringing in “outside help” is frowned upon

  • Many CTOs want the Justice League at Batman prices or even Marvel at DC prices

  • It’s like grocery shopping: at home you imagine the apples you want to buy. Once in the store, you see that the produce availability, variety, quality, and prices are very different. You may actually decide to purchase something very different from what you originally intended

  • By copy and pasting job descriptions, you create “bugs”

  • Mindlessly adding “hybrid” to your job description because everyone is doing it means you have shrunk your talent pool from global to whoever can/ wants to make it into the office twice a week

  • Many countries bring in thousands of wealthy, highly-educated immigrants a year who end up taxi-driving in order to support their families because they are not “found” by hiring managers

  • Hiring is often done by HR (from job description to interview) who may have very little idea what the role is actually about 

  • They’re hiring for a mythical person, not reality

  • Small to medium-sized enterprises don’t have proper hiring processes in place

  • Everyone changes after a hire, so hire someone flexible

  • Who does the organization need in terms of personality?

  • Job description statistics show that women in particular are put off by job descriptions that aren’t “real” – if they don’t have everything you’re asking for, they won’t apply

  • There is a myth circulating currently that education is of no value and that it is better to hire someone you like

  • The tech ecosystem is so massive, that if you haven’t got someone who has coded in the last 5 years, you might as well have got someone straight out of high school 

  •  There is a massive lack of training and on the supply side, techs are afraid of new stuff

CONCLUSION: Talent is NOT difficult to find

 

MYTH 2: YOU HAVE TO HIRE FOR CULTURAL FIT

 

  • Where does this mythology come from? It oozes of ego and inflexibility, and lack of awareness as to how diversity can benefit triple bottom line

  • One common mythological solution is to “hire people that can think” – but those people may be hard to find Another common mythological solution is to “just pay for it” – but there are still no unicorns

  • People don’t want to invest time or money into their employees – they’re expected (ubiquitously) to “hit the ground running” – the trouble is, they may be sprinting in the wrong direction 

  • HR tends to bring out fancy interview assessment scorecards, where the scoring sheet is far more important than a conversation with the candidate 

  • Often the candidate leaves the interview never having had the opportunity to showcase themselves, or set right an incorrect assumption

  • If you hire for fit, you may hire a room full of white guys and end up with a college dorm

  • The interview process is broken in general as the point of interviews has become to judge someone else and find them lacking – and scoring humans leads to all kinds of issues

  • Introverts and people on the spectrum are disproportionately attracted to tech, yet they fare the worst in scorecard interviews

  • Getting people to code while someone watches is a terrible idea, it’s not assessing coding, it’s assessing the ability to ignore micromanagement

  • Cultural fit is more about finding what enables people to work and be productive

  • There are enormous cultural barriers to finding a person-to-company match – e.g. in many cultures you don’t express opinions to superiors, let alone ask questions

  • Organizations need to explain what “cultural fit” even is (i.e. “open source”)

  • Culture is a value: Do you believe what I believe?

  • Diversity will lead both to innovation and to conflict – culture is what you do with differences in opinion or even conflict

  • “Commonsense is common, but culture is unique” – culture is not a one-size-fits-all measure

  • Ethics and conduct are private, so how do you talk about culture for a private company? 

  • There are some attempts to address culture on platforms such as Glassdoor

  • Small to medium-sized enterprises are often too resource-poor too cope with diversity

  • The set of features that goes into a culture is not easily definable

  • What is needed is cultural accommodation – it’s not a source of stress, it is a natural outcome of properly structured communication

  • Culture is not something you can agree on because it’s what emerges under stress

  • Culture needs to be stated in job description

  • Even in a company that has been intentional, there are a lot of cultures within the main corporate culture, like fit in a team where you buffer between company culture and team culture, which can be very different

  • Hiring managers try and ascertain values during the interview, but a person may be able to adapt – give them an opportunity. 

  • Hiring managers think they’re omniscient, that they can discern the cultural fit of a candidate

  • Personality compatibility is what people mistake for cultural fit – likeability is what is actually being evaluated

  • We interview, then send a recorded interview to the teams

CONCLUSION: Hiring for fit creates homogeneity and kills innovation

 

MYTH 3: YOU HAVE TO SPLIT SOFT SKILLS & TECH SKILLS

  • The proportion is position-dependent

  • DISC and other personality assessment tools can be helpful to set a baseline, but should not be used as a basis upon which to exclude or eliminate candidates

  • Our industry is full of prima donnas

  • Find opportunities for mavericks to be successful

  • Companies must provide training so that candidates will have an easier time adjusting

  • CTOs need to establish clear communication rules, but the rules must be flexible

  • Once you have the ability to accommodate, your candidate pool becomes much wider.

  • Soft skills are technical skills, the distinction is facile

CONCLUSION: Everyone thinks they are a great communicator, yet everyone has blind spots.

 

Everyone is in a hurry. But it is the shallow understanding of reality and insufficient analysis that results in myths and their perpetuation. As a CTO, if you don’t have a clear picture of what needs to be done and how to communicate that in an iterative fashion that’s open to diversity, you will have trouble retaining great talent even if you are able to find them.

 

CTOs must cultivate patience, and the ability to break down what is required into measurable elements. Not only new hires, but all contributors must have the psychological safety to communicate their understanding of each element and ask questions and be able to offer critique on an iterative basis. 

 

It is the role of the CTO to consider the feedback, and make sure that there is a fulsome understanding of each element and a way of accomplishing it. The time spent on role-play and readiness – walking through scenarios without actually doing them – will actually save time in the long run. CTOs can thus teach people to be self-managing, beginning with tools for tracking tasks and time. 

 

But rather than thinking this is a one-and-done, check in periodically and offer guidance on how to accomplish what they’re trying to do and listen to their concerns. It may come as a surprise, but listening is key.  Training, accommodation, and communication bring blind spots to light.