It was an awesome honor to be asked to be a guest judge for Be The Next Microsoft Employee.  As noted in previous blogs on Be The Next, this is a great way to show the type of questions and problems we regularly face as Microsoft employees.   For more information, check out the show’s website or on Twitter #BeTheNext.

Challenge of the Day

By Day 3, everyone was getting into their groove though everyone was getting a bit tired too - a perfect time to throw in an ETL/BI solution. The key thing to remember about ETL / BI problems is that it’s not just about the coding or technical issues.  It’s about the ability to understand both the business and technical problems together, adapt to an ever-changing set of requirements, and the ability to communicate and describe both the problem and your proposed solution (and defend it).

 

Kick Start Challenge 3

The day we kicked off Episode 3 of Be the Next started off pretty much like any other day for me – debating with Buck Woody.  But this time, it was a lot more animated because of instead of emails and tweets – we actually got to debate face-to-face.

As you can tell, we’re a bunch of data nerds – so even the storage and distribution capacity of tacos and pizzas are fair game for debate.  It’s sort of like the Blackboard debates on “The Finder” between Sherman and Leo – but dorkier.

Source: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/the-finder?before=1336272841

Geez … So what about the challenge?

So after the needless distraction, it was time to get to work on judging all the contestants.  For starters, I wanted to call out that all the contestants did a great job.  Stacy was the catalyst for new ideas by drawing out and explaining an existing ETL/BI design.  Alex dove deep and provided the lower level details of how the processing would work.  Mike – being his “Turbo” self—did a great job explaining his solution and defending it.  But as noted above, ETL/BI solutions require all three facets of technical, business, and the ability to communicate it.

 

And Chris (appropriately named “SQL-Nova”) had ultimately won the day’s competition because he was able to do all three.  Crucially, he was able to communicate his solution through the use of color-coded block diagrams that allowed him to:

  • Call out all the business issues and show the technical solution to address them
  • Show the data flow between all of the different components
  • But most importantly, the ability to accurately defend his solution.

Even if there were problems with any individual component, the solution itself was never in question.

 

Discussion

The collaborative effort of all four contestants was great to see because no matter how good a person is, it’s important to remember that the best solutions are often collaborative efforts.  But Chris excelled because he was able to tackle all three facets (business, technical, and communication) that is prototypical of a great employee and anyone who is fighting daily SQL battles. 

This was so apparent that all three of us judges quickly agreed which each other on who won today’s competition.  Even with Buck and my tendency to debate with each over … anything… there was very little debate on who won the day!