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“What is your Biggest Weakness?” The Classic Interview Question.

The Bobs

This is the point where we all lie and list a strength and tell the interviewer that our biggest weakness is that we just work too darn hard or some other such tripe. To be honest, I don’t know why they ask this question and what they really expect for an answer.

However, I will freely admit one of mine here. I love to code. When given a project such as a difficult report, I will often start writing code. This is especially true if I anticipate the code will be difficult or tricky.

How is a love of coding a weakness? Well, it’s because when I do this I often end up coding the same project several times. Why does this happen? One of the reasons it happens is that I often put the logic into my SQL script when that should be done in the presentation layer.

Always begin a report project with the delivery medium in mind.

When a user asks me for year to date incoming sales for customers in Dallas, TX my brain spits out the following:

SELECT SOM.fcustno AS [Customer Number]
     , sum(SOR.forderqty * SOR.funetprice) AS [Net Amount Ordered]
FROM M2MDATA01.dbo.soitem SOI
      INNER JOIN M2MDATA01.dbo.sorels SOR
      ON (SOI.fsono = SOR.fsono)
AND      (SOI.finumber = SOR.finumber)
     INNER JOIN M2MDATA01.dbo.somast SOM
     ON (SOM.fsono = SOI.fsono)
WHERE ltrim(rtrim(SOM.FCITY)) = 'Dallas'
AND   ltrim(rtrim(SOM.FSTATE)) = 'TX'
AND   year(SOM.FORDERDATE) = year(getdate())
GROUP BY SOM.fcustno

However, this is not what I need. If you review the above code, you will notice that I only pulled totals per customer number. What if the user wants to be able to drill down into particular customers and see which products they are purchasing? I need to list all the sales for these companies and then group in the presentation layer, in this case Crystal Reports. Therefore the user will be able to drill down into the data, while at the same time seeing their subtotals. Re-writing this short script is trivial, but many of them are not.

Just for reference the script I would use for this would be something like:

SELECT SOM.FSONO as [Sales No]
     , SOM.FCUSTNO as [Cust No]
     , SOM.FCOMPANY as [Company Name]
     , SOM.FCUSTPONO as [Cust PO No]
     , SOR.FENUMBER AS [Item No]
     , SOR.FPARTNO AS [Part No]
     , SOR.FORDERQTY AS [Qty Ord]
     , SOR.FUNETPRICE AS [Net Price]
     , (SOR.FORDERQTY * SOR.funetprice) AS [Net Amount Ordered]
FROM M2MDATA01.dbo.soitem SOI
      INNER JOIN M2MDATA01.dbo.sorels SOR
      ON (SOI.fsono = SOR.fsono)
AND      (SOI.finumber = SOR.finumber)
     INNER JOIN M2MDATA01.dbo.somast SOM
     ON (SOM.fsono = SOI.fsono)
WHERE ltrim(rtrim(SOM.FCITY)) = 'Dallas'
AND   ltrim(rtrim(SOM.FSTATE)) = 'TX'
AND   year(SOM.FORDERDATE) = year(getdate())

Anyway, coding before planning is one of my biggest weaknesses. What is yours?

Just for fun, I am going to tag Brent Ozar and Jorge Segarra. I hope they’ll answer this questino as well as tag others in the SQL Blogosphere.

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15 comments to “What is your Biggest Weakness?” The Classic Interview Question.

  • When working for my previous employer I did a lot of ad hoc reporting all the time. Your Excel Hell post doesn’t even begin to come close, I assure you. But it was a Fortune 500 company full of some of the most computer savvy people company-wide that I’ve ever worked with. So when someone there told me they wanted a report that showed A, B, and C, then that’s exactly what they wanted and they wanted.

    The company I work for now though is a very small town, old school sort of company where the majority of our users aren’t entirely sure what the full functionality of copy and paste are. I’m not trying to insult my coworkers here, it’s just the truth of the situation; the majority of the people here just aren’t used to using computers for anything beyond email. So when they ask for a report they generally have only a very small idea of what they need and have no idea how to manipulate the data that you give them. Bob the Salesman might prefer his reports formatted one way while Sally in Accounting wants hers completely different.

    That creates the problem of me finishing a report and then having them come back three or four times asking for things to be moved, added to, removed from, scrapped and rebuilt, etc. I do exactly what you tell me to, not necessarily exactly what you want me to because I’m so used to that being the need.

    So my biggest weakness is probably going to be expressed best by saying that I often process user requests like a computer would (giving you exactly what you asked for) rather than processing it like the user themselves would.

  • Jen

    Something I’ve realized recently while working on this Access project…

    My first instinct is to code everything myself. Even if there are built in tools I could use, I don’t really trust them and it’s quicker for me to bypass their frustrating limitations (query builder anyone?). So yeah, I can make a great product this way, but when it’s time to pass it off to someone else, they have no idea how to maintain it. All they see is the frontend stuff, and the last place they think to look is in the vba. It’s there and well documented, but it’s not the way Access intends their product to be used.

    So, I guess I’d say that my weakness is that I overthink things, spend too much of a scarce resource (i.e., my time) on customizing a product to be “just so”, and I provide uber functionality at the expense of maintainability down the road.

    Then again…these are all reasons why a company should hire me, but make it worth my while to stay a long time :)

  • Jen, may I suggest some reading for you?

    http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/001172.html

    I would recommend that you start at the beginning of Jeff Atwood’s blog and as time permits look at his entire archive. I have and it’s excellent reading for those who write code.

  • [...] (Blog – Twitter) started a new game of blog tag by asking the classic interview question, “What is your biggest weakness?” I got a chuckle out of David’s answer – he loves to jump straight into code as soon as [...]

  • [...] is Your Biggest Weakness? David Stein started a fun little game of blog tag and zapped Brent Ozar who, in turn, zapped me. The challenge [...]

  • [...] the challenge at me, the challenge coming to him by way of Brent Ozar who himself was tagged by David Stein. This is starting to remind me a bit of the episode of Futurama where Fry becomes King by drinking [...]

  • [...] was just tagged by Brent Ozar with this latest blog tag session that harkens to an enclave, a phone, and the worst interview for a volunteer position I’ve [...]

  • [...] David Stein, Brent Ozar, Jeremiah Peschka Share and Enjoy: [...]

  • [...] Stein (Blog – Twitter) started a chain post the other day titled “What is your Biggest Weakness?” The Classic Interview Question. He tagged Brent Ozar (Blog – Twitter) who tagged Thomas LaRock (Blog – Twitter) who then tagged [...]

  • Wow, I’m overwhelmed by all the tagging activity with this post and amazed at what some of them wrote. I urge my readers to follow the track backs and read other’s opinions as well.

    I have a similar article pending in a week or so with a tagging them as well.

  • [...] I was enjoying being an audience to the “greatest weakness” posts going around in the latest meme. This time it was started by David Stein who blogs (quite regularly) over at Made2Mentor.com in his post, “What is your biggest weakness? – The Classic Interview Question”. [...]

  • [...] Someone went off and started asking people what their greatest weaknesses are, then someone else decided to pass the question my way. Perhaps those someones’ weaknesses are curiosity… Still, since everyone else is revealing their darkest secrets, I’ll give it a go as well. [...]

  • [...] almost did that with this question. Jeremiah Peschka (blog, twitter) tagged me with a question that David Stein [...]

  • Great article!

    I wrote a blog post on answering the “What’s your biggest weakness?” question. It’ll help those who struggle with this common interview question.

    http://blog.seattleinterviewcoach.com/2009/01/how-to-answer-what-is-your-biggest.html

    - Seattle Interview Coach

  • [...] I was enjoying being an audience to the “greatest weakness” posts going around in the latest meme. This time it was started by David Stein who blogs (quite regularly) over at Made2Mentor.com in his post, “What is your biggest weakness? – The Classic Interview Question”. [...]

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