Actuate Programming Journal

Report design from a guy who thinks he knows what he’s doing; you decide . . . .

Actuate Interviewer Questions

with 4 comments

I struggled over the wording of the title. Then decided I would leave as is and simply clarify in the body.

These are questions I ask you when I interview you for an Actuate Report Designer position at the company I work for not questions you should ask as the interviewee.

My role in these interviews has always been in the “some of our technical guys would like to talk with you” capacity. I am most definitely not the descision maker, so I can’t say that proper responses to the following questions will result in new and improved employment for you. But if you can’t answer them, you should scrape off any adjectives on your resume that indicate you are more than a noob.

If you happen to be an HR person or manager doing the interview sans “those tech guys” the accuracy of the answers provided is less important than the clarity and confidence of replies.

In this order:

Verbally walk me through the construction of a simple Actuate report. I invite the candidate to alternately describe the creation of a recent report they worked on. The nuts and bolts answer is that they add a Report Section, a Connection, Datastream, DataRow, most likely a Group Section, a Frame and a few display controls. I want them to at least talk me through the three categories of Actuate components and how they contribute to the report: Data, Structure, and Display.

Anyone that has been working on Actuate for over a year ought have created enough reports to answer this without hesitation. If they can’t, then I don’t know what they have been doing with their time. Suprisingly, in the 15 or so people I have interviewed over the years, not one has given me a satisfactory answer. But, I don’t focus on the correctness or accuracy of the reply as much as the organization and confidence.

A good developer will be able to immediately describe something at this point. Whether it’s on target or not, they will not stumble around clearly making up information. The response could be long or short, but it will be well delivered. Most times even the best devolve into desacribing a single interesting part of a report they have built. THis is good in its own way, because it allows them to detail the construction of something they are proud of doing. If this does happen, listen to how the candidate responded to the challenges and how the resolved the problems.

I have heard numerous so-called experts ramble off on trails so bleak that it makes you wonder if they even know what Actuate does. Imagine driving for a year and not being able to name the parts of a car you use to go from your house to the mall.

Name a report component that you consider to be representative of a complex report. Again, no correct answer here. Though plenty you won’t want to hear because they indicate a low level of experience (frames, . What compent they pick and how they describe it as indicative of complexity will tell you where the lie on the spectrum of skill. I personally think that a Memory Data Sorter is the cutoff to the world of complex reports–it has been in my experience. But others might think that a Sequential Section or a Parallel Section is the cutoff. Another great one would probably be a Multiple Input Filter.

Just because a candidate doesn’t produce what you think of as a hallmark of complexity doesn’t mean they don’t have the skills you are looking for, nor does it mean they are neccessarily junior developers.

The trouble here is that Actuate reporting is so insular that a person could be an expert and never have used one of the above–I have never used a MIF for example. So, again the quality of the answer, the communication skills, are what you are after. Do they float around unable to name a component at all or do the immediately offer up a component by name and start explaining why?

What are the differences between an Actuate Group Section and a SQL Group By within a report? The answer to this is the only one that can be truly incorrect or correct. But this is not a trivia question designed to poke the interviewee in the eye. You can decide for yourself, but I believe that if a candidate has a deep understanding of reporting and Actuate reporting in particular they will be able to produce these correct answer.

An Actuate Group Section will group similar records together by a key field. A query pulling all the records from a table with 100 records and grouping by State or Province will still display 100 records on the report. No data is lost or aggregated.

By contrast, a SQL Group By will aggregate data being pulled from a table. Grouping By State or Province will result in somewhere less than 100 records being delivered to the report. The results most likely will be 5 records containing a count and the state name: Texas-20; Oklahoma-10; Maine-5, California-25, and Delaware-40. A Group By processes the data and creates new information about that original data.

When talking about Actuate Group Sections a good candidate will tell you that the Order By clause of the SQL is more directly related to Group Section controls.

Describe the relative contribution that SQL and Actuate make to the resulting report. This is a glimpse into my personal design patterns about as much as it is about the interview. Oh well. I personally believe and constantly say to my co-workers that Actuate is for making stuff look pretty.

When I develop a new report I start with the SQL first. Make sure the SQL does nearly everything I need from selecting data, to creating fields, to filtering records. I like to do it this way because it gives me one place to find the logic the customer wants.

If a candidate dismisses the contribution of SQL to the overall report then they don’t have the skills you are looking for to implement your solutions.

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Written by Douglas

20061110 at 11:21 am

Posted in Actuate, Employment

4 Responses

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  1. […] I claimed to be no expert in the last post (which mysteriously was lost and I have to recreate someday) and I will maintain that lack of expertise in this post as well–only more so. I have not gotten a job based on any of the questions listed below, but they are the ones that I think are worth asking. […]

  2. What sorts of questions do you think should be asked of Actuate infrastructure administrator interviewees …?

    Phil

    20061218 at 19:42 pm

  3. @Phil…

    Since you posted this same question in both this post on what an interviewee should ask a prospective employer as well as over at this post about what an interviewer should ask a prospective employee, I assume you’re interested in the mirror image of my comments over there rather than the same answer.

    Happily, they are basically the same. Sadly, I don’t have the same level of introspection for admin candidate questions as I do for developers.

    As an employer I think you will want to know what kind of experience a candidate has had with:
    -upgrading an Actuate install. The server suite, not the IDE
    -backing up and restoring experience
    -user and role management
    -how large an environment a person has administered
    -what sorts of leadership skills they possess

    I might phrase these things in this way:
    -Describe what you consider to be daily tasks for an Actuate Administrator.
    -What’s the most unusual task you have had to perform as an administrator? Fishing for not only th task, but also the way it was handled.
    -How territorial do you consider yourself?
    -Under what conditions do you find yourself supporting the defined processes? When do you bend those rules and why?
    -Do you have any experience modifying the portal?

    Douglas

    20061219 at 09:02 am

  4. […] a recruiter that found your articles on Interviewer|Interviewee […]


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