08 June 2010

Learning from the PL/SQL Challenge

From the desktop of Steven Feuerstein

Working on the PL/SQL Challenge has been a humbling experience. If a person is familiar with my professional career, they probably would agree that I am good at writing and know PL/SQL well. So you'd think it would be a "no brainer" to write hundreds and hundreds of clear, unambiguous and interesting quizzes.


In fact, it has been a very, ahem, challenging experience - and also a learning experience. Not only have I been introduced to nuances of the Oracle technology stack with which I was not previously familiar, but I have also been reminded of how difficult it can be to construct sentences that have no ambiguity in them.

Here's the way one person put it: "You need to get better at writing the questions. Often they are ambiguous, I find and I've been writing PL/SQL for about 15 years. I'm not saying I know everything by a long shot, just that I find some of the questions and possible answers to be confusing."

Now, I suppose that we (Finn and I, the founders of the PL/SQL Challenge) could take the approach of "standing by" our quizzes and refusing to acknowledge the questions and criticism that come in, sometimes at a rapid clip. We could avoid talking about mistakes we have made.

We have decided, instead, to be as open as possible. If we mistake, we fix it (adjust scores, re-rank). We tell everyone what we are doing. We give a prize to the first person who identifies a mistake in a quiz. Along the way, we clarify our assumptions but also work on tightening up our language. Hopefully we also retain the trust of our players, many of whom have told us that they have greatly enjoyed the PL/SQL Challenge and learned much from it already, partly because it generates discussion on their team about PL/SQL capabilities.

So please do keep playing the quiz and continue to notify us of any problems you encounter with a quiz or with the website.

Warm regards, Steven

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