[Courses] Running A Business- Starting a Company

L J Laubenheimer ljl at rahul.net
Sat Aug 31 18:55:56 EST 2002

Kai MacTane wrote:

> After getting in a few people whose résumés looked good, but who seemed 
> in interviews to be hiding a basic lack of understanding of Unix, we 
> decided to come up with a set of questions to ask incoming interviewees. 

I hate trivia tests... I can't keep certain detail stuff in my head.

> They started off pretty easy, things any Unix sysadmin should be able to 
> answer -- "What are the standard Unix runlevels, and what do they mean? 
> How do you change the default runlevel on a system?", or " -- 

I would have blown your test at the first question, and I've worked with unix 
for 8 years, and done sysadmin for 2+.

Why?  Several reasons: 1) different unix variants have slightly different run 
level numbering (I've been bitten by this). 2) I don't remember numbers - but 
what they do (and only those that are the most often used).  I would remember 
S, but not 0-5 (or 1-6).  Two, changing the runlevels on a system is also 
variant specific, and can be a pain in the butt if you are starting at the 
wrong level.  "man init" is where I'd start, to refresh my sucky memory (and 
BSD is different).

With memory difficulties, I never trust my memory except for basics.  I will 
easier remember something at the keyboard than in an interview, and if I have 
any doubt about my memory, I'll look it up.  I have a notebook that I've 
written my most often referenced commands (and options) in.

1) Because the shutdown syntax is just a little different between variants, I 
often have to look it up when I'm in a mixed environment.  (e.g. Solaris, 
RedHat, NetBSD, IRIX, HP-UX, Debian.)  After about ten or so shutdowns, I'll 
start to be able to recall which machine takes which format.

2) After all this time programming perl (since 1998), I still have to look up 
the exact syntax and punctuation of the "open" command (for files), and I use 
that far more often than the "init" command in Unix.  Fortunately, I know how 
to use my references rapidly.

3) I need to look up differences between shell scripting languages - 
especially for path specifications.  Between csh, sh, bash, and DOS (.bat 
files are shell scripts), I need my references to keep them straight - 
otherwise I mix syntaxes in an unholy mess that doesn't run.

> and ranged 
> on up to specific problems we'd actually seen in the real word, with the 
> questions being things like "What steps would you take to diagnose and 
> solve this problem?"

That I'd actually do better at, as long as you didn't want details and 
punctuation of the commands.

I had one HR phone screener ask me a bunch of unix trivia questions: one was 
"how do you multiply two numbers on the command line"  I was stumped.  I use a 
calculator, not a system command line.  If I need to do it in a shell script, 
I assign it to a variable, etc.  The rest of the questions were the same type 
of trivia.  Then the woman said, very snottily, "I don't think we have 
anything suitable for you."  I am still furious.  She asked me *nothing* that 
had to do with the job.  Just pointless arcane trivia.

Asking a sysadmin to list all of the options for the tar command, or things 
like that, shuts out people who don't (or in my case can't) memorize trivia, 
some of whom are perfectly good sysadmins.

Whenever someone asks me "what command do I type to do X", I will answer, but 
tell them to look up the specifics and usage, because my memory isn't 
reliable, and I know it (and allow for it).

Linda J Laubenheimer - UNIX Geek, Sysadmin, Bibliophile and Iconoclast
http://www.modusvarious.com/ - consultants available
http://www.laubenheimer.net/ - personal demo site
http://www.geocities.com/laubenheimer/ - web design gaffes (I wouldn't
disgrace a real ISP with these) and rants about bad design.

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