Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Linux Job Interview from hell.

*I've been an (very) amateur linux enthusiast since 1999 and a profesional linux admin for 5+ years*


**Hi Redditors and Hacker News people, I got a huge amount of comments on specifics about the interview, like what the questions were, etc, I have since written that information here http://bsdpunk.blogspot.com/2011/03/questions-and-aftermath.html . **

So what do you do, when you've been bested? When you have been so wholly destroyed in an interview, it shakes you to your core. When you get about thirty percent of the questions right, and you can't blame anyone but yourself. It was a face to face interview, and when the interviewer saw you struggle, and you were on the right track he helped, in the capacity he could without giving you an answer.


A two hour face to face interview with only technical questions. No way to ease out of this one, no excuse. "The multiple choices was obscure", "The wording was wrong", "When would I ever need to know that." All those justifications were thrown out the window. It was no use to hold on my pride.
I had my skin ripped off me. I thought I was somebody, I thought I new Linux like the back of my hand. But more importantly I recognized, for the first time in the long time, that I knew very little. I'd like to blame the product of my environment. That for the past 6 or so months, I've had no coworkers, or friends in the field, to truly talk to, or compare notes. Only the occasionally tweet exchange with strangers. Or that I've been working in a windows environment for about the same amount of time. But this isn't the fault, this isn't why, it was my arrogance.

I've always done well in interviews, all types of interviews, but when it comes to tech interviews, they've always been like candy from a baby. Not this one. So I am going to lay some things down for you.


What did I do wrong? To start with, which is only the beginning. I didn't review the basics, you know stuff you learned in school, or just dicking around with Linux. So simple questions about the kernel boot process, stuff I hadn't though about in a while, because I was used to just booting machines in the cloud and setting them up with automated scripts I wrote, hadn't thought about the boot process in a while. Stuff like runlevels and signals, I know what they are, I know how to Google them, but I don't have exact memories, I know kill -9 is force and normal kill and ctrl-d are ask the program to quit....can I explain it more technical than that, apparently not.


I missed questions I knew but forgot the answers to, like the difference between asymmetric and symmetric encryption. I just forgot the terminology, cause I didn't even glance at a book; I had this thing in the bag I thought. If he would have asked me to describe PKI, I would have pwned that question like Charlie Miller, chowns a mac. But he didn't, I was lost.


I missed questions I didn't know the answers to, and had thought were irrelevant....until he explained the answers to me.
I even asked him to ask me questions on things I thought I knew, like rsync, and was humiliated worse than Ben Stiller in any of his movies. After being grilled on why I would use the v, I knew it was over.


After all this frustration, I had the audacity to get in an argument about UDP which I hadn't fully thought out, and of course my argument was crushed, and ultimately wrong to begin with. (I assure you at this point I had already crashed and burned so hard this was not a deciding factor in me being hired).


Did I go in with the wrong attitude? No, I don't think so. I just wasn't technically skilled enough for the position, I had a belief that, I can survive in any position as long as I'm given enough lee way for a couple of weeks so that didn't scare me off.


I'm going to say 99% of the failure of this interview was my fault, I wasn't skilled enough, and I didn't prepare, as I should. I would like to fault someone else for the other 1%, a recruiter who buffed my resume without my knowledge, sending me in the dragons den with embellished, if not downright false information, with my resume.... rewritten to serve his needs.






I'll follow this up with how I am going to remedy my skillset/interview/recruiter policy in the next few days.


EDIT: Ctrl-D is actually end of file, thanks to the peeps at hacker news. Please keep reporting inaccuracies and I will fix them as they are found.

24 comments:

sen said...

Ouch dude...

Seth Miller said...

I've been there too. I usually crush interviews. I even crushed my first Google interview which was tough but not as tough as the second where I got owned hard.

It's really hard to push yourself without a mentor. You might check out the mentor program from LOPSA.

https://lopsa.org/mentor

I haven't checked it out but it seems like a good idea.

The best interviews I've ever had have been hands on. Rackspace did this to me years ago and I loved it. They gave me a box to SSH into and fix random problems with Apache, MySQL, Postfix, etc. I could Google if I wanted to but they watched my keystrokes in real time so it was obvious when I got stuck and when I knew something by heart. Very hard to fake and very realistic if done well.

27183 said...

Hey look, if it was as bad as you say, then the guy who did that to you for 2 hours with no let up, with no faked excuse to end the interview, with no face to face discussion of why the interview is being cut short is a complete and total douchebag.

Your crime is not knowing 100,000% of unix.

That's not really a crime, nor does it make you a poor choice for many unix/developer positions.

Your description of the interview makes your interviewer a poor choice for human being.

27183 said...

Hey look, if it was as bad as you say, then the guy who did that to you for 2 hours with no let up, with no faked excuse to end the interview, with no face to face discussion of why the interview is being cut short is a complete and total douchebag.

Your crime is not knowing 100,000% of unix.

That's not really a crime, nor does it make you a poor choice for many unix/developer positions.

Your description of the interview makes your interviewer a poor choice for human being.

Joar Wandborg said...

Ha! I knew that ^D is EOF.

This makes me think that I would have succeeded :|

dwlegg said...

Proverbs 15:31 He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. (NIV84)

Jayro said...

ouch... Better luck next time man.

Andres said...

Congratulations for sharing that. The biggest lesson I got from University was on a face to face exam and I was covering my mouth with my hand the whole time while the teacher was posing the questions... he stopped speaking and told me that if I continued with that body language he already knew I had no idea I was talking about.

Andres said...

Congratulations for sharing that. The biggest lesson I got from University was on a face to face exam and I was covering my mouth with my hand the whole time while the teacher was posing the questions... he stopped speaking and told me that if I continued with that body language he already knew I had no idea I was talking about.

Joël said...

Can you give us a few examples of the questions you were asked?

glacius said...

SO now what are you going to do to make sure it does not happen again?

haywire said...

Can you list as many questions as you can remember?

Snot said...

Any chance you could post some of the questions? I feel with you and feel that it could have been me... I google a lot :)

TioDuke said...

Never underestimate the value of formal (academic) education.

In my opinion, the best thing for you to do, would be to go after a Linux sysadmin cerification. The value of that would not be on the certification itself (though it could help having one) but on the preparation: it would make yourself ask many questions and then you will truly learn.

Eric Gavaletz said...

As disappointing as it may be to not do well in an interview I applaud your attitude. I hear of too many kids blaming the "system" for keeping them down and not recognizing their genius... That type of attitude is not productive and will make unemployed disgruntled ex-IT guys. I think it is a byproduct of the "everyone gets a trophy" attitude in the schools today, but that is another topic for another time.

In short regardless of the outcome of the interview your perspective will lead you to improve your skills and whether they were sufficient before or not -- you will be better for it in the end.

I applied to Google last year and bombed... The worst part was that one of the interviewers had written a very prominent paper in my field of research. Instead of calling him names and getting bent out of shape, I took charge of my destiny and learned from the experience. For the next interview I spent time reviewing syntax, basics and studying the Google code style guides. It made all the difference, and the difference was not in what I knew or could accomplish but that I was not stressing about trying to remember little things and was able to highlight what I actually know. I will be starting in a few weeks working on a project with Google Research.

Good luck, and don't let the disgruntled jilted IT group pull you in. Obviously you are better than that and you can use this experience to land a better job.

marcus said...

I totally think I would be pwned just like you in such an interview, although I've also been sysadministering with linux professionnally since 1999.

Two possible explanations: I am self-taught in IT, with very few training, except for windows :(

I have almost always been the only sysadmin at the place I worked.

I can figure out my way almost everywhere, but it always takes more time than with someone better traines, I guess.

Hope you're not too disappointed for not having the job.

marcus said...

I totally think I would be pwned just like you in such an interview, although I've also been sysadministering with linux professionnally since 1999.

Two possible explanations: I am self-taught in IT, with very few training, except for windows :(

I have almost always been the only sysadmin at the place I worked.

I can figure out my way almost everywhere, but it always takes more time than with someone better traines, I guess.

Hope you're not too disappointed for not having the job.

z said...

Giving quizzes that contain detailed technical questions is not a productive way to conduct an interview and its a poor way to search for talent. I strongly disagree with this interviewers method and I have walked out of more than one interview that was conducted this way.

A few technical questions is ok but an interview should not be a mid-term exam. Instead, an interview should focus on the aaplicants resume and questions should be along the lines of work history, applicants involvement in those projects and details about the tools and technologies used.

Do not feel bad. Under this guys interviewing technique, someone directly out of college (and just finished his final exams) is more qualified than you, someone who has been "amateur linux enthusiast since 1999 and a profesional linux admin for 5+ years."

U didnt get pwned man, you got schooled by some guy who probably has an inferior complex and studied his ass off the night before because he knew he had to give a quiz (interview) the next day.

Mark said...

Sounds like a pretty crappy interview to be honest. I could care less if someone walks in and doesn't know the v option for rsync. Um, that's WTF "man rsync" is for.

But when I ask about what kind of monitoring and configuration deployment they've used(and why) and get a blank look, THEN I know the interview is over.

A good admin isn't an encyclopedia of knowledge. It's someone who understands the real challenges of working with systems in a production environment and has a background of dealing with those challenges.

sandwormusmc said...

Take it as a learning experience. I interviewed with Google twice (once they flew me out to Santa Monica, once over the phone) and I felt like a failure. The more interviewing you do, the better you'll get at it, and just understand that now you know the topics you have to brush up on.

Good luck!

bsdpunk said...

I put the questions I could remember on the next blog post.

eydaimon said...

Since no one else has said it yet ...

kill -9 is not force.

A kill sends a sigterm to the process whereas kill -9 sends a kill to the underlying operating system. It's a very hard kill where the software itself has no chance to exit gracefully.

Bianca said...

Never, ever, screw up your interview - even when you have better options. Who knows, you may want to work for that company some day. To do well, download software programs such as JobPad. This works wonders, I can assure you!

Kye said...

owned.