Unix interview questions and what is never answered by asking them

Many years ago I was an “anti-globalization” activist.  I hated that term.  I was not anti-globalization at all, in fact I love being connected to the world and I want there to be more connection with others, not less.  I also do not oppose “Free Trade” at all, If Bob from London wants to sell a shirt to Randy in Winnipeg there is no reason at all that Randy in Vancouver should object and try to get Kate in Ottawa to make it more difficult for Randy to buy one of Bob’s shirts. (in my world all Canadians are named Randy and Kate).  What I was opposed to and still am is treaties dealing with commerce.  NAFTA and GATT were so big that people hardly read them.  The Congressmen did not read these because they were huge.  I remember reading that GATT, when printed out, would have required a member of congress to push a wheelbarrow filled with GATT so he could read it and know what he was voting for (which never happened).  We in the United States are obliged by our Constitution to adhere to treaties and anything that takes up a wheelbarrow full of paper is not something designed to set us or anyone else free.

For some reason police were really afraid of us.  We never hurt anyone.  Many people were vegans or “strict vegetarians” and they did not want to hurt anything that breathed at all.  I can therefore say that the Police, the FBI and all of those people did very poor work simply because they did not know what to ignore.  They treated everything as a “job” and that included harmless people who didn’t eat meat and whose biggest crime was refusing to wear deodorant in my rental car.  If they had ignored us perhaps they would have noticed men in flight schools across the United States wanting to learn how to fly, but not caring if they learned how to land, but they didn’t.

I thought about this scenario when doing phone screens for my job hunt.  Phone screens are needed as they filter out the fakers in the tech world but lately the questions have not been “what do you do in this situation?” which a real IT professional will be able to rattle off real anecdotes and examples, instead they want to know commands.  Unix and Linux have a lot of commands.  I have used commands for years, then not used them for a year and completely forgotten them.  This is fine when I am at a keyboard because all I do is enter “man -k” or “apropos” and then the topic of what I am looking for  and do a quick scan and then see something that triggers my memory like:

“man -k duplicate”

chkdupexe (1)        – find duplicate executables
dup (2)              – duplicate a file descriptor
dup2 (2)             – duplicate a file descriptor
dup3 (2)             – duplicate a file descriptor
FcPatternDuplicate (3) – Copy a pattern
FcStrCopy (3)        – duplicate a string
msguniq (1)          – unify duplicate translations in message catalog
strdup (3)           – duplicate a string
strdupa (3)          – duplicate a string
strndup (3)          – duplicate a string
strndupa (3)         – duplicate a string
wcsdup (3)           – duplicate a wide-character string

I would then remember that I used chkdupexe once to halt two executables from running at the same time and causing the CPU to be running at 99% and 100%.  My fingers are faster than my phone voice.  I can concentrate better when I am not taking an oral examination that requires specific answers.  If this question was asked on the phone and it required an exact answer from memory I would have hemmed and hawed and that would have been followed by failure.  If I was asked “how do you handle a race condition?” then I could talk on the many details of this subject and fill it with boring anecdotes.  But this is not a common problem. If a data center had to deal with race conditions all day long to the point where their IT staff had memorized how to handle this situation they would have much bigger problems looming in their future.

One question I would like to see asked everywhere is “How do you decide what to ignore?”.  Choosing to ignore something seems like an anathema since admitting you actively choose to ignore things is akin to sloth, but we ignore things all the time and all day long.  Right now I am ignoring my carpet and my sink, but that is passive ignoring.  If the doorbell rang now I would actively ignore it.  Not to be rude but because I know that the only people who ring my doorbell at this hour are members of this strange church who only speak Spanish and think that “Laying of hands” will cure me of my monolingualism.  I have better things to do than to open my door and have old women touch my face.

So twelve years ago we had law enforcement paying attention to terrorists who were not terrorists while ignoring the terrorists who really were terrorists and we probably also have people being hired in data centers who just know how to do well on tests but do not know how to work in a data center.

 

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