Linux People (part III?) How technical do you get?

August 20, 2009

Let’s pick a particular tech, Cacti. Cacti is a performance monitoring app commonly used in FOSS (free and open source software) environments. In order for it to be set up and configured properly, it usually needs an existing SNMP agent (to gather the stats) as well as a database (MySQL) to store the information.

So to start with I might include in the job description something to the effect of “experience with/knowledge of the implementation of Cacti and its associated services”. Do I go into more detail here? Can I without an inappropriate level of knowledge about the client’s infrastructure? What about a trigger comment in the requirements section fo the job description? Suppose I throw in something fairly specific and technical like: experience with Fedora EPEL repository for the deployment of packages on RHEL. Cacti takes a little bit more work to get up and running on RHEL as opposed to Ubuntu LTS, and in some cases it might be necessary to add files to an existing configuration. My guess is that a good Linux admin would actually call you out on this by saying something to the effect that such steps are only necessary in certain cases, so on and so forth. But that is exactly the kind of trigger effect we are going for, right?

Another question to ask is what kinds of questions are really fair and/or not leading (for the phone screen). If this candidate has a reasonable level of knowledge about using and configuring Cacti, he or she should know that that it uses MySQL on the back end.

But, as in most cases, an admin probably started work when most of the performance monitoring and optimization practices were already in place. So it might not be fair to ask if Cacti was originally installed using dbconfig-common, or by some other means. Then again, is it reasonable to assume that a competent Linux admin would know how to get everything back up and running, or at least make himself aware of the options?

I guess the most thorough strategy would be to keep teching until you get to the end of the candidate’s knowledge, but then again that is not always a practical option given the insane amount of knowledge and prep that would require.

More on this later…

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