September 30, 2014

Seeking a Senior SysAdmin Job, Jorge Nerín Gets Certified

Jorge NerinFor 13 years Jorge Nerín worked on a three-person IT team for Leggio, a small company in Zaragoza, Spain. Then a multinational company bought the small business and dismantled it, leaving Nerín unemployed. He's now searching for a Senior System Administrator position in an interesting country so that his kids, ages 3 and 5, can grow up speaking a foreign language.

Nerín recently interviewed for such a job in Dublin, Ireland, but didn't get an offer. And so he decided to take the Linux Foundation Certified Engineer exam and work hard on updating his skills.

“I liked that it was a performance based test, just be dropped in the cli and complete the tasks,” he said via email, “and I could take it at home whenever I wanted.”

Here Nerín gives us more details on his job hunt, why he took the exam, what he thought of it, and his advice to anyone considering the Linux Foundation certification.

Where do you live and work? What do you do?

I'm currently living in Zaragoza (Spain) and I worked for 13 years for a company called Leggio. I was the sysadmin / perl programmer / bash script writer. We were a small company so the IT team was only just three people most of the time.

I used to manage all of our servers internal and external. We always thought that the best way to be fast and achieve a high number of "nines" was to depend mostly on our own hands. So we (well mostly me) managed all the services we can; DNS with a triad of external servers and a hidden master inside our office; inbound and outbound email with exim, cyrus, clamav, spamassassin, sieve filters, spf and dkim; and of course the webserver. We had a moderately busy website served with Varnish and Apache. I'm a big fan of Varnish. We switched from a 600-child Apache server with almost maxed cpu usage and maxed RAM to a Varnish + Apache with ample cpu to spare and an order of magnitude faster response times.

How long have you used Linux and how did you get started doing system administration?

Well, I began using Linux with a cd from a magazine with Red Hat 4.0 (Colgate, I still remember the codename), it was the year 1997 and I continued using Red Hat until I switched to Gentoo with 1.2. I have always had my own machine and a small home server to manage so by the time I began working at Leggio I already had several years of experience managing a home server to provide dialup access to Internet (we didn't have ADSL at home until 2000, the home network was running on 10Mb/s thin coaxial cable), squid proxy, ipchains firewall, and batch mail download with fetchmail to a local imap server and sending the queued one with sendmail. At that time I was also running the Tux in kernel webserver accelerator from Ingo Molnar. I used it for my own webserver from kernels 2.0.x until 2.2.x, perhaps even 2.4.x. So I had experience putting things in front of Apache.

When I started at Leggio it was natural that I inherited the servers to manage. They were running various versions of SUSE, and it continued with SUSE until it was too cumbersome to do more "halt the world, it's distro upgrade time" stops. So I suggested that we could migrate to Gentoo, being it a rolling release there were no big hiccups, only daily / weekly maintenance.

To this day I'm still running Linux at home (still Gentoo), but loving the setup speed Debian gives me when playing with virtual machines or Docker.

How did you get to where you are today?

Now I'm unemployed, and two months after I left Leggio a Google recruiter contacted me regarding a SRE (Site Reliability Engineer) position in Dublin. At that time I was looking to work remotely for a foreign company because I had been working remotely most of the last four years at Leggio and I really appreciated the increase it brought to our quality of life. So that's the kind of job I was looking for, and then out of the blue I get offered a SRE position in Dublin. I talked with my wife about it, and we decided to bite the bullet and go for it, so I went through a very lengthy process with Google with several telephone interviews until I was invited to an onsite interview in Zürich. I didn't get an offer but at that time we had decided that we didn't like the current situation in Spain and we would like to relocate to a foreign country with a good education system so our kids would learn a foreign language since childhood.

I've been using these months learning new tools that I haven't used previously like Hadoop, or just "modernizing" my toolset. For example, I used Munin a lot, and now I'm going to migrate my infrastructure to Graphite. I also have a Cubietruck (arm) server that I test a lot of things with. And of course I spend most of my useful time looking for interesting offers in interesting places and researching about them.

Why did you decide to get certified by the Linux Foundation?

I saw a post in Google+ by The Linux Foundation about the new Linux Certification Program, it seemed interesting, and then I saw the price, so I registered. I liked that it was a performance based test, just be dropped in the cli and complete the tasks, and also that I could take it at home whenever I wanted.

What, if anything, did you do to prepare for the exam?

Not much really, I looked at the Overview of Domains and Competencies and just installed Ubuntu (that's the distro I choose for my exam) and completed everything I could think of about these subjects. Two times. The second one timing me to see if I could do it in under two hours.

What did you think of the exam?

It wasn't too difficult at all, just a few tasks with some bullets on each one. The thing I'm still thinking that needs more explanations is the evaluating part. I would have really liked to know what criteria do they use to score the solutions.

What surprised you, or stood out about the exam? (Did it meet your expectations?)

It was much shorter and basic than I expected. It was seven questions and none particularly difficult at all. I was given two hours and I think it's plenty of time to complete it.

Do you have any advice for anyone considering taking the exam to get certified?

Uhm, I think what matters in this kind of exam is experience, but I'm sure this one can be done just with some practicing.

What are you hoping to do with the certification, now that you have it?

I have been doing a lot of job interviews in the lasts months, some were fine and fun, but others were just plain absurd, with questions like:

- What command gives you a list of processes?

- ps

- And do you know any interactive ones?

- top, htop, atop.

This were real questions for a senior linux sysadmin position. I hope to avoid these kind of questions in the interviews and jump directly to the interesting sections.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Overall I liked the experience, I think this kind of exam is a very valid one, at least in this field, and I really hope it's a success.

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