What's the meaning of this seemingly nebulous phrase?
October 22, 2012 11:15 PM   Subscribe

What does it mean to "know Linux"?

I often see the phrase "know Linux" being used as a job requirement, but what does this actually mean? Being able to write shell scripts, familiarity with shell commands, being able to take a text file formatted a certain way and and manipulate the data it has in whatever way you want, that sort of a thing? Being able to work with very stripped down Linux distros such as ArchLinux as if they were windows? The fact that I'm having to ask this question in the first place probably means that I don't "know Linux", but I'd like to.
posted by bookman117 to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It depends a lot on the role of the job. If it's for web development, it likely means "set up the web stack by yourself." If it's a DBA position, it means doing your DBA thing on Linux--setting up multiple servers, configuring failover, etc. It means doing your job within the context of Linux, without impediment or needing assistance.
posted by fatbird at 11:43 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I could see that being the sort of thing my current company might write on a job description, and here's what it would mean:

- Comfortable in the shell and with some text editor.

- Comfortable with day to day simple sysadmin stuff, like knowing how the file system is laid out, knowing how to troubleshoot things, knowing how to compile and install things.

- Don't need an encyclopedic knowledge of shell scripting, GNU tools, or of any programming language, but you should know what's available and be familiar enough that you can automate simple tasks given some time to look at documentation.

If the company in question isn't being more specific, that would suffice to "know Linux" in my opinion.
posted by value of information at 11:46 PM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'd say it varies with the job. "Knowing Linux" would be different for a development position than for a data entry position that incidentally uses Linux. At a minimum, you'd need to be able to navigate the filesystem, access and edit files, create/move/copy/delete files, possibly ssh to other computers; all on the command line. At another level, you should be able to mount, unmount, and format filesystems; read and interpret system statistics; install programs with package management and manually; configure certain services and programs; and so on.

You'll really have to make a guess based on the job description.
posted by WasabiFlux at 11:46 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Probably, whoever wrote "Knows Linux" on the job requirement page is a HR staff person with less knowledge of Linux than you have; similarly, the person who's gonna interview you will likely be in the same position.

Odds are, someone in the organisation that you're thinking of applying for "knows linux", but you'll probably only meet this person once you've gotten the job, so...

WasabiFlux seems to have the right of it.
posted by DemographicLanguage at 2:10 AM on October 23, 2012

I'm the person at my (small) company who 'knows Linux'. But compared to most people who use Linux, I barely know it at all. And of course now many versions of Linux have a desktop. So I generally do all my file-management via the desktop - it's what I'm familiar with. I open a terminal to do command-line things as required, usually by following guides online, because left to my own devices I find I can't even remember the command to copy a file. The sorts of things I've managed to do include: installing the OS, installing Apache, Tomcat, MySQL, PHP etc., configuring a basic RAID, and so on. I would never trust myself to set up a server that was going to be accessible from the outside world - we outsource all of our hosting and security stuff to a company that specialises in doing that. OSes don't really interest me, so I don't have the enthusiasm that some people do for the command-line. And despite all of those limitations, I feel I 'know Linux' well enough to do my job as a web application developer; the important thing is knowing when and where to ask for help.
posted by pipeski at 2:59 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

WasabiFlux: "At another level, you should be able to mount, unmount, and format filesystems; read and interpret system statistics; install programs with package management and manually; configure certain services and programs;"

Unless we're talking about a sysadmin role, these skills are what, IMO, separate the wheat from the chaff. You should be able to know how to do things like install Python, manage the extensions on an Apache server, or figure out why some app can't reach your MySQL db.

You should also be able to describe the relationship between a filesystem's mount points and physical/virtual hardware, and quickly answer, "How well, or not, is this server running?"
posted by mkultra at 7:33 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with value of information and WasabiFlux.

From the other side of the table, if someone I was hiring claimed the "know linux", I would expect them to be familiar enough with most of the stuff in first dozen chapters of the UNIX and Linux System Administration Handbook that they could at least tell me what man pages to look at for a given topic.

Do you know the filesystem layout well enough to know where to poke around for a given config or log file? Do you know the shell, redirection, pipes, basic shell scripting? Do you know about file permissions, users, groups, and privilege elevation? Do you know how to set up a cron job? What do you do if the box is having a performance problem (i.e.--know about ps, top, kill, renice, /proc, etc.)? Do you have basic proficiency with vim or emacs?

I wouldn't necessarily expect such a person to have in-depth knowledge about Postfix, iptables, bind, and so forth.
posted by paulg at 9:35 AM on October 23, 2012

By asking those questions in an attempt to clarify, I've already formed the opinion that you know more about Linux than whoever wrote the job requirements.
posted by vsync at 4:17 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

For these types of job descriptions, being "Linux Certified" goes a long way towards standing out on a resume to get an interview, even if the cert has nothing to do with what they'll really need. For more descriptive/focused job descriptions (ie. Linux Sysadmin) not so much, but can offer an edge. Redhat and LPI are decent certs to go for if interested in learning more about Linux while also getting something to show for it. My assumption would be however, they're asking for "good knowledge of" rather than an exact proficiency...you seem to have a decent grasp on jargon language already so it might still be worth a shot. It might even help save time calling the company (even anonymously) to get more information on what they're really asking for there.
posted by samsara at 5:20 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

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