Ethicacy in Telephone Interview Answers


Aka: Googling during a phone interview

This is tangentally relevant to OpenBSD, you can safely ignore it and you’re life will not have missed anything. Take the road less travelled.

  • Ethics and IT
  • An example Ethical Dilemma
  • How many bits in a mac address
  • In Linux, what is the default signal sent by kill
  • Of the ps output what is the label D for
  • Summary

Ethics and IT

We continue to have some interesting discussions at work about the ethicacy of a lot of things we get around to in IT. For example, we’re the guys that are brought on by various departments and HR to assist them in forensic type stuff which sometimes goes into trolling through peoples archives on our backup tapes (email, documents, etc.)

The generalised ’ethos’ statement in the workplace seems to be:

if it’s legal, then you do it.

But we have an abundant list of recent and current Global Events of totally unethical behaviour dressed ’legal’ as defined by the conqueror to not be so enthralled by such simplistic misdirections.

An example Ethical Dilemma

Our ethical dilemma, within IT, for today was a phone interview I went through where purposeful trip-up questions were raised. Given time, some of the questions could possibly have been deduced, but why bother when you can easily Google/Bing to get your answer ?

Note: The field with a huge library of answers freely published online is IT (and fields where the IT crowd are fixated with, such as music, science fiction, and fantasy.)

The questions seem to have been good questions, in some manner, and definitely tripped me up because I didn’t know, but do the questions reveal comparability of skills, or abilities to search the web?

One of my univesity courses, an Accounting course, had an open book final course exam (the only one I’ve ever been in) and this was largely so students didn’t have to memorise any of the material, but if you didn’t understand the material, there wasn’t enough time to find answers and have it relevant to the problems in the exam.

Was this one of those problems ? Was my error in not asking / clarifying whether I could use [choice of favourite search engine]?

Hopefully you find the material educational in what it may be asking and how easy it is for IT personnel to find answers on the internet without having to memorise things. You still have to know your stuff to make use of the answers, but it is soo easy to find answers to IT things on the Internet these days.

Were these questions good IT questions ?

How many bits in a mac address

“Urgghhh, I don’t know. I recall when I read them in places, that they’re separated with colons, and theres something like four or more of them.”

What races through my mind: “How could I figure this out with-out Googling?”

I’m talking with the interviewer that I’m trying to figure out the answer

  • I knew the address numbers were in hex (0,1,2…,d,e,f) but for the life of me I couldn’t remember how many pairs there were.
  • I flipped over my laptop to look for a mac address, (you know some of the devices these days have it on a sticker) Nope, one of those stupid devices that has that sticker buried inside on top of the physical device.
  • The laptop was on, so I got a command-prompt and tried to look for the mac address. No go, Windows doesn’t show it if the device isn’t active (Grrrr, should have used ipconfig /all and that may have had the answer, and I just knew there was a reason I should have installed a Unix thing on this device, oh wait, I did and it didn’t work for what I was using this laptop for: manpage: ifconfig)
  • OK, I’ve got a phone and these things have MAC address for their wifi. Can’t use this, ‘cause I’m on the phone.

Wait, …, What’s the difference between using Google/Bing and dissecting the answer from getting an example MAC and manually calculating the # of bits ?

What does it reveal

  • Have you had enough exposure in networking, especially at the command-prompt or configuration files, where this knowledge has become ingrained.

Why don’t I know this ?

  • What was it again that makes it useful to have this knowledge? I recall some of those digits represent a unique id for the device vendor, and then the rest is used by the vendor to ‘create’ a unique ID for each physical device.
  • Tech Trivia: Microsoft published their standard where it used the MAC address with other items to create a GUUID for each word document (wow, that’s even more useful knowledge) so they can track the origin of any word document around the globe.
  • We’re the l33t of computer nerds, we are a fount of knowledge of the most trivial and irrelevant knowledge. This is just one of those that I now know, but had not come across it in any meaningful way before hand.
  • Where have I had actual reason to record them? MAC Address ACLs for squid-cache and dhcp, but obviously wasn’t taking enough interest to even remember how many digits were involved, let alone the number of bits.
  • MAC addresses show up on ARP, but I haven’t bothered to worry about them unless there was some conflict requiring further investigation.

And that was only the first question!!! Things are definitely not looking up for my interview.

We’re in trouble and we haven’t even passed the first step.

In Linux, what is the default signal sent by kill

Urggggh, never thought of that before. I may have read it somewhere but definitely haven’t used it ‘without an explicit’ signal to ‘know’ what to expect as a default behaviour.

This one is simple enough to find from the manpage: kill(1) Straight there in the 1st Paragraph of the Description.

What does it reveal

  • Have you had enough exposure in Unix administration where this knowledge is ingrained.
  • NFI

Why don’t I know this ?

  • Have to say, I’ve never used the kill command without an explicit signal. Didn’t think it was the kind of command that was sane to be launching without explicitly telling it how to behave.
  • I guess the default is portable enough, since Linux and OpenBSD both agree on the default behaviour (using a sample of ‘2’ to base this simplification)
  • I guessed at SIGHUP (-1) but that’s just bias on what I try to do first before I do the KILL(-9).
  • Now, here lies a powerful tool not meant for most mortals. Including me 8<

Of the ps output what is the label D for

Urgghhh, OK, this interview is seriously becoming a disaster. Haven’t really bothered with looking at the ’labels’ except to see whether the service/app was a zombie or didn’t even execute.

This one took a little longer to find (had to page through two screens to get at the answer), but it’s right there in the ole manpage: ps(1) but look for it under the column ‘state’

What does it reveal

  • Have you had enough exposure in Unix Administration where this information is ingrained?
  • NFI

Why don’t I know this ?

  • Truthfully? Don’t ever recall seeing this ‘state’ ‘D’ before to have investigated it.
  • Obviously haven’t worked on enough resource constrained systems where the state ‘D’ was common enough to be noticeable.
  • The last time I had to really worry about an under resourced machine was with RedHat 4.0 or 4.2 and the i386 was blazingly fast, and we had 4 x 9600Kbps zyxel fax/voice/modem hanging off the box doing wonders no-one had ever heard off.
  • Well, the hosts I monitor are more single purposed, over engineered for their purposes (because that’s the only hardware you can get these days.)

After learning a little more about ‘D’ I’m a little more pleased with my work environment than I was previously. There are some poor bastards out there who either don’t get enough resources, or a dealing with real cool problems that have these ‘D’ issues.


If anything, I’m glad I’ve added to my glossary of commands, and leaves us with this lesson:

If you get a phone interview on a topic that is thoroughly covered by the Internet, clarify with the interviewer whether you’re allowed to use the Internet as a resource, and if not, are you allowed to use other resources at your finger tips (and voice search on your phone doesn’t count!!! because my phone runs an OS no one talks about.)

There may be no ethical dilemma, just the need to clarify.