Does the distro matter?

by David Lane
David Lane

I got a phone call yesterday from a recruiter wondering if I would be interested in a Linux administrator position. The first question she asked was did I have any experience with Oracle RAC and I could hear her eyes glaze over as I answered her with a brief description of what I have done with RAC. After shaking herself back to life, she asked if I had any experience with Unbreakable Linux.

Unbreakable is the Oracle distribution and while I have heard of it, I had to admit I had never worked with it as a distribution but I asked what they were looking for specifically. Experience with Unbreakable. Yes, but what sort of experience. I have used Red Hat for years, it's just Linux. This discussion when back and forth like that for a few minutes but clearly fifteen years of Linux experience was not good enough for a job that was looking for distribution specific experience. We parted with me promising to send her my resume and that was that.

But it got me thinking. A few weeks ago, I asked, Is there a best distro?. The question this phone call raised was, does it matter which distribution you are running? For the moment, let us put aside which has a better desktop and focus on the server. Is there really a difference between distributions when it comes to what you run on a server? Is there anything so specific within a distribution that it matters whether you are experienced with Debian or Red Hat? I will admit that in all my years of working in the Windows world, no one has asked me if I have experience with Datacenter instead of Standard. Why, in the Linux world should it matter if I have experience with CentOS instead of Unbreakable?

Are there differences? Of course. Most notably is in the package manager, and where the init scripts live. At a previous company, we used Mandriva as our underlying distribution, but there was no reason we could not have used something else, and in fact, we moved to CentOS with little problem because it was not about the distribution. We compiled our applications, the distribution provided the libraries. We had custom installation locations, custom security settings, and custom scripts, all pretty much automated. It was not an issue of where the distribution put the web files, but were the right libraries available.

I could have taken the opportunity to explain to this recruiter the similarities between the distributions but I do not think it would have made much of a difference. She was reading off a list of requirements and if there was not a one-to-one correlation of the buzz words, then I did not fit the bill. And at the end of the day, I am not 100% sure I want to work for a company that seems to be so hung up on a particular distribution, rather than the critical skills needed to manage an infrastructure.

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