A GitHub account may be one of the best ways for open source developers to showcase their technical skills to potential employers. But system administrators and DevOps engineers who don’t code, don’t have an easy equivalent for proving their skills in, say, spinning up a secure server.
TrueAbility  is a new testing and training platform that aims to help Linux IT professionals show off their existing skills and learn new ones. It’s also a tool for recruiters and employers to find new talent and administer screening tests for job candidates.
Linux professionals can create a profile and complete tasks online that test their abilities in different scenarios, such as how to harden a server after it’s been compromised. And employers can set up tests for their potential hires to complete as a precursor to a job interview. The company also runs contests for professionals to test their skills against each other and win fun prizes.
“With GitHub it’s great evidence of what you know by having your code out there. We want the same thing for sysadmins and DevOps engineers,” said Luke Owen, co-founder and CEO of TrueAbility and a former director of Linux managed hosting services at Rackspace.
The startup and recent TechStars Cloud graduate just closed a $2 million round of funding in July toward its mission to remake the way Linux IT professionals are hired. Owen talked with me last week at LinuxCon in New Orleans about how TrueAbility works, the company’s plans for the coming months, and what the job scene looks like for Linux professionals now.
What about your experience in working for Rackspace led you to come up with this idea?
We made a lot of bad hires very early on in our careers. We were hiring at a rapid rate, 30-60 employees a month because of the growth we experienced, so there were a lot of lessons learned.
The idea of a break-fix test where you throw up a broken server isn’t new, Google and Microsoft have done that for years. We did that at Rackspace as well, but that required full time employees to facilitate the whole process and work with recruiting. And then there was always the challenge that after using the test for a few months the answers got out there and then all the candidates knew how to pass our test. It was a very good way to hire people but it had problems.
With TrueAbility we codified that whole process and we made it easy for a recruiter to facilitate the process without involving the front lines people who are busy actually doing the work. It was a huge opportunity: Providing a way for people to sit down with their own tools, at their console on their laptop actually proving what they could do. We were inspired by that way of helping professionals prove themselves to employers, find a better job, a better salary, whatever it is they’re looking for.
Is this something an individual seeks out, or do you go through a recruiter?
Today we have six companies using us to hire employees. With the recent launch of our Ability Screen product we’re hoping to grow that much more rapidly now. Those are customers that have been with us through our beta. Any job seeker can go and view jobs available by location and company and take a technical interview now.
When you take a test do have to submit it to an employer?
No. On our contests and everything we are very transparent about what we do. It’s never a requirement to share results and information with employers that are interested in people with their skills. We’re trying to be very honest with our community because ultimately we’re trying to be advocates for Linux pros.
GitHub is becoming the new resume for developers. Is your product similar to that idea?
With GitHub it is specifically for developers whereas we’re starting now with IT professionals and there’s not an equivalent to that for sysadmins and DevOps engineers.
What we’re building toward is what we call your TrueAbility resume. The IT pro will have complete control of that. With GitHub it’s great evidence of what you know by having your code out there. We want the same thing for sysadmins and DevOps engineers.
It’s very hard for those professionals specifically. And there are a lot of challenges for developers as well. I see the vision there with GitHub and it’s a great start, but
there’s still a lot to figure out.
What does a TrueAbility contest look like?
Our contest during LinuxCon is four days, and each day is a different scenario. The first day was migrating from a MySQL to a Postgres database to see who could do the migration in the least amount of time.
What’s the benefit to a Linux professional in participating in an online skills contest?
For one it’s just fun to compete against others on your skills. There’s pride and rank. We also give away prizes, Raspberry Pis to the top five, and some other cool tech-themed prizes. It’s also a learning opportunity. After each day we provide a walk-through of how to complete the scenario from start to finish.
One of the things we’re creating next is self-assessments where IT pros can learn new cloud technologies and use one of our environments to practice configuring, scaling, and troubleshooting real-world problems.
Does taking a test or entering a contest help prepare for an interview, sort of like studying for the SAT?
It’s just about honing their skills. All these professionals are learners; they’re always looking at new cloud technologies. It’s a great way to go test and develop your skills and at the end of it you have proof of your knowledge that you can use the technology to run a real web server and run code on it. We provide the evidence that they possess that skill.
I’m sure you’re collecting a lot of data from this. What are you learning about the Linux job scene?
A lot of customers are struggling to find the IT talent they need. We see new and creative ways companies are trying to attract and retain the employees that they need. One of our customers, Rackspace, has opened a cloud academy – they’re taking folks from all different areas and immersing them in these cloud technologies. It’s a four-month training program where they’re learning how to be a sysadmin.
We’re working with those companies as candidates come out of those programs and testing their ability using our platform and helping them get a job. It’s hard to prove with a resume that they’re capable of doing those jobs. We can provide proof.
Employers who use TrueAbility for testing can also use it to find candidates for employment. And any IT pro can come to TrueAbility and take a technical interview for, say, Rackspace. We spin up a server, they prove their skills and that gives them a shortcut to the recruiter’s inbox.
What are the hot areas of the industry? What are people testing for right now?
The DevOps engineer is what everyone is moving toward. With everything moving to the cloud, developers have the infrastructure at the tips of their fingers. It used to be that development teams would throw the code over the wall to the IT organization that would set it up and configure it on the servers. Now you’re seeing a mix of IT department and developer.
What kind of skills can you test for in a DevOps engineer?
Chef and Puppet are two of the technologies in DevOps that are real important and we’re building out assessments for those today. We’re also working with a couple different vendors to provide certifications around these cloud technologies. We test their ability to actually configure these technologies.