The Open Source Jobs Boom

As many as 15 percent of the available IT jobs call for open source skills.

Looking for a good job in IT? Sharpen your knowledge of open source development frameworks, languages, and programming. A just-published study of available IT jobs found that 5 percent to 15 percent of the positions now on the market call for open source software skills.

Written by consultant and author Bernard Golden in conjunction with O'Reilly Media, the 50-page report attempts to document the spread of open source in the enterprise. Although the study did not quantify the actual percentage of open source products used in the enterprise, the strong growth in available jobs—in a period when overall IT job growth may be slowing—points to a surprising breadth of adoption. Indeed, the recession may be pushing budget-strapped IT execs to examine low-cost alternatives to commercial software.

Whatever, the reason, the study's results gainsay at least some of IT's conventional wisdom. "You still have people in large IT shops saying open source doesn't have much of a presence, so the employment numbers are surprising," Golden says.

Another important indicator of the open source growth spurt can be seen on SourceForge, which maintains a database of projects and downloads. The number of projects hosted by the site has grown from 12,500 in 2000 to nearly 200,000 at the end of 2007, an annual growth rate of about 55 percent, according to the report.

Annual downloads on SourceForge have skyrocketed as well. In 2003, there were somewhat less than 200,000; by the end of last year the annual total approached 800 million. By the end of 2009, if not sooner, the annual total will likely reach 1 billion, Golden says. As large as that number is, it may be understating the actual number of downloads, because some products are hosted on mirror sites that do not track cumulative totals.

Where open source skills are hottest

The researchers found that the number of open source-related job postings by large businesses is approximately 1 in 52, or about 1.9 percent. It's worth emphasizing that the percentage refers to all enterprise jobs, not just IT positions.

They gathered this figure by analyzing an O'Reilly Research database of U.S. online job postings dating back to mid-2005. "For this report, we focused primarily on jobs postings from Web sites of about half of all the Fortune 1000 companies. We counted the number of job postings that mention specific open source-related technical terms and tracked trends over time," the report states.

Not surprisingly, technology companies are doing much of the hiring. About 1 in 55 of the jobs posted by tech-related companies asks for open source skills, compared to just 1 in 385 in the rest of the Fortune 1000 job market.

That's not too surprising. After all, many technology companies make heavy use of open source software. Google's search infrastructure, for example, uses a customized version of Linux as its base operating system, creating quite a bit of demand for people with the right skills, notes Golden.

"What is striking about the list [of jobs] is the breadth of open source products being recruited for, as well as the very large growth rates for a number of open source products. The trend is quite obvious: Open source is moving well beyond 'Linux at the edge of the network' to a more central position in enterprise IT," Golden says.

Furthermore, the breadth of products indicates that open source is achieving a presence in many different categories, with the likely longer-term effect of changing those software market segments, Golden adds.

The fastest growing segments of the open source job market include Alfresco, Django, and Drupal, although those skills represent only a small percentage of the total. Other segments that grew by more than 100 percent in the first four months of this year from the same period last year include LAMP, Ruby on Rails, and VMware.

Demand for Linux server skills grew by only 18 percent—but as you'd expect that segment has far more postings than any other. Similarly, JavaScript and Perl, which have been popular for some time, grew slowly but from a large base.

One caution: Because open source use within enterprises is relatively recent, recruiting may be biased towards open source projects as companies scramble to acquire talent with these new skills, the report states. Put another way, a shift towards open source is forcing enterprises to find employees with open source skills to augment staff already steeped in working with proprietary software products.

For example, a company with significant Oracle implementations may be running many new projects on MySQL, creating a greater need to recruit employees with MySQL skills that does not reflect the Oracle installed base.

Open source still largely under the radar screen

Still, it's clear that the industry has underestimated the prevalence and growth of open source software. Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz says that he was speaking to the CIO of a financial services company who maintained that no open source was running in her infrastructure. But Schwartz had done some research before the meeting and discovered that the company had downloaded 1,300 copies of MySQL in the previous six months, the report says, recounting a story published by eWeek.

That's obviously a non-issue in the world of commercial software because license keys and registration are mandatory elements of proprietary installations. Open source software, by contrast, may be downloaded and installed anonymously—and there are few, if any, salespeople or marketers to remind execs that they are running open source code, Golden says.

It's hard to know how quickly the use of open source will grow in the future, but one might get a clue by remembering the arc of PC adoption in businesses back in the 1980s, Golden says. IT execs were slow to realize that PCs would supplant minicomputers in business, but as the new machines proved their worth, adoption snowballed.

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This story, "The Open Source Jobs Boom" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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