by Bernard Golden

Open Source and the War for Talent

Jul 11, 20082 mins
IT Leadership

Despite the angst earlier this decade that every technical job in the country would be sent to Bangalore, today’s US tech employment picture is actually quite different. According to an article in CIOinsight, tech employment has reached an all-time high of 4 million people, with a tech unemployment rate of 2.3%.

The implications are quite obvious:

  • Technical skills are in high demand
  • The unemployment rate indicates that anyone with appropriate tech skills can find employment, so people are likely to be choosy about accepting job offers
  • Crucially, if you are a company recruiting tech employees, you’re going to be in competition with plenty of other companies for the best

In my view, this situation is likely to be exacerbated in the future, as IT is breaking out of the back office and becoming infused into everyday business offerings. Put another way, as products and services become more IT-rich, companies will need more IT skills to successfully compete.

What does this have to do with open source?

Just this: The most desirable potential employees view the opportunity to work with open source as a positive distinguishing factor in job offers. I was speaking this week with the CTO of a large company — a F500 firm with one of the most recognizable brand names around — and he told me that top talent wants to work with open source, viewing it as key to their career development. Attempts to recruit to work on proprietary or, worse, home-grown apps is a turn-off, for the very understandable reason that company-specific skills are a handicap when attempting to land a job at a new company.

Top talent wants to work with open source because it’s widely used — meaning their skills are easily transportable, making them more desirable recruits in the future — but also because that’s the future of software, and top talent wants to work on exciting developments, not boring dead-end technology. As one of the founders of Zimbra put it, no really good engineer wants to take a 10 year-old application and turn it into a fifteen year-old application.

I can’t put it blunter than this: if you want to recruit top technical talent, you’ve got to explicitly pursue open source as a key part of your infrastructure. If you don’t, your employee pool will be the also-rans.