Linux and the job market

Labour problems

The principles of economics, as Computerworld reports, are finally affecting Linux. Linux is increasing its market share so rapidly that, in consequence, some companies find it difficult to secure the resources to handle Linux development and installation. Naturally, the contractor or salary costs rise. This may reduce the prospective cost savings on Linux related IT projects. Apparently the key skills required are in programming and documentation, file editing and the ability to modify source code. Over and above that, there is a need for technical management skills to manage these tasks. Management experience is another plus.

How serious is the skill shortage? Will it seriously impact the pace of IT projects which are signed up to use Linux? Does the industry need to embark on wide scale re-skilling of the existing technical resources in the use and application of Linux technology, as some suggest?

Many organisations take a pragmatic view of the situation, recognising that the "retooling" of technical workers takes time; that one skill set cannot readily be transformed into a new set to meet rising demand at the optimal pace; and that getting up to speed will not happen overnight.

It is an economic reality that demand increases before the supply of skilled people is available. It will be a good market for those people with the skills. They will reap the benefits of their Linux skills by selling them at a premium price, but it is a matter of conjecture as to how long the window of opportunity will last. It will not last forever but it may exist for the foreseeable future.

For IT companies and in-house departments, Linux presents a problem, particularly during its early commercial adoption stages. It can be difficult to find the same level of skills on Linux as on other software technology, although some say that IT departments can in fact find the skills they need without much extra effort or additional pay.

The lack of personnel with Linux expertise affects the rate at which companies adopt the open-source system. A major challenge presents itself where the Linux practitioner knows the technical elements but doesn't understand the business. This is typical with a new commercial technology, where junior people learn new technical skills but do not have a perspective of the wider business of the project.

The critical issue in any technology skills' review is assessment of the business risks for the enterprise. To what extent is the lack or level of Linux skills offsetting the purported savings made by using Linux on a project? The issue does admittedly become serious where the delivery schedule severely overruns. Even more critical, and potentially damaging to reputations, is where the project has to be re-assigned, as opposed to being sub-contracted, to an enterprise possessing the requisite skills.

The crux of the Linux debate in commercial terms is if and how quickly will it become a major software technology? In what timeframe should investment be deployed in this eventuality? This will only be determined if and when suppliers and customers can gauge the technical and commercial success of any projects and publicise those achievements. We are not yet at that point.

Copyright © 2004, IT-Analysis.com

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