Open-source skills best hope for landing a good job
But don't rip up your Microsoft Certified IT Professional papers yet
In the midst of a weakening global economy and rampant uncertainty as to when the recession will lift from North America and Western Europe, one thing is certain: open-source technology skills may be the best hope for landing a good job. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, open source claims five of the top 10 keywords in Indeed.com's job listings, with Hadoop, Puppet, Android, and jQuery making the list, along with HTML5, a proxy for various open-source projects like ext-JS, SproutCore, etc.
But before you rip up your Microsoft Certified IT Professional certification, it pays to balance rising trends against dominant technologies.
Using Indeed.com, it's clear to see that interest in open technologies such as Drupal, Hadoop, and jQuery is exploding:
|android,ubuntu,jquery,hadoop,drupal Job Trends||Android jobs - Ubuntu jobs - Jquery jobs - Hadoop jobs - Drupal jobs|
However, the picture becomes a bit murkier when you start adding in search terms like Microsoft's SharePoint:
|android,ubuntu,jquery,hadoop,drupal,sharepoint Job Trends||Android jobs - Ubuntu jobs - Jquery jobs - Hadoop jobs - Drupal jobs - Sharepoint jobs|
And gets even worse when throwing in "Oracle", ".Net", and "Windows":
|android,ubuntu,jquery,hadoop,windows,drupal,sharepoint,oracle,.net Job Trends||Android jobs - Ubuntu jobs - Jquery jobs - Hadoop jobs - Windows jobs - Drupal jobs - Sharepoint jobs - Oracle jobs - .NET jobs|
Obviously, things are moving up for open technologies. Equally obviously, however, they have a long way to go to close the gap on proprietary technologies like Microsoft's .Net. According to Dice.com's October job trends report, there's a serious .Net talent shortage across all major US geographies. Going one step further, Dice.com reports ".Net", "Peoplesoft", "Informatica", "Cobol", "C#", "SAP", and "Oracle DBA" as top search terms for job seekers.
Proprietary software developers may also need open-source
engineering skills. Photo via Shutterstock
Whether it's the employer looking for talent, or the talent looking for an employer, proprietary software continues to dominate the job boards.
But this only tells half the story. Back in 2008, Gartner declared that 80 per cent of all commercial applications would incorporate open-source software by 2012. We may have surpassed that 80 per cent market already. Microsoft, for example, has long included open-source software in its proprietary products, as Lee Gomes reported back in 2001. Oracle, SAP, and every other significant proprietary software developer does the same.
So while it's convenient to segregate "open" and "closed" for the purposes of tracking job trends, doing so obscures the larger reality that these same job searches may well betoken demand for open-source engineering expertise to be applied to a proprietary product.
Sure, you can still see people calling out open source expertise in job listings, but this is a relic of an old-school way of viewing software, one that doesn't adequately match the realities of today's increasingly hybridised development.
One thing, however, is clear: as much as open source may commoditise software, open-source software talent is hard to commoditise. Some suggest that open source is "software's labour movement," keeping value in the people who manipulate technology rather than in the technology itself, and I think there's a lot of truth to that view. A variety of studies consistently demonstrate open-source savvy developers and IT professionals commanding higher salaries, something that seems not to have changed much even as open source has gone mainstream.
So whether you're developing an open-source project for love or proprietary profit, such expertise should remain in high demand no matter the difficult economy or the continued dominance of Oracle and Microsoft of the enterprise technology market. ®
This is my experience too.
I work in schools and I feel a surge of pain every time I am asked to buy a license for something like SQL Server or Windows Server for some job that could more easily be done some other way (not just monetary, but technically too). Our fax server is a Linux machine running OS software for the task. Our IM server is a Linux machine running OS software for the task. Our web filter is a Linux machine running OS software for the task. Our firewall, our file storage server, our intranet, our website, some of our databases, our network scanning, our print management, our offline backups, etc. If I bought a Windows server for each task (and I would need 2-3x as many Windows servers as Linux servers at best anyway - all that runs off ONE machine that's doing a lot more besides) I'd spend thousands and thousands just on licences. When you *need* high-powered SQL, then it's worth paying for it. When you don't (e.g. your own website, intranet, other menial tasks etc.), then a MySQL instance is more than enough (and some would say even too much!).
The proprietary access-control software that I installed in work uses the FireBird SQL server - it's like SQLite and designed for use in programs running on all OS. Everything it does is queriable via SQL using the appropriate standardised tools but it saves in a simple small backup-able file on your normal filesystem (and thus you can easily backup, restore, have multiple installs, etc.) and is ideal for small database installs on Windows (or even Linux - it has Linux tools and the above Linux server queries the access control system every 30 seconds or so to make a primitive In/Out board). Firebird takes literally seconds to install from scratch. We really *don't* need an installation of SQL Server (or even Express) like the boiler-control software I have uses to store historical boiler temperatures that the software itself won't even let you query anyway but won't install without (and took 2 hours to reinstall after a server crash the other day).
Sometimes, you know, a simpler, smaller tool is better for the job. You can keep all your fancy grass-collecting drive-on lawnmowers when you only have 6ft of lawn to cut anyway because it's wasteful and unnecessary. If you told people that they would have to pay a licence for the shelves you fit in their house, they'd pop down to B&Q and learn how to fit one themselves. But when it comes to software, they will happily spend hundreds on Windows, hundreds more on Office, THOUSANDS on SQL Server and Exchange (and people to manage it), more on things like WinZip etc. and be no better off than if they'd replaced most of those components with OS software.
That doesn't mean there aren't places that benefit from that software but the truth is that 90% of small businesses wouldn't.
Linux as an OS replacement for Windows is a big step, it has to be said, but it's still perfectly viable for servers where you don't CARE because the only people to sit down in front of it and start fiddling with your database internals are going to be technical anyway (and probably don't care what OS it's on). But silly, everyday things don't all need stonking great CAL's for hugely over-complex programs all the time. Seriously, do I *really* need Windows and an SQL Server install to see that my boiler is running a little hot and lower the threshold? No. Do I need it to store the database of people and cards that can access the site? No. Do I need it to run a Mediawiki intranet? No. Do I need it to run most small-business databases at all? No. But people get told what to buy by other businesses and apply the advice literally without thinking. A small office does NOT need an Exchange server (where just a plain email server would do with some basic calendaring software), or a huge Windows Server to store files (when a small NAS box or Linux Samba share would do), or SQL Server for a database accessed by a handful of people (when a small MySQL or even flat-file databases would do).
And you have to think of ongoing costs. If your system rely on SQL Server, you need someone who can manage it. You also need to keep it running all the time. And you need to upgrade it when the software that "needs" it requires an upgrade. And you might need to install redundant backup servers that can take over that task from others, etc. The costs soon spiral ridiculously for something that wasn't necessary.
Disclaimer: I spent my entire adult career moving schools from RM to plain Microsoft systems (because, believe it or not, that was a huge step in the right direction) and have spent the last few years slowly migrating a private school to Linux where appropriate. I'd saved them my annual salary in licensing, extra hardware, etc. within the first few months with ZERO compromise of expected functionality, availability, reliability, backup, etc.
It's not for everything (anyone that tells you that Linux can do it all should be viewed in the same light as someone saying that a screwdriver can be made to do every job for every level of the service sector) but it can surely replace a lot of nonsensical, wasteful uses of technology.
"job postings" and "jobs available" aren't synonymous.
The former exists to keep HR running, thus helping keep the HR droids in a paycheck.
The later doesn't really exist anymore, not in IT anyway.
As a recovering Microsoftie
I have to say FOSS is a breath of fresh air.
Example: SQL Server comes on a DVD, can take almost an hour to install, requires service packs & updates, and costs thousands of dollars for the privilege. MySQL does 99% of what MS SQL does, in a 30MB download and a 5 minute install - for free.
It isn't really about the cost (a few grand in license fees can work out to only a small fraction of labor costs), it is more a question of when simple & cheap beats powerful but bloated.