Computing Applications

Open Source Professionals in Demand

An open source word ball.
The growth of open source software in the enterprise underscores a shortage of IT professionals with relevant coding skills.

The rise of open source software in the enterprise is highlighting a shortage of IT professionals with relevant coding skills.

The Open Source Jobs Report points to an "increasingly open source world" as more Web companies are being run on open source code, including Google, Twitter, Facebook, eBay and Pinterest. Auto manufacturers, too, are utilizing Linux for self-driving cars and streaming entertainment, the report notes.

The attention open source is receiving is no doubt helped by the fact that it is open, allowing anyone to participate, enabling a variety of different perspectives. Walmart, ExxonMobil, and Wells Fargo are among the world's largest companies using the software, as well as open sourcing their own code.

While interest in open source continues to grow, so does competition for workers.

"Even as Linux and open source have become more pervasive…there remains a skills shortage,'' says George McFerran, executive vice president of product and marketing at IT jobs site Dice, which produced the report in tandem with The Linux Foundation.

Everyone who works in the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) division at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA, must know Linux, says Bob Ciotti, the division's chief architect and supercomputing systems lead. "The more the better," he adds, especially when it comes to the internal workings of the operating system, "since that's constantly changing, and where many of our most difficult challenges exist, either in understanding and fixing a bug or creating new functionality. This isn't going to change any time soon."

At the Pittsburgh Supercomputer Center (PSC) at Carnegie Mellon University, which operates high-performance computing systems built on Linux, "there's absolutely a demand for skilled system administrators and software engineers," says interim director Nick Nystrom. The PSC needs people who understand the open source environment, the deployment tools, and "all the other things that let us build a high-performance national computing system on top of Linux," Nystrom says. "The center has over 5,000 users, over 12,000 projects and "you need a very, very robust software ecosystem to support…what's going on."

Not surprisingly, IT professionals with open source skills are commanding high salaries. Dice's annual salary survey shows Linux professionals generally earn $102,000 annually on average. Dice's Salary Predictor tool shows DevOps professionals with about five years' experience with Linux, cloud, and security skills, earn $115,000 on average, the survey reveals.

Kevin Curran, a senior member of IEEE and a cybersecurity professor at Ireland's Ulster University, concurs that DevOps is an area in which open source talent is in short supply. "The most in-demand areas are in cloud: OpenStack and Cloud Foundry'' in particular, Curran says. There is also a growing need for people with experience in Web technologies, network management, and security. Other areas of demand include fundamental networking technologies such as routing, network administration, or firewalls, he adds. "There is also a demand for Hadoop experts and big data skills," he says, while knowledge of the open source Apache Hadoop ecosystem "is becoming a hot skill to possess."

There is also great demand for skills in cloud administration and distributed open source storage skills due to the need to store large amounts of data, Curran says. "Understanding distributed storage is a skill worth knowing."

Workers skilled in configuration management tools such as Puppet, Chef, Ansible, and SaltStack are highly sought, according to Dice.

"Many enterprise projects are very reliant on open source code, so there will be a need to transform hardware-centric solutions into software-defined technology, in addition to integrating it with back-end cloud services," Curran says.

Most needed right now for enterprise projects, he maintains, are developers who understand Docker, an open source containerization platform gives developers the ability to package an app with all the components it needs, ensuring it can run on any other Linux machine even if there are customized settings. "Docker isolation and security, along with relatively easy deployment" is in high demand, and Curran says experts can command six-figure salaries.

While Hadoop enterprise projects naturally require expertise in Hadoop, there are many other components to the Hadoop ecosystem where skills are needed, such as the relational storage engine Apache Kudu, says Curran. "This, along with tools such as Kafka and Impala, can lead to more rapid application development and lend themselves to the development of large-scale enterprise systems."

Other surveys also support the rise in interest in open source. In addition to its use in business, the software is also helping people build their professional reputations, according to the GitHub Open Source Survey. Notably, half of the 5,500 respondent contributors to the survey say that their open source work was somewhat or very important in getting their current role. Nearly all (94%) employed respondents said they use open source at least sometimes professionally (81% use it frequently), and 65% contribute to open source software development as part of their work duties.

Some of the attributes of open source software that respondents find appealing are its stability and that it offers a solid user experience, the GitHub survey notes.

Typically, when an issue is discovered in open source, it can be reviewed and addressed quickly by either internal or third-party software developers. Contrast that with using proprietary software, where a user must wait for the software vendor or partner to provide software updates. Additionally, if a bug is found, it is more likely to be identified and resolved faster when the source code is readily available, avoiding issues that occur when closed, proprietary systems are used.

"Open source is largely used to build out common infrastructure that an entire industry can standardize upon,'' says McFerran. "That's why the opportunity for professionals is so massive and why these skills are in demand. From networking to artificial intelligence to blockchain and web infrastructure, open source is the fabric of computing."

Esther Shein is a freelance technology and business writer based in the Boston area.

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