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The Open Source Opportunity

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Yesterday, Simon noted that Elance’s Online Work Index, which analyzes the hot categories for jobs posted on its marketplace, shows PHP-related jobs holding the No. 1 spot in July (as has been true since February). This lines up with trends that we have been tracking on the OStatic blog, where open source and open source-related skills are becoming key differentiators for people seeking work in tech. Not only do such skills help those seeking work stand out from the crowd, but job opportunities related to open source are on the rise in many categories, even in this bad economy.

In a post over on OStatic, “Open Source Skills As a Job Seeker’s Key Differentiator,” I provided the following chart showing percentage growth data from for jobs related to various content management systems:

As you can see, the growth in demand for people skilled in open-source CMS platforms, in particular Drupal and Joomla, is huge. Part of the reason these particular platforms are ushering in more jobs for tech workers is that many publishers are switching to free, open-source content management systems from expensive proprietary ones. (In this post over at OStatic, I discussed that shift, and how the first major online publication in the UK is now running completely on Drupal.)

The fact that PHP is a hot ticket in the development world is just one of many more examples where open source skillsets can be very valuable in the tech work arena. In a column for ComputerworldUK, noted open source pundit Glyn Moody points out that Google’s (s goog) recently announced Chrome OS could usher in many jobs in open source, especially for Linux-savvy folks who can support the new operating system. Moody also cites data showing that Linux-related job opportunities have fallen at a much slower rate than other types of tech jobs in the down economy.

What’s really going on here? Many people think of open source as a non-mainstream, highly technical and specialized field. That is rapidly changing, though. In fact, it has already changed. It used to be that many open source components were built by developers for other developers, and weren’t fully realized platforms with application ecosystems orbiting around them. Now, promising open-source platforms are flourishing, and bringing jobs with them.

Google has not one but two open-source operating systems: Android and Chrome OS. Apache remains hugely popular among web servers. Red Hat (s rht) is a successful public company posting strong financial results with its business model of services and support for open-source software. Startups such as Cloudera and Eucalyptus Systems are emulating that model for other open-source software offerings. Firefox is taking away market share from Internet Explorer (s msft) every month. The list goes on and on.

It’s always been a truism that being a specialist can help you stand out from other job seekers. Now, increasingly — and even in one of the most depressing job environments in recent history — open source skills represent a way for tech job hopefuls to seek out new opportunities.

Have open source skills helped you get a job?

12 Responses to “The Open Source Opportunity”

  1. @hukares – I don’t think that’s anything to be proud of.

    @Steve Naidamast – I didn’t really read it that way. To me, I thought that the point the post was trying to make was that open source skills are now in demand (where once they were quite niche), and that having them might give you an edge in a generally tough job market.

  2. I was using pirated apps like Flash/Photoshop to train myself for the real world. Then FOSS hit me. I tend to start using free alternatives.

    I landed as web developer and worked for 2 years but because of low income I shifted work.

    Now, I’m back using pirated apps. No plan to buy legits — better donate some to FOSS. ^^

  3. Google doesn’t have 2 open source OSes. It has Android – and has announced plans for Chrome OS – from everything I’ve read nothing actually exists that could be called Chrome OS, which is 18 months from the light of day at best.

  4. The contention in this article sounds ridiculous. To think that an employer will consider a technician who has done open-source development over one who hasn’t or it is more advantageous as a skill-set is nonsense.

    The rise in popularity for PHP as an indicator of this is also a very misleading way of making such a contention. Language popularity is cyclical for a variety of reasons and the core languages are JAVA, PHP, C#, VB.NET and Python. The rest are peripheral in nature such as Ruby. This will not change any time soon.

    If you want to frame the idea that those who have the initiative to do work on their own and/or at home as I do as compared to a technician that simply shows up for his or her job everyday has better prospects of winning a job offer, than yes, I would agree with the contention.

    If you want to frame the idea that employers are considering working with certain open-source products as a plus to their presentation, than yes, I would agree with this contention as well.

    However, you can say the same for a number of commercial products as well. It is no different for an employer to be looking for someone with PostgreSQL experience as it is for one to be looking for someone with SQL-Server experience. PostgreSQL is an excellent database engine as is SQL-Server. The fact that it is open-source has no consequence in the overall scheme of things. In the database world, having Oracle on your resume is still the one to beat…

    However, to state that working with open-source is in general an advantage over those who haven’t has no basis in the overall employment market and I have been in it for over 35 years.

    It matters not how you get your experience but how you present it and are able to defend it in the interviewing process, which is a skill unto itself…

  5. While I do agree that for some it is a race to the bottom, I’ve found it easier to make a case for better freelance services *after* they have tried offshoring.
    I specialized in testing using and extending an open-source environment at my previous company, was laid off, and then found a job that doubled my salary within the month at a better job. I think there is a huge need for capable, local people.

  6. @Mark I would focus on the local market. That’s a niche it will take a long time for these sites to break. To be honest, I don’t know if smaller locally based businesses will ever feel comfortable hiring programmers in developing countries directly.

    If you’re not comfortable selling your services, find a designer or advertising company and partner with them. I believe there’s still lots of opportunity out there.

  7. The fact that PHP and its frequent companion MySQL are in high demand on online job boards actually makes it harder for freelancers like myself to make a living from those skills. Whatever skill set is the hot ticket on online job boards gets bid down quickly by bright, ambitious young people from developing nations where the cost of living is low, to the point where freelancers from North America can no longer make their apartment rent and car payment on what skills like PHP and MySQL pay. I’m considering a new strategy of focusing on niche technologies that haven’t yet exploded onto the global radar screen. If anyone has found a way to live on PHP/MySQL in this global “race to the bottom” I’d love to hear about it.