March 9, 2005

FSF offers jobs page for employers, employees

Author: Tina Gasperson

While it has carried job listings on its site in some form since 2001, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) launched a newly revived "Jobs in Free Software" page last month to match employers who are committed to the ideals of free software with like-minded job seekers.John Sullivan, the program administrator for FSF, is the man charged with bringing life to the jobs page and the rest of the FSF site, which has recently undergone an extensive renovation. He says that the job listings can be a valuable resource for businesses "concerned with ethics" that want to reach a community of job candidates who share the same concerns.

The Free Software Foundation was established in 1985 to "promote computer users' rights to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs." The FSF promotes the use of free software, which the organization defines as software that can be run for any purpose and allows access to and modification and redistribution of the source code, even in commercial use or for a fee.

A free software developer is more likely to be familiar with important license compliance issues and have useful ties to the community, Sullivan says, which are good reasons for potential employers to post job openings at the FSF site. "Those are utilitarian benefits; of course we think the ethical aspects are most important.

"People in our community need to make a living, and many of them have professional software skills, but they are concerned about the ethics of the work they do, and don't want to be overly involved in the production of or support for proprietary software."

Sullivan says one of the goals the FSF has is to filter out the proprietary employers so that applicants will not have to worry about applying for jobs that are unacceptable to them. Having an active jobs list will also encourage people to develop the necessary skills in order to land those jobs, and it will "give some hope" to part-time free software developers that they might be able to land full-time employment.

"Since the jobs page is so focused, it has the potential to both benefit and influence employers," Sullivan says. "By advertising to a very focused audience, employers stand a good chance of reaching the right candidates." At the same time, if employers see that they can actually find people who can work with free software tools, Sullivan says that they are more likely to make use of those tools in their business -- which will snowball into more free software positions in the future.

Employers who want to post open jobs can send email to job-page@fsf.org. The open position must fulfill several criteria.

Each job listing explains the requirements for the job and gives contact information. The FSF does not act as a middleman or agent in any hiring transactions; instead, the potential applicants contact the employer directly.

Sullivan says he hasn't received much feedback about the number of hires so far, but job advertisers are encouraged to let FSF know if they hire someone via a listing on the site.

How is the page working for employers? Charlie Zender, of the Department of Earth System Science at the University of California Irvine, posted an advertisement on the FSF jobs page, looking for a lead software engineer for a three-year NSF funded research project. "I received only about 10 applications for this job," Zender says, and "none of them seem to have come via the FSF jobs page."

"I think the page is underpublicized. When I contacted them about posting the job, the page had been languishing unmaintained for quite some time."

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