July 7, 2008

Looming IT talent shortage sidesteps FOSS folks

Author: Ian Palmer

A Gartnerstudy from earlier this year suggests that a skills shortage will leave companies scrambling in vain to find qualified help. However, open source developers say there's an adequate supply of potential employees with the skills they have.

"The difficulty is not so much if they exist. It's finding the right people," says Jon Masters, a Red Hat Linux kernel engineer who also works on the real-time kernel team and helps support third-party drivers on Enterprise Linux distributions. He says that the supply of competent Linux and open source software types will be enough to meet the demand.

In the study, researchers at Gartner, a Stamford, Conn.-based research and advisory company, say that a coming skills and talent shortage in IT and business is threatening business growth. Meeting the demands created by the integration of IT and business models, they say, will require companies to find hybrid professionals -- workers with both technology and business skills. But the problem, according to researchers, is that such workers are scarce.

Masters says this is not the case among the Linux and open source software developer crowd. "We do have a lot of these hybrid professionals." He says such professionals are a resourceful bunch with a wide range of skills that will enable them to readily adapt to changing realities as IT and business coalesce.

Masters says the industry's emphasis on self-directed learning helps developer types think outside of the proverbial box in a way that might be foreign to their counterparts in the proprietary software space. "You don't have to be a computer scientist to get involved in Linux. But you do need to be able to problem-solve, work well with other people, and work on different things at the same time."

In Morrisville, NC, Open Technology Group has for over 10 years developed, deployed, and trained others to use IT solutions that promote openness and interoperability. Chander Ganesan, the company's president, says that -- based on the types of people who retain OTG's services in areas such as PostgreSQL, MySQL, PHP, Python, and shell programming -- the industry has its fair share of people with work-related experiences that epitomize what hybrid professionals are all about.

"A great many of [our clients] may already have a single area of knowledge and wish to broaden their skill set to become more versatile in their jobs," Ganesan says. "Additionally, we see that often the employees -- as opposed to a manager or traditional decision-maker -- are approaching us about training, and then selling their needs up the chain to management. This is fundamentally different, from my perspective, since it leans toward employees themselves being driven toward being hybrid professionals as opposed to upper layers of management."

According to DeLisa Alexander, senior vice president of human capital for Red Hat, her company's certification programs contribute towards producing hybrid professionals. "We're contributing toward training people who businesses need. We are looking for those hybrid professionals."


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