Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Enterprise Open Source Job Applicant Shortage Persists in 2021, Linux Foundation Survey Finds 

Though IT hiring is showing signs of rebounding in the wake of the still-lingering COVID-19 pandemic, finding qualified candidates with high-demand open source skills continues to be a huge challenge for many enterprises around the world.

That is one of the frustrations repeatedly being heard from hiring managers everywhere, according to the latest 2021 Open Source Jobs Report from The Linux Foundation and learning platform vendor edX.

The 29-page report, which was compiled from responses from more than global 200 hiring managers and open source professionals about their job needs and preferences, was released Sept. 20 by the Linux Foundation in advance of next week’s Open Source Summit in Seattle. The respondents, 47 percent of whom were in the U.S., were surveyed from June 8 through July 19 and represent corporations, small and medium businesses, government organizations and staffing agencies. The respondents had each hired at least one open source professional in the last year or have plans to hire open source professionals in 2021.

One of the top findings of the ninth annual survey is that 92 percent of hiring managers reported continuing difficulty finding qualified prospective employees who exhibit open source skills, which is made even tougher because about 50 percent of the respondents said they are accelerating their open source hiring.

Open source software and development forms the basis of a wide range of enterprise computing applications and platforms, including the internet itself, as well as diverse fields from AI to machine learning to HPC, supercomputing and more.

Last year’s survey found that 56 percent of hiring managers had planned to increase hiring. Only six percent said they expect to hire fewer open source staffers in 2021, which is up slightly from four percent in 2020, while one percent said they expect to make no open source hires at all in 2021.

For enterprises seeking open source pros, it continues to be a job seeker’s market, especially as the economy continues to try to rebound after the effects of the pandemic on some markets, said Clyde Seepersad, the director of training and certification for the non-profit Linux Foundation.

“It was a question mark, given the pandemic, as to what really is happening in the labor markets because there was all this disruption and it was combined with a disruption in this idea of working on-premises,” Seepersad told EnterpriseAI.

Clyde Seepersad of the Linux Foundation

One of the trends that was seen early on during the pandemic in the spring of 2020 was that the transition towards hosting more applications and work on the cloud dramatically accelerated, he said.

“A lot of organizations were forced to move more quickly away from their own bare metal hosting because you could not get to them anymore,” said Seepersad. “And once they started on that train, their appetite for doing it was ‘you might as well do it.’ But you see that increased focus on both cloud skills and DevOps skills, which to me speaks to this whole idea of this new way of deploying microservices applications is quite different from this perspective.”

But because finding new applicants continues to be so difficult, many hiring managers and enterprise leaders are endorsing the value of providing new training to their existing workers, said Seepersad.

In many cases, employees are requesting such training so they can expand their skills and open source tool sets, and employers are willing to pay for those expenses, he said.

“What we see is people focusing on upskilling their existing workforce,” said Seepersad. “I suspect this is a crawl, walk, run [effort].”

Eventually, that could mean that some employers could start looking at workers outside of IT who have not previously considered being developers and offering them incentives or paying for their training to bring them into the field, Seepersad added.

“If they have success with cross-skilling their existing workforce, their confidence in trying entry-level training will go up,” he said. “The sense I get is that the idea of taking somebody green off the street and training them up [for open source careers] seems like a bit of a bridge too far right now. Remember, up until a few months ago, the default [for hiring managers] was to go on LinkedIn and find somebody to poach.”

The problem with that strategy for many companies has been that they often lost skilled workers as quickly as they found them, he said.

To help companies uncover prospective new workers, the Linux Foundation last December developed a new certification called the LFCA, which stands for Linux Foundation Certified IT Associate.

It is a pre-professional, multiple-choice exam aimed at people who may have never considered a career in technology, said Seepersad. By taking the $250 exam, candidates can learn if they have an aptitude for the fields of cloud native computing and open source.

“It will turn out that it is not for everybody,” he said, “but it will be for more people than they realize.”

The exam can be used by enterprise hiring managers to help sort out non-traditional prospects to learn if they worth investing in them with training and jobs, he said.

For job candidates in this job-heavy marketplace, Seepersad said his best advice is the same that his organization has been giving to people for the past couple of years – “just pick something and try it. Start developing those skills. Don't wait for some sign from the heavens. Grab one of [the Linux Foundation’s] free courses and start learning about this stuff.”

For hiring managers, his advice is similarly straight-forward – be open to allowing prospective employees to work from wherever they want to work, he said.

“There was some question as to whether that was going to stay once people were going to gallop back to the office, but we are seeing that it is settling into the new normal,” said Seepersad. “And hiring managers like it. It is a lot easier. We have done this at the Linux Foundation because we have been virtual forever. And it is a lot easier to find great candidates when you do not have to intersect it with a particular geography.”

And speaking of the “new normal,” that is not just about working from home and foregoing offices, he said.

“The new normal is based on open source, like it is based on Linux as the operating system, Kubernetes as the orchestrator and a whole bunch of open source projects for your CI/CD and DevOps layers,” said Seepersad. “It is everywhere. The new LAMP stack is basically an open source stack that runs everything. The fundamentals of this next generation of computing are this intersecting series of core open source projects.”

For open source job seekers, this opportunity must be embraced, he said.

“It is unfamiliar to a lot of folks, but code is code,” he said. “Just get in and start learning it, because this is going to be the stack for the foreseeable future.”

And don’t forget the old technologies as well, including things like COBOL and other programming languages that seem to have lost favor.

“It is interesting how C++ has become a thing again,” he said. “It was a dinosaur for a while, but you know, C and C++ and now Rust – some of those less sexy lower-level languages are seeing a resurgence. People figured out that it allows you a lot of flexibility to compile up for some of these higher-level languages.”

Also noted in the 2021 Linux Foundation Open Source Jobs Report is that cloud and container technology skills are most in demand by hiring managers with 46% seeking workers with cloud experience. That outpaces workers with Linux skills for the first time in the history of the survey.