Critical Shortage of Linux Talent Slowing Adoption

by Tom Adelstein

Disheartening as it seems, corporations, governments, start-ups and small businesses have difficulty recruiting and retaining talented Linux IT workers. That has become a familiar refrain whenever Linux fails the adoption test in many places across the globe.

Some Linux luminaries have suggested implementing in-house training for existing staff. Unfortunately, curriculum and trainers seem in short supply. Another aspect of this problem relates to cost. Those willing to provide training under price their services and wind up losing the respect and trust of decision makers.

The Problem?

Most human resource people believe Linux is an air conditioner company. They get confused between the term Linux and Lennox. So, HR recruiters define their job profiles like this:

Linux programmer needed by enterprise. Skills required:


Five to ten years of relevant training and master plumbers' license required. Will accept equivalent for H1B applicants. Microsoft Certifications a plus.

I had a great deal of difficulty getting a job when I applied for positions such as these. I never made it past the first interview. Oh, I had the Microsoft Certifications, Novell, extensive programming skills and experience with Oracle reports and forms. I could tune numerous commercial databases, implement redundant systems, configure web servers. I also had hardware repair and maintenance knowledge and experience ranging from rebuilding large Sun Sparc systems to small Intel systems. But, I couldn't charge TXV systems or handle the liquid & suction lines. Ethernet, Token Ring, ArcNet, but not those l&s systems.

So, I had to start my own firm. I landed a programming project and found four qualified people immediately. My best programmer came from Goodyear. He was an errand boy. He swept the shop, made deliveries and pickups, cleaned up after hours and took verbal abuse from everyone.

I doubled his salary to $11.75 per hour. He immediately came in and won the project lead position. I promised him a raise on his 20th birthday that fall. With a little guidance, he built the first version of a replacement for Microsoft exchange running on an IBM S/390.

I found a couple of older chaps, one already twenty and his cousin twenty one. The first young man had just started getting unemployment compensation as he has lost his job at a outsourcing call center where he made $10.50 supporting Microsoft MSN. His cousin left his spot when he heard about the opening. He had advanced to $13.75 per hour and was on a fast track to assistant mentor.

The fourth member of the group had spent over a year on the bench at a major outsourcing firm. He specialized in project management in a object oriented environment. His main drawback was a lack of experience with Microsoft Foundation Classes.

And You Say You Can't Find Linux Talent

One of the better hires I made came from a city government. The city hired him to train and work with an assortment of mainframe and Microsoft programmers and admins. Suddenly, he went from a strong candidate to laughing stock of the IT department.

I called his former CIO and found out that everyone in department complained about him. He must have overstated his knowledge and experience on his resume. He was weak at best.

This employee turned out to be one of my better all around people. He could program in several languages and had excellent system administration skills. He did his job and managed several systems including CVS, web services and documentation. He also kept our Microsoft development servers functional. I had to back him up once he took the job off my plate, but I never had to reboot another system while he worked for me.

Linux Migration Nixed

OK. You have seen these stories, I'm sure. People say that not enough Linux talent exists. I have heard some uninformed statements in my day, but this one ranks up with if you eat everything in sight you will lose weight.

I read ads for Linux positions on several career sites when I thought about writing this story. I covered a two year period. I saw two positions for Linux system administrators with no conditions asked.

I also went into a thousand job ads that wanted Linux skills with CNE, MCSE and other certifications. Ads required experience with AS/400 and iSeries, S/390 and VM skills, knowledge of the Linux kernel and NT programming in C++.

What are you - of unsound mind? You guys can't enter into a contract because of capacity? Too busy for your spouse and family?

Of course you can't find Linux talent. Yet at every Linux User group and UNIX User group meeting I attend across the globe, I can find dozens of good Linux people looking for work - any work.

Here's your perfect candidate: 5 years experience, MCSE, RHCE with S/390 programming experience, Linux device driver and kernel programming, documentation specialist with excellent written and verbal skills and the ability to interact with C-Level management. NO vacation or medical. One week vacation negotiable after two years of tenure. Minimum seventy hours per week, exempt. $28,000 annual salary, no relocation expenses. English as a second language a plus.

Some Final Thoughts

An abundance of people exist with excellent Linux skills. If you cannot find them, I suggest the breakdown exists on your end. You can fix that by changing your hiring practices and listening instead of telling or ordering.

You're travelling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead - your next stop the, the Linux Zone!


2005-10-04 21:03:28
glut of software development talent
There is no shortage of talent.

It's not as though Linux were enough different from any other operating system to make application of skills impossible.

The trouble is that executives are too picky, too reluctant to relocate talent, resistant to cross-training talented and knowledgeable people. They're so inundated with capable applicants that they typically withhold e-mail addresses, voice telephone numbers, contact names and street addresses from job ads.

And besides, guest-workers are cheap and readily available. It's interesting that firms have made applications for only about half of the 20K H-1b visa quotas for FY2005 and now FY2006 for people with advanced degrees from US colleges and universities.

It's also interesting how few colleges and universities firms typically deign to visit on their recruiting jaunts, and how few applicants they call back, let alone fly in for interviews.

The fact is that there has been a glut of software development talent going back to at least the early 1990s.

2005-10-05 13:23:10
Plenty of talent here.
I've always thought the claim that Linux talent was scarce was pure FUD. I for one am available and I have ten years of experience, have written many howtos on my own website, mailing lists, and even for a couple magazines. I have ten years of experience using Linux (seven as my main desktop OS), I can program well in a dozen languages, have skill with databases, and am also at home working with Windows, Mac OS, AS/400, and most other systems. I'm one of thost geeks that knows how to do everything but still has trouble finding decent work. I'm hardly the exception. I know hundreds of other Linux geeks that are unemployed or underemployed.

Linux talent is easy to find, cheap, and much more skilled than most of the Windows professionals you'll find. I totally agree that unexperienced HR and management is the reason companies have trouble finding Linux staff. Some of the job requirements are just insane especially since most of the time the jobs pay very little. "Kernel hacker, must have experience maintaining a major system. - $8/hr." Yeah sure.