Hiring Squeeze

Aug 31, 2004 (04:08 PM EDT)

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When IT professionals hear talk of coming employment shortages, certain specialties come to mind. Over the past several years, for example, you'd have a hard time browsing a trade magazine without hearing at least a passing reference to the mainframe skills shortage that companies should expect as their older, COBOL-loving experts quit their data centers for RV parks and golf courses across the country.

Lately, however, I've heard more and more predictions of a developing Linux skills shortage. A recent Yankee Group research report painted a relatively bright future for Linux, mostly on the server but also to some extent on the corporate desktop. Yet when the report counseled caution for firms considering a headlong plunge into the open-source waters, it noted that the relative scarcity of Linux administrators and support personnel could make it harder for them to get a healthy return on their investments.

There's also a lot of talk lately about the window of opportunity (pardon the pun) Microsoft appears to have opened for Linux: security concerns, the farce that is the Longhorn shipping date, and Redmond's own troubles building a critical mass of .Net developers all add up to fat times for open-source troublemakers. A golden opportunity, it seems, might soon be at risk as companies beat the bushes looking for Linux professionals who can satisfy all of these rising expectations.

The Linux job market appears to reflect this trend. The July 2004 Dice Report, for example, shows astronomical growth in Linux-related IT job postings and above-average salaries for Linux professionals. In other words, if you follow the money, it appears to lead to a bunch of Linux sys admins, support specialists, security professionals, and other experts who are suddenly very happy they didn't become English lit majors in college.

At any rate, that's the story we're hearing from industry statistics and market analysts--admittedly perhaps the two most unreliable sources of information ever to be unleashed on scoop-hungry tech journalists. But is it the whole story? Is Linux, and the open-source world in general, in danger of missing a golden opportunity to smash Microsoft for want of enough warm bodies to hold the battlefield?

Let me know what you think, and we'll return to this issue in a few weeks to see if the Linux "skills shortage" passes your collective smell test.