Open source jobs are in high demand, but wait--what's an open source professional?

Commentary: A new Linux Foundation report suggests it's a great time to be an open source professional. Matt Asay argues that an open source professional is no one and almost everyone.

open source handwritten with related word cloud

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The Linux Foundation just released its 2020 Open Source Jobs Report, and Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has done a great job of dissecting the report on ZDNet (a sister site of TechRepublic). What's missing from the report is some sort of definition of what an "open source job" is. Because, as near as I can tell, "open source professional" doing an "open source job" simply translates to "developers writing code."

Yes, really.

As Linux Foundation executive Chris Aniszczyk said, "The world is changing where open source is just the defacto standard for a good portion of software, and folks are expected to have the background to work on projects and in upstream communities." With nearly all software including at least some open source code, and upwards of 80% of all software codebases actually being open source, according to WhiteSource analysis, there's arguably no such thing as a distinct category of "open source professional."

SEE: How to build a successful developer career (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Just what is an open source professional?

Reading through the Linux Foundation jobs report, there are all sorts of statistics that suggest the value of open source skills and open source professionals:

  • 93% of hiring managers report difficulty finding sufficient talent with open source skills, up from 87% two years ago. [Sounds bad!]

  • 56% of hiring managers plan to increase their hiring of open source professionals in the next six months compared to the last six months. [Sounds good!]

  • 4% of hiring managers surveyed said they have laid off open source professionals due to the pandemic, and a further 2% furloughed open source staff. [Sounds…?]

  • Hiring managers report knowledge of open cloud technologies has the most significant impact, with 70% being more likely to hire a pro with these skills, up from 66% in 2018. [Sounds….What exactly are these "open cloud technologies"? Is that Envoy? Kubernetes? If so, isn't that just...the cloud technologies that everyone uses?]

It's hard to know exactly what these statistics mean without knowing what the terms mean. Fortunately, in June 2016 the Linux Foundation defined what an "open source professional" is:

Professionalizing and scaling the open source space requires specialized tools, licensing regimes, project governance, expert training, credible certifications and events that enable collaboration. In other words, a similar support ecosystem to that which has long been the standard for proprietary software, but operating on open source principles such as collaboration and open governance. Open source professionals are the individuals who make this happen. They include not only the Administrators and Engineers who deploy and manage systems and the developers who write the code, but also attorneys that ensure compliance with open source licenses, educators who teach new and existing professionals how to use the tools available to them, management teams that evaluate which projects to both invest in and implement and so many more.

In other words, an "open source professional" with "open source skills" is "someone who works in software and has to interact with open source." It's...almost everyone. 

Ignorance is no excuse

Yes, you used to be able to get by in tech without ever having to say the words "open source," but we don't live in that world anymore. At a previous company where I worked, we did an inventory of the open source code we used in our products. This was a proprietary software company, and everyone assumed most of the code included in our products was also proprietary. Nope. While it differed from product to product, on average 60 to 70% of the code in our products was open source. 

This was a proprietary software company that depended on proprietary licensing for its revenue. Most companies aren't like that, and may well use an even higher percentage of open source code. 

SEE: 10 ways to prevent developer burnout (free PDF) (TechRepublic) 

This means, of course, that there are really not "open source professionals." There are just "software professionals." That said, it is true that succeeding with open source software requires a different mindset, if not skill set. If you're a developer, it pays to understand how to contribute to an open source project, thereby putting your employer in a better position to support itself, rather than depending on vendors. (At the employer I mentioned, we ran the numbers and discovered we'd save tens of millions of dollars staffing up to support ourselves with an open source database, rather than paying for support.) And if you're not a developer, it still pays to understand the nuances of open source licenses and norms, so that you can better support developers as they build.

But, to Aniszczyk's point, this is not really a distinct thing anymore. It's just a matter of successfully living and working in the open source world we live in.

Disclosure: I work for AWS, but the views expressed herein are mine.

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