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Desperately Seeking Linux Programmers

Desperately Seeking Linux Programmers

Few people know just how pervasive Linux has become, and that is causing a big problem for companies that increasingly rely on it. "There is a shortage of software developers in the U.S. The employment rate for these jobs is down to 2.3 percent in the last quarter. The opportunity for jobs is now there for people who come in to get this training," said Dice President Shravan Goli.

By Jack M. Germain LinuxInsider ECT News Network
04/11/14 4:43 PM PT

Help Wanted: computer programmers needed to code and maintain Linux systems.

The Linux operating system and Linux servers are so widely used today that not enough Linux-trained coders and system techs exist. Software developers and enterprise IT departments have jobs but no takers.

To fill this shortage, the Linux Foundation has partnered with edX to offer a free online course to help computer engineers learn Linux.

The growing shortage of Linux-capable programmers is a big contributor to the general unawareness of open source procedures in the software developer community. On the academic front, some universities and secondary school systems are introducing courses developed by the Stem Education Coalition. STEM's mission is to inform federal and state policymakers about the critical role that science, technology and engineering play, and the benefits available to schools from open source technology.

On the job front, some industry leaders are joining forces to jumpstart a Linux of Learning movement to help ease the growing shortage of qualified programmers to take waiting jobs.

"This shortage goes beyond merely not having enough Linux programmers. It is pervasive and goes across every sector of technology -- mainly because Linux is pervasive. Part of the issue is that you can not just take programmers proficient in one area, such as Windows, and have them work on Linux code," Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, told LinuxInsider.

Historical Accident

Today, Linux and the Linux platform are running society. It is staggering how the demand for Linux is growing, noted Zemlin.

For example, literally thousands of televisions sold every day are controlled by Linux. It runs financial systems. It runs the Internet and air traffic control systems. High performance computing -- you name it -- all of this runs on Linux, he explained.

"This is an accident of history. For many years, Windows dominated enterprise technology. Linux has grown so quickly that it caught IT people off guard," said Zemlin.

Growth Factor

Enterprise and software developers are facing a growing shortage of software engineers who know Linux coding. The adoption of Linux and open source software has outstripped the supply of people trained to innovate, create and service these systems.

The Linux Foundation's surveys among enterprise respondents show the No. 1 hiring priority for IT managers is Linux skills. Linux programmers also get paid more than other programmers, according to Zemlin.

"This is a critical shortage. Any scalable way we can lower that market, the Linux Foundation wants to get behind it," he said.

MOOCs to the Rescue

One of the first solutions the Linux Foundation is backing involves bringing free introductory training directly to potential job takers worldwide. If the online learning method proves successful, advanced course offerings will follow.

The Linux Foundation and edX are partnering to develop a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) program that will help to bridge the training gap for IT talent. The basic Linux training course and materials will be available to all enrolled students for free. So will be the cost of taking what, until now, was a US$2,500 course.

EdX recently open-sourced its online education platform and will host the Linux Foundation course. edX is a nonprofit online learning destination created by MIT and Harvard University.

The free Linux course will be paid out of the group's own funding. For example, MIT and Harvard have invested $15 million in edX, and there are other funding streams, according to Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX.

Crowd Pleaser

"The Linux course the Linux Foundation is offering is fast becoming one of the five most popular courses we offer," Agarwal told LinuxInsider.

The 170 other online programs edX hosts completely online serve more than 2 million students from 196 countries and that number is growing dramatically. The Linux course had 100,000 students sign up in the first 10 days, he said.

The online course approach is making a huge impact on the world. So it is a very natural progression to offer the Linux course. The idea was to experiment with this one, Agarwal added.

Learning Linux Lessons

Many computer users and some enterprise executives are not aware of the proliferation of Linux and open source. That is part of the education process the Linux Foundation is addressing. People who do not know about the Linux OS or Linux servers are generally clueless about open source software as well.

Still, the demand for Linux and other open source tools has been growing for years. As a result, there is a need for developing associated skills across multiple industries, said Shravan Goli, president of Dice.

"There is a shortage of software developers in the U.S. The employment rate for these jobs is down to 2.3 percent in the last quarter. The opportunity for jobs is now there for people who come in to get this training," Goli told LinuxInsider.

Linux Driving Jobs

That is part of the motivation behind getting more training available online. The need is not just for open source training but for other aspects of software programming as well. These MOOC courses will put a lot of emphasis on open source, the data cloud and Linux, Goli said.

"We are starting to see an increased awareness for the opportunities in the field for learning about software programming. But initiatives are also starting for grass roots efforts to get more people involved, excited and learning coding at a very early stage and ultimately to develop those skills," he noted.

Job ads on Dice are showing career paths for a widespread adoption of technologies at all sorts of companies. Whether it is a retail company or telecom, finance company or automobile company, all kinds of companies beyond the traditional technology firms are leveraging software technologies, Goli explained. That is heightening demand for Linux skills.

More Linux Leanings

Two other technology developments are driving the need for Linux programmers. One is the availability of -- and the ability to collect -- lots of data. The other is the growth of mobile devices, Goli said.

When you combine mobile with data collection and the idea that all kinds of devices need to be available for enterprises all the time, it also is spurring the movement toward cloud technology, he added.

"All of these components have both a combination of a proprietary platform and open source. All of these new demands are consuming the existing computer engineers, so there is a growing vacancy for replacements and new positions," he said.

Changing Times

The shortage in computer programmers for open source software development and Linux programs is not all that surprising. Any time you have a change in the technology landscape, professionals have to change their skills, noted Zemlin.

"Really, it's the changing of the guard. It is a pervasive changing of the guard -- not just limited to the skills needed for Linux. We are also seeing a demand for a second set of skills. This involves what it takes to work across companies and across industries," he added.

This new skill set is needed for those programmers already in the industry, as well as those looking to start their programming careers. It involves how you present your skill sets in a resume when you participated in open source projects.

"If you are able to get your patch in for the Linux kernel, the odds are you are going to get a job. That requires not only knowing the programming skills to get that code into the kernel, but also knowing how the open source development process works. It also involves knowing how to collaborate with others, which is equally important," Zemlin said, noting that is what Linux of Learning is all about.

Where It Is Headed

The response to the Linux Foundation's first free course offering through edX surprised both Zemlin and Agarwal, and both said the results would need solid analysis before they could point to what should happen next.

"That is very cool. It is not that often we get to fill several football stadiums with Linux fans. I do not know where we will go after this. We will cross that bridge when we get to it," Zemlin said.

Success will be measured by looking at three factors, according to Agarwal. The first one, the volume of people signing up for the course, clearly has already been met.

The next step is to determine whether students feel they have learned significantly from taking the course and can pursue job opportunities. The third part is learning what potential employers feel about the qualifications of the students who have completed the course.

"The hope is that more of the Foundation's Linux courses will be added to our platform," said edX's Argarwal.

Proof Still Needed

The MOOC model has not been proven yet. Ultimately, its success will depend on the end-users' motivation to learn and apply themselves and then to go find the opportunities, said Dice's Goli.

The availability of an online medium to learn Linux is definitely providing the opportunity to many more people than five years ago. Still, it is going to take time to see an impact, he cautioned.

"I do not see this as a perfect solution. It is more of a ground level, grass roots, cultural movement that is happening," Goli remarked. "Ultimately, we are going to see the benefits -- but the overall shortage of professionals, I think, we are going to continue to see."


Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear. You can connect with him on Google+.


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