How to get an open-source job

Having open-source programming chops or Linux sysadmin skills is only the start.

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As Dice, the leading technology job site, and The Linux Foundation recently found in their latest Open Source Jobs Survey and Report, there's an abundance of open-source jobs. Here's how you land one of them for yourself.

First, simply having mad open-source developer skills or kick-ass Linux sysadmin abilities isn't enough. You must be able to prove that you can actually walk the walk and not just talk the talk. There are several ways to do that.

SUSE human resources expert Marie Louise van Deutekom said, "Let's face it, open source is all about community. You can elevate your career through contributions to your community. SUSE looks at contributions as part of our recruitment strategy. Not to mention, it's great to see how much people really do contribute to these communities over time, which in turn helps my team understand specific skill levels and where to place potential candidates."

Red Hat agrees with its European Linux rival. Allison Showalter, Red Hat corporate communications manager, said, "At a base level with all Red Hat positions, knowledge of, and a passion for, open-source practices, licenses, and ecosystems is a must for applicants. Applicants who are active in open-source communities and truly believe in the open-source way are the people that we want working at Red Hat."

So, if you're not active in an open-source community, it's time to start. That's especially important if you're a programmer. Open source is a meritocracy.

As DeLisa Alexander, Red Hat's executive VP and chief people officer, explained recently, "We want to be a place where good ideas can come from anyone or anywhere, and the best ideas win. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that meritocracy is a requirement of any open organization."

That's the ideal. As Alexander observed: "Meritocracy can be used as an excuse for elements of our culture that aren't inclusive or productive." A recent GitHub study, for example, found that if a name or profile picture easily reveals that a contributor is a woman, their rate of acceptance fell to 58 percent, while identifiable men had an acceptance rate of 61 percent." Sexism is alive and well.

Women with a gender-neutral profile, however, had 70 percent of their pull requests accepted, compared with 65 percent for men with gender-neutral profiles. In short, former Google engineer James Damore's claim that men are biologically better at software engineering flies in the face of the facts.

Can't get your Linux contributions accepted by Linus Torvalds? Few can. It's not easy. But there are many other open-source projects that need your help. In turn, your work here can help you get a job.

Good old-fashioned networking can also help. I've recently heard from some people that if companies were truly seeking open-source savvy employees they'd be reaching out to us, without the need for networking. Ah, no. That's not how it works. You must make the effort. You need to talk to people in real life to get that all-important first interview.

One way to do that is to go to Linux and open-source conferences such as the Linux Foundation's upcoming Open Source Summit North America. I go to many open-source technical conferences. At all of them, 90 percent of the firms on the showroom floor are looking for employees with open-source skills.

As Showalter remarked, "More than 50 percent of employees hired at Red Hat come through the Red Hat Ambassadors program -- our associate referral initiative. Networking with current Red Hat employees and asking them to refer you is the best way to get your foot in the door." That's true of all companies.

Linux and open-source certifications can also prove that you have what it takes. According to the Dice and Linux Foundation survey, "50 percent of hiring managers are more likely to hire a certified professional." Once you have your foot in the door, 47 percent of companies will help pay for your certifications.

Van Deutekom added, "It's important to think of yourself as a continuous learner and show your willingness to learn. Take advantage of these opportunities to build out your skillset and refine your expertise in certain areas." Those are wise words.

Which Linux certifications should you get? A recent job search on several popular job posting sites found that the top certification for entry-level Linux sysadmins is the CompTIA Linux+. For higher-level positions, the Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) and Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA) are the certifications of choice.

Last, but not least, you should look for areas that are hot. For example, I love the Linux desktop; you (well some of you anyway) love the Linux desktop; but the job market doesn't love the Linux desktop. Yes, it can be useful for your career if you have experience in programming GNOME or KDE, but you're unlikely to get a job in them.

Instead, by the open-source job survey's count, developer remains the position most hiring managers (73 percent) seek to fill. This is followed by DevOps engineers (60 percent) and systems administrators (53 percent).

Cloud technology such as OpenStack and Cloud Foundry ranked as the most sought-after area of expertise among 70 percent of employers. Linux also underpins Google and Amazon's public clouds. Even Microsoft Azure increasingly uses open-source programs and more than a third of its virtual machines are running Linux. Big data and containers are also big and getting bigger.

If I could give you one word of advice to consider when you're deciding where to focus your attention, it would be the cloud. The cloud is the future of IT. Cloud and its subsidiary technologies -- virtualization, containers, and DevOps -- rely on Linux. With effort, the right connections, and the right skills, the future of IT will depend on you as well.

Good luck.

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