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Economic crisis no impact on OSS jobs

Downturn may boost open source deployments but there has been no immediate spike in demand for such skills, HR execs say.
Written by Sol E. Solomon, Contributor

Exponents of open source software (OSS) hail the technology as a way to help organizations cut cost in the current downturn, but HR executives are less convinced that the recession has boosted demand for skills needed to manage open source environments.

Tay Kok Choon, country manager of JobStreet Singapore, does not see an immediate spike in the demand for open source talent.

"For companies that have adopted the platform, it is a planned and conscious effort; they will continue with the strategy, given good or bad times," Tay told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview.

To ensure survival in tougher economic conditions, he added that companies were unlikely to trim IT costs by migrating to a new platform. Instead, they would rather put new projects on hold, he said.

Roger Olofsson, information technology associate director at recruitment consultancy Robert Walters, agreed. "It is too early into the downturn to see organizations making such a radical shift," Olofsson said in a phone interview. "We won't see people making decisions to switch to OSS just because of the economy."

"Many organizations would do so only when it is time to upgrade their hardware and software," Walters said.

Open source advocates including Red Hat's chief executive Jim Whitehurst, believe that as companies consolidate their technology infrastructure and reduce spending due to the crisis, this would cause more companies to consider OSS as an option.

Tay, however, rebutted the general assumption that opting for OSS will immediately trim costs.

"There is a constant tradeoff between time and money spent to ensure the robustness of IT infrastructure and applications," he explained. "Unlike consumables, where cost savings can immediately be realized, adopting a new IT platform takes time and effort."

Olofsson noted that, generally, companies converting to open source do not enjoy cost savings in the immediate, short term. This is because while they may save on software licenses, there are other significant investments including integration, infrastructure development and administrative costs, involved in the migration.

While Tay said there is growing OSS adoption among enterprises, he noted that a number of larger companies such as Vodafone, DoCoMo and China Mobile, disallow the use of such software in mission-critical environments, unless there is a support contract behind these deployments.

Olofsson concurred: "We see the trend where companies are moving to OSS in mixed environments, using proprietary software like Microsoft Windows together with OSS on top of that."

Therefore, he said, companies are looking for technology professionals who are proficient in both proprietary and OSS technologies so they can work in mixed environments.

OSS skills in demand
In demand are OSS systems expertise including Linux operating system proficiency, and Apache Web server knowledge, Olofsson revealed. Also, given that these professionals are expected to work in mixed environments, he added that Perl expertise is in high demand as the programming language cuts across various computing platforms.

Job candidates should therefore build their knowledge of OSS as these technologies are gaining in importance, Olofsson advised, noting it is still difficult to find people with deep open source skills.

According to Tay, salaries for OSS skills currently remain in line with other IT talents. "Furthermore, the declining economy has dampened demand for IT expertise in general, except for some specific areas. Hence, starting salaries tend to thread lower than before," he said.

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