Technology skills in demand, 2021: cloud, with a twist of open source

Latest hiring survey from Linux Foundation and edX finds demand for cloud, container and Linux skills rebounding. Companies finally recognize these skills must be nurtured from within. But more is needed.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Technology skills hiring is up, and the opportunities are in those skills that are a fusion of cloud and open source technologies. But can employers rise to the challenge of facilitating skills development in both areas? 

Photo: Joe McKendrick

This question was addressed in a recent survey report, covering 750 open source professionals and 200 hiring managers, published by The Linux Foundation and edX, which shows hiring is rebounding in the wake of the pandemic. Fifty percent of employers surveyed who stated they are increasing hires this year. There are significant challenges though, with 92% of managers reporting difficulty finding enough talent, as they also struggle to hold onto existing talent in the face of fierce competition. Furthermore, the rapid adoption of open source software is widening the skills gap in the market. This is especially true for cloud native application development and operations skills, topping the list of 46% of hiring managers.

"For those looking for the best career paths, cloud-native computing, DevOps, Linux, and security hold the most promising opportunities, said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation. Indeed.

Yet, there needs to be more training and educational support. The greatest challenge developers face in the survey, cited by 41% of those surveyed, is a lack of training opportunities. Other challenges include a lack of documentation for open source projects (38%) and difficulty obtaining buy-in from management to use open source (37%).

The survey shows cloud and container technology skills are most in demand by hiring managers, surpassing Linux for the first time in the history of this report, with 46% of hiring managers seeking cloud talent. At the same time, the survey confirms that qualified open source talent is still in short supply. Ninety-two percent of hiring managers report difficulty finding sufficient talent with open source skills. Half of companies are accelerating open source hiring, further exacerbating the talent gap. 

Skills in Demand 

  • Cloud/container technologies    41%
  • Linux                                          32%
  • Networking technologies           31%
  • Security                                     28%
  • AI/machine learning                  18%
  • Storage technologies                17%
  • Edge computing                        17%
  • Web technologies                     16%

Sixty-one percent of professionals surveyed also reported that their organizations' use of the cloud has increased over the past year -- which, by the way, depends heavily on infrastructure technologies, including Linux and networking. DevOps and security practices are also integrated into the management of cloud environments, explaining the importance hiring managers placed on those areas as well. The survey finds DevOps has become the standard method for developing software. Virtually all professionals (88%) report using DevOps practices in their work, a 50% increase from three years ago.

Casting wide nets for qualified professionals only can go so far -- even though with the rise and acceptance of remote work, these nets can extend across the planet. What is just as important is helping the people already in the organization to refresh their skills. Large numbers of professionals are demanding more training opportunities from their employers, demonstrated by 92% of managers reporting an increase in requests. Employers also report that they prioritize training investments to close skills gaps, with 58% using this tactic; by comparison, 29% bring in external consultants to close their skill gaps. 

Two-thirds (66%) of developers surveyed report employer-sponsored training opportunities as being the most sought benefit to help them succeed in their roles, followed by attending technical conferences and events at 54%. "Getting the job done will require organizations to adopt a talent management strategy that uses an all-encompassing mix of upskilling, cross-training, smart hiring, and effective retention programs," the report's authors urge. "All of this work must be planned for and undertaken with an eye towards time, budget, and availability of technical skills."  

The skills shortages in emerging technologies have far-reaching implications. "We are facing a situation where new technologies are being built on legacy technologies, requiring middleware that often cannot keep up with changes in underlying software infrastructure," the report's authors caution. "When combined with a lack of skills around both old and new technologies, the hiring market for open source talent is experiencing unprecedented stress. There are no easy solutions to these challenges, and it will take years to work through all the legacy applications that still exist."

From a software professional's perspective, "these software lifecycle and enterprise systems management issues can seem daunting. Modern technology changes so quickly that it is confusing to begin and focus on the right areas to succeed in their professions." 

The Covid crisis reshaped IT professionals' jobs to some extent. Nearly 70% of hiring managers surveyed stated that their organization would maintain at least a part-time work from home policy permanently, where not all workers will be required to be in the office every day. From an employee perspective, 30% report that they experienced an increase in workload due to the pandemic. Other impacts include the 22% who were forced at some point to reduce their hours, take unpaid leave, or lost their job (16% of those who lost a job report they have not yet found a new one). Only 21% stated that the pandemic did not affect their work.

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