Linux skills are hot on improving IT hiring front

IT job cuts are diminishing overall, but data suggests that Linux workers face particularly rosy prospects.

IT professionals enjoyed a dramatically improved hiring landscape in 2010, marked in particular by the fewest job cuts in a year since 2000.

That's according to global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which on Monday reported that employers announced plans to cut only 46,825 IT jobs during 2010--a full 73% fewer than the 174,629 technology job cuts in 2009.

That 73% decline also exceeds by far the 59% decrease in overall job cuts across all industries, which fell from 1,288,033 in 2009 to 529,973 in 2010, the firm reported.

Thank You, Smartphone and Tablets

"Many industries are still struggling, even as the economy recovers; the technology sector does not appear to be in this camp, however," said John A. Challenger, the consultancy's CEO. "These firms are definitely on the leading edge of the recovery, as companies across the country and around the globe begin to upgrade and reinvest in their technology."

The popularity of smartphones and tablets, in particular, is helping to drive growth in electronics, telecom and computers, Challenger noted.

Indeed, Forrester Research predicts that 2011 IT spending will increase 7.5% in the U.S. and 7.1% globally, Challenger, Gray & Christmas noted, while employment research firm Dice expects IT hiring to increase this year.

'Looking for Linux Talent'

What's particularly exciting for those with an interest in Linux, however, is that skills in the open source operating system are in particular demand, according to Dice.

Not only are job postings on the IT and engineering site up 40% generally compared with last year, but postings seeking Linux knowledge have increased a full 47% over last year, the Linux Foundation reports. Windows-related postings, by comparison, have increased by only 40%.

"The number of Linux-based projects is rapidly increasing all over this industry," Intel's Linux and Open Source Technologist Dirk Hohndel told the Linux Foundation. "More and more devices and systems and services are built based on Linux, and therefore, more and more manufacturers and vendors are looking for Linux talent."

Linux professionals also tend to get a significant salary premium of as much as 10% over other IT workers, Dice reported last year.

An Employee's Market

We've already seen evidence piling up that large enterprises are increasingly turning to Linux for mission-critical applications. We've also seen that a lack of Linux skills is frequently cited as the key stumbling block preventing businesses from using Linux even more.

Put those two facts together, and it's not surprising to see a surge in demand for Linux skills.

For SMBs, this could mean that it will be tougher than ever to find the skilled Linux workers you need--and that you'll have to pay them more when you find them. It may be a good time to bolster your in-house Linux skills instead through educational offerings like the online Master's Program in Free Software and Free Standards, as I noted last fall.

Advice for IT Professionals

For Linux professionals, on the other hand, the outlook for this year could be very rosy indeed. Among the recommendations from the Linux Foundation's panel of experts were the following:

  • Participate in the open source community -- let your code be seen, and attend relevant events.
  • Demonstrate how you've helped a business with Linux or open source software.
  • Don't generalize too far -- pick a niche you love and focus on it.
  • Keep learning. The Linux Foundation offers a variety of courses in embedded and kernel-level Linux development, for example.

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.

This story, "Linux skills are hot on improving IT hiring front" was originally published by PCWorld.

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