Where are all the Linux professionals?

Real shortage or just a failure to communicate?

Earlier this week, the Linux Foundation, in conjunction with job board Dice.com, published its 2012 Linux Jobs Report--a collection of survey results that gave an interesting picture of the state of the jobs market for Linux.

Overall, the news was positive, and much reported on in the media: job demand for Linux professionals is high, with employers adding more Linux job openings, and paying more to acquire and keep good Linux talent.

But one statistic in all of the pretty infographics and results popped out at me: 85 percent of those surveyed indicated "that finding Linux talent is 'somewhat to very' difficult."

One would expect this figure to be high in a situation where demand was higher than supply: in a scarcity scenario, how could it be anything but? However, 85 percent seemed particularly high… it is really that hard to find Linux talent?

Several reasons for this scarcity occurred to me right off the bat: employers are seeking candidates with higher-than-realistic expectations, potential candidates aren't getting the education/certifications they need, or perhaps there's an actual decrease of talent coming into the Linux ecosystem.

To see if I could uncover an answer, I contacted Dice.com Managing Director Alice Hill to see what clues she could provide. Hill clarified the results of the report succinctly: even though many companies are coming back after the recession, shortages of Linux professional are significant, which is causing the uptick in salary offerings.

Hill was referring to this statement in the Jobs Report:

"While the average pay increase for tech professionals averaged just two percent in 2011, the 2012 Linux Jobs Report indicates that Linux experts can expect and command more. In fact, according to Dice’s annual Salary Survey, in 2011, Linux professionals saw a five percent increase, year-over-year, in their pay as well as a 15 percent jump in bonus payouts."

The general economic recovery seems to be driving not only a broad-based increase in hiring, but there also seems to be a specific push to increase Linux use in businesses.

"Forty eight percent of respondents are reporting an increase Linux use," Hill said. That, coupled with general company growth and a need to step up IT efforts in general, makes for a very nice picture in the Linux job market. To see how this breaks down, check out this list of demand drivers from the report:

  1. "Company is growing, creating need for additional Linux-focused team members (49%)
  2. "Increasing use of Linux in our company and need in-house support (48%)
  3. "Linux has become core to our business and we need to increase our participation in the Linux community (30%)
  4. "Replacing systems with Linux and need Linux expertise to assist with migrations (27%)
  5. "Difficulty in retaining Linux-related talent is creating openings that we need to backfill (13%)
  6. "I don’t know (7%)
  7. "Other (5%)"

All of this is great news, but where is all the Linux talent hiding?

Hill cited one possible cause: overall, many of the jobs openings that are showing up on Dice.com are seeking professionals who are at the mid-level of their careers. That would mean that fresh-out-of-school grads or those with just a few years' experience might not be getting found or may not be applying for openings.

Would certifications help make up for the missing years' experience. Here, Hill was less than sanguine. "Only 30 percent of our respondents felt that certification was important," Hill told me.

"But," she added, "it can help your résumé stand out."

And getting that stand out résumé is a very good way of getting yourself hired. Hill explained that many job openings on Dice.com are filled without formal applications by candidates. Instead, recruiters and hiring managers will find candidates' résumés using the search features on Dice.com (and sites like it).

"Make sure your résumé has the appropriate keywords so it will be picked up in someone's search," Hill said. If enough of your talents are highlighted, it may be enough to get a junior-level candidate a shot at a job.

Hill's suggestions are useful, and could indicate a contributing factor to this shortage. I also suspect something else is going on here.

My guess here is that during the recession, a lot of Linux talent went to ground and took any sort of position in order to stay afloat during the crunch times. Only now, as things are loosening up in hiring and demand increases, we may be seeing a lot of those potential Linux candidates ensconced in their other careers--happily or otherwise. That means it will take some time for Linux professionals to be "re-distributed" to other, better-fitting jobs.

In the meantime, brush up those résumés and keep your experience levels up with community participation. From the sound of things, if you really want a career in Linux, there's going to be something out there for you.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Zettatag and Open for Discussion blogs and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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