So you say your company doesn't run Linux or code with PHP? Don't make the mistake of thinking you're unaffected by open-source technologies such as these. Open source is tearing up the technology landscape. Ignore it, and you may be asking for trouble, even if your current job seems far removed from the world of open source.
While naysayers once viewed it as a niche for anti-Microsoft techies, open source is now considered mainstream, embraced by Fortune 500 firms and startups alike. Open-source expertise carries undeniable street cred among hardcore techies, who will view you as out of touch if you lack open-source knowledge. That opinion extends to technical writers, sales engineers and other IT professionals beyond the programmers who are typically identified with the open-source movement.
"Anyone that ignores the importance of open-source software is setting themselves up for a comeuppance, if not a total meltdown, at some point in the future," says Dave Rosenberg, principal analyst at the The Linux Foundation, an organization devoted to accelerating Linux adoption. "Companies like Google and Yahoo are using open-source software to run entire infrastructures. The world is leaning toward openness, not away from it.
What's Driving Open-Source Nation?
A number of factors have made open-source know-how important to a broad swath of techies:
- The prevalence of heterogeneous IT environments, bringing together open-source and proprietary technologies, means help-desk workers, sales personnel, Web developers and others are likely to work with open-source systems -- if not in their current jobs, then in future ones.
- Because open-source technologies, such as the LAMP stack, are freely available, you essentially have no excuse for not trying them. Shunning open-source knowledge may even raise questions about your enthusiasm for the industry.
- Taking concrete steps, such as contributing to an open-source project, may give you an advantage when job hunting or seeking cutting-edge projects at work.
- Organizations looking to cut IT costs often examine open source as an option, placing a premium on IT professionals who can sort through alternatives.
- Companies view open-source systems not just as a way to manage their infrastructure or develop systems but also as a way to experiment without making a major investment.
"When I managed the Web team for a large nonprofit organization, I loved using open-source software to try out new ideas and technologies," says C. David Gammel, president of High Context Consulting. "I went out of my way to hire people who showed a passion about using and contributing to open-source projects, even though we were primarily a Microsoft shop."
Patty Laushman, president of the Uptime Group, a Linux and Windows consultancy, concurs. "All my employees must be versed in both Microsoft and open-source solutions."
Who Needs to Know Open Source?
Beyond system engineers and programmers, Laushman says professionals in other disciplines should bone up on open-source technologies. For instance:
- Salespeople need to know enough about open source to understand when to recommend a proprietary, open-source or mixed solution.
- Marketers need a sense of how open source is reshaping the technology environment so they can better market products and services to IT managers.
- Recruiters need enough knowledge to be able to spot relevant open-source expertise.
"Job security is not about being the best at what you do but about one's ability to adapt to a volatile industry and reinvent oneself," Laushman says. "Open source is becoming more ubiquitous, and if you want to increase your chances of stable work in the technology field long term, acquiring skills in open source is a must.