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Survey: Open source skills more valued than proprietary ones

In the hybrid cloud world, developers with open source skills are more likely to be hired by enterprises than developers skilled in proprietary technologies.

In the modern hybrid cloud era, software developers with open source skills are hotter commodities than ones who focus on proprietary technology, according to a recent survey.

The survey, conducted by O'Reilly Media and commissioned by IBM, found that two-thirds of developers agreed that open source experience provides greater value than a specific vendor's technologies. In addition, more than 65% of respondents said that contributions to open source projects impress potential employers and leads to better job opportunities.

Code as a resume

The survey, which polled 3,400 developers and technology managers in late 2020, also found that open source software (OSS) was rated equal to or better than proprietary software by 94% of respondents.

Hiring managers are paying attention to which coders have invested effort in open source.

"The first thing I do is I go to GitHub or GitLab, and I look at the projects that someone's been involved in and look at the code that they've written," said Todd Moore, vice president of open tech at IBM. "Rather than putting a job candidate through a series of interviews and asking them to whiteboard, I like to see what they've done in the community. Your code is your resume now."

"To see even conservative developers considering that skills in open source technology is much more important than the proprietary counterparts, that really warms the cockles of my heart, so to speak," said Chris Ferris, CTO of open tech at IBM.

The IBM-O'Reilly survey data makes sense, said Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT in Hayward, Calif.

"I don't doubt that there are a few graybeard developers who focus largely or entirely on specific proprietary platforms and business applications," he said. "But with virtually everyone aiming for the cloud -- where open source is the lingua franca -- talent and experience in open source applications and projects is vital for developers. The GitHub reference is worth underscoring since it allows far more transparency and insight into the experience and work habits of potential hires."

Open source pros and cons

Why this survey?

The impetus for the IBM-sponsored survey was an article that cited the top 10 APIs and services developers need to scale up for 2021, Ferris said. "It triggered me because every one of them was AWS this and Amazon that. It was just all these proprietary Amazon APIs," he said.

The trend toward OSS has been going on for years, with former open source critics like Microsoft now focusing on open source technology and practices as much as or more than any other company.

"The reason that [Red Hat] OpenShift and the Pivotal Platform -- now branded VMware Tanzu -- respectively, have been the leading platform services for enterprise developers, is their commitment to open source innovations," said Charlotte Dunlap, an analyst at GlobalData in Santa Cruz, Calif.

In recent years operations teams have been given directives from their enterprise CIOs to invest more heavily in open source technology, including RFPs for reducing business transformations costs and ensuring flexibility for portability between cloud technologies.

Your code is your resume now.
Todd MooreVP of open tech, IBM

"It's not surprising that companies are looking for developers savvy in leading OSS technologies like Kubernetes, Istio and Knative to tackle modern app architectures," Dunlap said.

Indeed, 64.6% of survey respondents said they preferred skills related to the underlying open source technologies like Linux, Kubernetes or Istio, while 35.4% said they preferred skills related to a specific cloud platform such as AWS, Azure or Google.

Moreover, while open source has won on the platform side of the software stack, the application software side of the technology stack has been "immune" to open source, said Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research in Monte Vista, Calif.

"So, we are seeing a split in the requested skills from developers -- open source for PaaS projects versus classic vendor know-how for standard application-related projects," he said.

Not a panacea

However, while there may be a premium on skills associated with some open source technologies, it's not clear that this is always the case.

James Governor, RedMonkJames Governor

"As we move into a world of higher-level managed services and APIs, that premium may even lessen somewhat," said James Governor, an analyst at RedMonk in Portland, Maine. "This focus on open source has positive and negative implications. Not everyone has the time to focus on open source efforts, inside and outside of work, which might hurt efforts to encourage diversity in the industry."

That said, however, Governor acknowledged that open source does tend to be part of the modern developer's toolbox -- whether front end or back end, OSS remains a key context for most software projects. OSS generally benefits from accessibility.

"In terms of career growth, there are undoubtedly some hiring managers that will expect to see a strong history of open source contributions and a well-maintained GitHub profile with evidence of such," Governor said.

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