Technology

Need a Smart IT Hire? Look to Open Source

By / Jun 26, 2018 (photovibes/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Even if your association’s main stack isn’t based on open-source software, you should still know the language. According to a recent report from the Linux Foundation, it could even help you find new talent.

In my many years writing about the ins and outs of associations—and particularly their technology challenges—one common refrain I’ve heard is this: Open-source software is hard to maintain and comes with a lot of headaches that you won’t run into with a managed vendor.

That makes sense: Associations operate in a relatively narrow space, and the sector seems to have embraced the idea that managed is the way to go for association management systems, learning management systems, and other platforms.

Everyone uses a CMS, a common target of open-source software; not everyone uses an AMS, and therefore the knowledge bank is smaller.

But even if you’re overlooking a suite of managed software, your tech team still needs to be able to speak the language of open source. Every major operating system, including Windows, now uses it in some way, shape, or form. If you run a web server, you’re doing so off the back of a piece of open-source code, no matter who’s managing it.

And sometimes the most practical tool is open-sourced. Memcached, a widely used piece of server software that reduces server load by caching heavily used data in memory, is a great example of a tool that would only make sense as an open-source product. Even if you’ve never heard of it, you’ve benefited from it.

Because open-source software is everywhere, you have to hire for it. The 2018 Open Source Jobs Report [registration], a recent study from the Linux Foundation and Dice.com, found that many hiring managers are focused on bringing in more talent with open-source skills. A full 83 percent of hiring managers in this year’s study said that recruiting open-source-literate talent was a priority, up from 76 percent last year.

For employees, experience with open source is a great way to stand out. With 87 percent of hiring managers saying that finding open-source talent is a challenge, more than half of those with experience working in open-source software (55 percent) say it’s easier for them to find a new gig—which totally makes sense, because many of the skills that go into successful open-source work, like time management and high-level development, are valuable in employees generally. In an age when competition for talent is high, it’s a great leg up.

“The fierce competition for talent has many companies paying premiums above base salary, especially in areas such as cybersecurity, big data, and process management,” the report states.

Attract Employees with Open-Source Projects

Additionally, the report suggests that a great way to attract employees with such knowledge would be to contribute to the open-source economy. More than 60 percent of respondents said they wanted to work somewhere that allowed them to allocate paid work time to supporting an open-source project, and more than 50 percent asked for clear policies on using and contributing to open-source code bases.

This, of course, is an Achilles heel for tools reliant on open-source software. That is, because they rely on volunteers or organizations that are effectively giving away their work, sustainability is a concern.

In one memorable example, in 2014, the tech industry had to step up with financial and knowledge resources to support the OpenSSL project after a major bug appeared in the tool, an exploit that was famously called Heartbleed.

In a recent article on TechCrunch, writer Danny Crichton noted how many open-source projects have faced a strange dichotomy: Many large organizations rely on them, but they often don’t get the financial support they need. Coders are often working on them on the side, in their free time, meaning that support can be difficult.

The solution might be to generate support through resources that are mutually beneficial. If you hire someone with skills honed in maintaining free software (particularly in a tool useful to your industry, or at least to your technical needs), and then offer some resources to them to help maintain that software, you gain the benefits of both the software (including by gaining some control over the direction it takes) and the smart person who devotes his or her talent to your organization.

You might even be able to originate a cool idea and open-source it, as the educational nonprofit FreeCodeCamp did last year.

Yes, as has been said many times in this space, open source can come with headaches. But if your association is devoting resources to it, those headaches can be better managed and better understood—thanks in no small part to the talent under your own roof.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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