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Linux unchained

Linux use is growing faster than the talent pool needed to support it. Here's how IT managers see the problem and what they're doing about it.

By Mary K. Pratt
November 22, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Customers of GAF3 Solutions tell the technology services provider that they want to use Linux because they hear it's reliable, robust and relatively inexpensive. But a customer recently balked at the one-month delay to install a Linux server. Why such a long wait? GAF3's Linux expert was overextended, says George A. Fitch III, president and CEO of the Dover, N.H.-based company.


High demand has Fitch wondering if he should charge extra for Linux-related work. If he does, he wouldn't be alone.


Linux is gaining ground so quickly that some companies are having a hard time finding enough people to handle Linux-related work. And those they do find charge a premium, according to The Yankee Group, a market research firm in Boston. Skilled Linux administrators in major metropolitan markets command 20% to 30% salary premiums over their Unix and Windows counterparts—a fact that could diminish the cost savings that many companies bank on when they switch to Linux.


"It's really hard to find good, qualified help that doesn't charge you so much," says Laura DiDio, an analyst at Yankee Group.


Not all IT managers concur with that assessment, but they do agree that the growth of Linux requires a retooling of tech workers. They can't throw their Windows people into Linux projects without additional training, and though Unix staffers can pick up Linux more quickly, even they need time to get up to speed.


The Goods


Linux experts and enthusiasts cite a litany of skills that companies need for Linux systems work. Experience with programming and documentation is key. The ability to edit files and modify source code is important, too. Management experience is another plus.












Linux Unchained
Image Credit: Michael Miller

Those skills aren't overly difficult to find, says Michael J. Ciaraldi, a computer science professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. But other skills—namely expertise in networking and graphics—aren't so easy to locate.


"Another skill in Linux is you have to be willing to ask other people for help," Ciaraldi adds. For those who do seek help, there are Web sites and user groups that share information on how to use and modify Linux.


DiDio compares the skills needed for Linux today to those sought for network administrators 15 or 20 years ago. "What you're basically looking for is that eclectic network administrator or software developer from circa 1988—someone who knows lots of different things," she says.


While some say the lack of personnel with Linux expertise affects the rate at which companies adopt the open-source system, others say IT departments are finding the skills they need without much extra effort or additional pay.



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