Demand is increasing for developers of Apache, JBoss, Ruby on Rails, and other  community-based software platforms. By Doug Bartholomew | June 2008
When Jon Williams, chief technology officer at Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, was  interviewed for his current job in 2003, the chief executive asked if he thought the  company should use open source software because it's free. "I told him it depends on  whether it's the right solution at the right time," Williams recalls. Today, New York-based Kaplan - a $2 billion division of the Washington Post Co. - is using 13 open-source applications, though they're not exactly free. In fact, when he  became chief technologist, the first thing Williams did was hire an open-source expert  -Gautam Guliani, co-author of Open Source for the Enterprise, and now Kaplan's  executive director of architecture. The reason open source software isn't free is that companies need support. They need expertise to install it, customize it, and connect it with other systems. Unlike the  Microsoft Windows platform, with open source software developers can change the  underlying code to adapt it to their business. In short, most organizations are hungry for  open source support, and often they find these needs a mismatch for their current IT staff, who were weaned on proprietary software and trained to support packaged applications. [youtube] Flexible Solutions That's where developers and software engineers who understand open source software come into play. Williams, for example, also went looking for an IT consulting firm that  could help with the re-launch of Kaplan's Web site on the open-source Alfresco platform using JBoss. He chose Rivet Logic. "We actually built the code with them, because open  source is not do-it-yourself," Williams says. As thousands of enterprises of all sizes shift to embrace more open-source solutions, they are finding they need a new cadre of IT experts who understand these systems and can  architect code using different open-source platforms. "When we talk with our customers' IT management, they say they want to do more with open source," says Karl Paetzel,  marketing manager for Hewlett Packard's Open Source and Linux organization. Kaplan's Williams has found that staffing up for most open source implementations isn't  too difficult, because many developers have gravitated toward the community-based  operating systems, middleware and applications. "Developers continually crave new  technologies and new skills, and open source is a fresh new technology," he observes. In general, open source job opportunities tend to center around the utility functions of  computing, including operating systems, programming languages, and development  tools.  In the corporate world, many progressive IT shops are actively looking for ways to  use open source as a means to drive down costs or foster the development of custom software. "I've heard that a lot of companies are switching over from Microsoft to open source  software," says Laura Cation, a Downers Grove, Ill.-based IT recruiter for recruiting firm TEKsystems. "It's a hot market right now. There are a lot more positions than people for them." Who's in Demand Especially in demand are developers who have experience with some of the most widely used open source tools: the open source Web development framework Ruby on Rails; PHP, an open source language for Web development; JBoss, a popular Java application  server; and Apache, a Web server solution. Some companies are satisfying their open-source support needs through a combination of hiring contractors, tapping the community of software users over the Web, and  bringing their existing IT staff up to speed. "We're building out a new Web publishing platform for the Times, and we're using a lot of different open source software," says  David Johnson, managing director of software engineering in the Web Publishing Services group at the Los Angeles Times. "We do have some support contracts with  vendors, but we go to the community user boards to search for solutions to problems. We also have in-house knowledge that we have built up." By switching from three completely proprietary Web development platforms and moving to open-source software for its Web site, found it got an added benefit - a  larger pool of capable developers from which to recruit. "Before, not a lot of people were  really excited about working in our kind of proprietary system. That's part of the reason we've gone in this open source direction," explains Derek Gottfrid, senior software  architect for the site. "It's been a good recruiting tool. Open source is an approach we are going to see more and more of." Doug Bartholomew is a California based business and technology writer.