How to hire the Linux talent you need

Demand for Linux skills far outstrips supply, but these six strategies can help you get the right staff for your business.

Hiring good help is never easy, but the difficulty is compounded considerably when demand for the skills you're seeking exceeds supply.

That, in fact, is just the situation being faced by companies in search of Linux skills today. In a recent Linux Foundation survey conducted for the operating system's 20th anniversary, for example, respondents said that one of the biggest challenges for the Linux platform looking ahead is finding SysAdmins and developers with Linux-related skills.

That backs up data from a separate study by the foundation late last year in which more than a third of corporate respondents indicated that they're worried about finding people with the skills to support their increasing reliance on the free and open source operating system.

More than 30 Linux-specific IT and developer jobs were posted to the Linux Foundation's Jobs Board in a single week recently, while more than 11,000 Linux-related jobs can now be found on tech jobs site Dice.com. Demand for Linux experience, moreover, is growing at a rate of 31 percent year over year on Dice, compared with just 20 percent year on year for job postings overall.

It's a candidate's market, in other words, in the world of Linux skills today.

So what's a company in need of Linux skills to do? I spoke recently with both Alice Hill, managing director of Dice.com, and Amanda McPherson, vice president of marketing and developer programs at The Linux Foundation, about this very question. What follows is a collection of their best tips and suggestions.

1. Get Involved

One of the best ways to tap into the Linux talent that's out there is to be an active part of the community before you're in desperate need of related skills.

"You have to know who the best hires are before you're ready to hire," Hill explained. "Reach out and start building relationships now. This way, the relationship can start to develop before you need each other. Down the road, they'll be more ready to join your team, and not your competitor's, if you already know them."

One way to do that, for example, is to tap into the Dice Talent Network, which allows technology professionals to connect directly with hiring managers at specific companies.

Another good strategy is to "get your developers involved in projects," McPherson suggested. "The best way to recruit is for your existing developers to be well-known and respected in the community."

On an organizational level, it's also a smart move to join groups like the Linux Foundation and the Ada Initiative, McPherson said. Supporting such organizations not only gets you involved with the community and its key events, but it also shows developers that you care about their community and are willing to support it.

Indeed, sponsoring, exhibiting at or at least attending conferences like LinuxCon can also help a company tap into fresh Linux skills. "We actually find most sponsors are looking to raise or extend their profile for hiring and have had a lot of success connecting people at these events," McPherson told me.

2. Be Specific

If you do decide to advertise for the skills you're seeking, choose targeted job boards rather than more general-purpose ones, McPherson advised: "Most of these developers are not going to look at Monster or something like that."

Also be sure to specify in your job description the specific Linux distributions you're focusing on. If you're seeking someone with expertise in Debian and Ubuntu, for example, you should "be clear about that and help those candidates stand out to you," Hill recommended. "Same with looking for a single version like Mint. Get that in your job header and make sure it is searchable by keyword."

One no-no to keep in mind, however: "Whatever you do, do not spam the Linux kernel mailing list with job postings," McPherson stressed. "Developers don't take kindly to spam on working mailing lists."

3. Be Clear

Given that there are more than 11,000 Linux-related jobs on Dice.com alone, potential employers need to do everything they can to stand out, and a big part of that is making it clear what benefits they have to offer.

"Remember the best candidates have options and, more often than not, one of them is to stay in the job they already have," Hill explained. "If you want to convince them to take a risk and leave the security of the known, you need to show them clearly how they will be better off in this new role. This has to be reinforced at every stage of the hiring process and certainly in a job posting."

It's also worth companies' while to continue that clear communication even with candidates they don't end up hiring.

"Most candidates don't find out why they've not been hired--the feedback line goes dark," Hill noted. "There needs to be a mutual give and take of information between hiring managers and candidates. The benefits of returned calls are an improved reputation."

4. Be Flexible

Companies should "think creatively about mobility," Hill says, including seriously considering allowing candidates to telecommute.

"So many companies don't have robust telecommuting options, but it's the one benefit that tech professionals say they would give up 10 percent of their salary to have," she pointed out. "And it definitely makes you stand out in the hiring process."

5. Repurpose and Retrain

Just because your developer doesn't already know Linux, that doesn't mean he or she can't learn, McPherson pointed out. Often, in fact, it's far more cost-effective to get the skills that way than to hire someone new, she added.

The Linux Foundation offers developer training that's being used by companies around the world to re-purpose Unix and proprietary-platform developers to Linux, McPherson noted, and there are numerous other places to get Linux-related training as well.

6. Reward and Retain

Finally, it's difficult to overstate the importance of treating your staff well, Hill stressed.

"Your employees are your best promoters," she explained. "In a networked community like technology, putting your company at the top of best practices pays off."

Customized retention plans, for example, are a good way to keep employees happy, she pointed out, since "a salary increase to one tech professional may be flexible work hours to another."

Whatever means you choose, though, if you treat your current employees well, Hill said, "they will do their part to fill the pipeline with top talent."

Tags unixLinuxopen sourcesoftwareoperating systemsnon-Windows

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Katherine Noyes

PC World (US online)

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