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Bro’, Can You Spare a Job?

This new weekly column, entitled "Open Sorcerers", provides guidance and tips to help you land a job and build a career in open source.

After a few long hours in the mall, shopping with my wife over the weekend, I finally had a chance to break away and pop into GameStop to admire the latest game consoles and the top new releases. At 32, I am not really an avid gamer, but the romance is still there.

I tried one system and the next, all the while trying to rationalize a purchase. I was inclined to buy, yet even while blasting yet another onslaught of flesh-starved zombies, I found myself thinking, “Is this really a practical purchase?” My daughter is six; I have a new wife; and I am expecting another child in January. Cloistering myself in the den for hours on end hardly seems realistic. So, grudgingly, I walked out empty handed, but I’m sure I’ll be back soon to drool (again) over the PlayStation 3.

The truth of the matter is I’m conflicted. Like much of the rest of the country, I’ve curtailed my spending, yet I feel the need to recreate myself to stay ahead of the curve and keep up with the latest trends. Depending on who you ask, the economy may or may not be headed in the right direction, but with uncertainty lingering in the air nonetheless, I am mindful to position myself for success. I keep asking myself, “What’s the next big thing? What must I add to my list of credentials to land the perfect job and stay ahead?”

Now, I am not a developer. I’m a headhunter with ten years of experience, with the last few focused solely on information technologies. Still, things are tough all over, and I find myself working harder and harder for each placement. Staying sharp is a necessity, whether I want to move up or move on.

If you’re a Linux system administrator or programmers or want to pursue a career in either field, you’d be wise to keep your skills sharp, too. While running a nationwide search over the past two weeks on Indeed.com, I found over 5,000 opportunities demanding Linux experience—and that number does not include positions listed via other outlets or positions being filled via old-fashioned networking. In fact, I have dozens of clients or prospective clients that are seeking open source professionals simply by word of mouth.

So who is being hired for these positions? And what must you do to stand out from other candidates?

I asked a few of my clients what was important in a Linux system administrator and suprisingly the responses were largely uniform. The aptitudes repeated time and again were load balancing, failover, interoperability with Windows, assessing vulnerabilities in the network, and hardening systems. Linux developers typically require a similar litany of skills, especially since so many different technologies must be combined to create Web applications. HTML, CSS, JavaScript, agile practices, and SQL are de rigeur. Java is still in widespread use, as is PHP, but Python, Rails, and C++ are specified, too. Oftentimes, development is based on Drupal, the content management system based on PHP.

Beyond technical acumen, hiring managers also want new employees to be able to mesh with the existing team. Does that mean that a candidate with the personality of Spock should give up? No. I’placed various character types into diverse roles and was not surprised when a client fell in love with them. Of course, I was chanting and offering tributes to any god who would listen during the entire interview. I’m kidding, but chemistry does play a role in hiring decisions.

Interviewing is a skill, too, and both employer and potential employee can benefit by preparing for the task.

This is the inaugurual installment of this weekly column. I am grateful to have such an opportunity to express my thoughts and opinions on the open source job market and am excited to share information that can help shape and improve careers.

I also value feedback and welcome questions. I am at your service.

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