Is open source creating jobs?

On the heels of last week’s White House Jobs and Economic Forum, President Barack Obama announced a series of job creation ideas today in a speech at the Brookings Institution.

As I mentioned in my last post, Red Hat’s Jim Whitehurst was one of two technology industry CEOs who attended the White House forum last week, the other was Eric Schmidt from Google. Two things Red Hat and Google have in common? We are both strong supporters of open source and we are both hiring.

But this morning I had another thought– beyond the jobs at Google and Red Hat, are we– and other companies in the open source community– helping create jobs at a broader level? Meaning, are the products, services, and innovations of open source companies creating job opportunities for people who use what we make?

To find some data, I turned to, a search engine for job seekers that also has a fascinating job trends tool you can use to search on how often a particular term appears in job listings.

As a baseline data point, I looked at the chart for “receptionist,” a common job that might be a decent bellwether for job trends. The chart looks pretty much like you might expect:

receptionist Job Trends graph

Not great news for any receptionist looking for work. This term had once appeared in almost 2% of job postings, now it is hovering right below 0.8%.

Next, for some overall industry perspective, I looked at their page on Information Technology job trends. Not a lot of good news here either, unfortunately. These two pieces of information were disturbing:

  • Information Technology job postings decreased 19% since November 2008.
  • Clicks on Information Technology jobs increased 52% since November 2008.

Job postings are down, and the number of people clicking on these jobs has increased substantially.

Against this backdrop, let’s take a look to see how open source fared. A search for jobs that mention open source reveals the following:

open source Job Trends graph

The term open source has been appearing in a higher percentage of job postings every year since data starting being collected in 2005. Now it appears in about 0.7% of all job postings– which means that open source experience may soon overtake receptionist skills as something employers are searching for.

Going a bit deeper, let’s look at three types of open source-related experience that employers may be looking for in job candidates: Linux, MySQL, and Drupal. Here’s what the chart looks like for each:

Linux Job Trends graph

MySQL Job Trends graph

Drupal Job Trends graph

Over 2% of all job postings include the word Linux, wow! MySQL isn’t far behind receptionist, and while on a percentage basis Drupal is still small, its growth curve is pretty phenomenal. I checked some other open source-related terms as well, and almost all of them tell the same story.

Now clearly this data by itself does not show job creation— after all it may simply mean that employers are just looking for open source skills more often. Check out this chart showing how far the gap has closed between UNIX and Linux over the past 4 years:

UNIX, Linux Job Trends graph

But to truly answer the question of whether open source is creating jobs beyond just being experience that is desired more often in job candidates, we probably need more data. I’d make a couple of observations:

1. Many of the new breed of what I’d call 21st century companies (companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, and, of course,  Red Hat) are built on a foundation of open source software. Click on the links in that last sentence if you want to learn more about how open source is viewed strategically in those companies.

2. It might have been difficult in a pre-open source world for these companies to grow anywhere near as fast as they have without the cost savings and performance advantages that open source provides. Open source is a wonderful low cost, high value 1-2 punch.

3. These companies are still growing even as many companies are shrinking, and they are still hiring when others are not.

So while I am sure it is incorrect to say that “all companies built on the back of open source software are creating jobs,” it is fair to say that a heavy reliance on open source is one characteristic that quite a few growing technology companies have in common, and that many of these same companies are still hiring.

I, for one, would love to see more data. Do you know of companies where open source is helping create jobs? Pass on the info.

And if you strongly agree or disagree with any of the points I’ve made above, please say so. Comment below, find me on Twitter or shoot me an email. I’d love to hear what you think.

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.


4 thoughts on “Is open source creating jobs?

  1. What a great post. Such a clever way to think about job trends over time — so many implications for using this kind of data. Can I borrow your brain sometime, Chris??

    Love the findings you uncovered for Open Source — keep those graphs pointing up and to the right!

    Posted by Tim Hyer | December 8, 2009, 10:01 pm
  2. Nice post Chris, very informative and eye opening. I will also write about it. Thank you for sharing the information.

    Posted by Hameedullah Khan | December 8, 2009, 11:13 pm


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