Everybody who is anybody knows that learning Drupal or PHP or <<insert trendy open source technology here>>, is the gold-plated highway to developer riches. Right?  Well, not exactly. The need for popular open source packages is growing, but in most cases, utilization is still only a fraction of traditional packages.

Interpreting the Data

Job seekers hoping to distinguish themselves from competitors are increasingly augmenting their skills with free and open source software (FOSS) tools. An article titled “The Open Source Opportunity,” on GigaOM last year indicated that demand for people skilled with open-source content management platforms was huge. And with the increasing recognition open source solutions are getting in the enterprise today, you would think this would be the perfect path for job seekers. Based on the relative percentage of growth in job postings on Indeed.com in a four-year period this is not exactly true.

It is undeniable that the availability of Drupal positions grew substantially between 2006 and 2010. However, evaluating the growth in absolute numbers provides a slightly different perspective. For example, if one Drupal job existed in January 2006, the creation of ten jobs is 1,000 percent growth -- not exactly draw dropping numbers.

openSourceCMSRelative.png

relative percentage growth of open source CMS

Further, examining the number of Drupal positions as a percentage of overall job postings shows that Drupal is less than .2% of opportunities.

openSourceCMSAbsolute.png

absolute percentage of overall postings represented by open source CMS

Open source development languages show similar trends. .NET accounts for more positions than the most common open source languages combined.

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absolute percentage of postings for development languages

These interpretations should not dissuade job seekers from learning a new language or tool. It is always valuable for technical professionals to increase the depth and width of their knowledge. They should, however, be cautious at specializing in a “hot” open source technology at the expensive of solidifying skills in a core language. Job seekers should also consider refining non-technical skills like written and verbal communication, which can prove to be just as powerful differentiators.

Contract Opportunities

Technical professionals seeking freelance opportunities need more incentive to brush up on open source technologies. In October, Elance released its Q3 2010 Online Employment Report; the top ten technologies for projects on the site included

  1. PHP
  2. HTML
  3. WordPress
  4. MySQL
  5. CSS
  6. Flash
  7. JavaScript
  8. iPhone
  9. Joomla!
  10.  AJAX

Open source software occupies half of the list. This is very promising for individuals who focus on short-term and project-based work.

Although, some open source technologies, like Linux and Apache Tomcat, have become so prolific they are now mainstream, most will not. Enthusiasts argue all technologies start as the technology newcomer trying to win converts from a well-established leader. Java was in this position with C++ nearly a decade ago. 

This is true; but just like every pee-wee football player doesn’t ascend to the NFL, not every open source project will gain the popularity to be the definitive skill to bolster a career.