Zen and the Art of the Six-Figure Linux Job: Page 3

Posted September 30, 2008

James Maguire

James Maguire

(Page 3 of 3)

“For Linux kernel development, I would say probably 60 percent is done in the EU,” Marinaccio says. Moreover, “The Indians are now fully engaged and the Chinese are fully engaged – there’s so much overseas involvement in Linux.”

What this means is that there is a potential international influx of Linux experts poised to fill American jobs. Yet after 9/11, the U.S. government acted to slow the pace of immigration. The number of H-1B visas was cut sharply in the years after the terror attack.

Further tightening the bottleneck are the maneuverings of U.S.-based subcontractor firms that hire H-1B immigrants to fill short-term IT jobs. These firms, sometimes called “body shops,” are notorious for paying below-market wages.

“An outsourcing company might have one opening but will throw 20 [H-1B] applications at it,” Marinaccio says. “They’ll see how many H-1B’s the government is going to allot them. They’re just going to bring as many as they can, whether it be Indian or Chinese or whatever country their focus is. And they’ll try and get that many people and then they’re going to try and ‘sell’ them.”

These firms, Marinaccio says, have “taken a stranglehold on these H-1B visas.” They have a lot of Linux developers who sit on the bench waiting to be subcontracted out – being paid rock bottom salaries. “It hurts this supply-demand equation, because some of the supply [of developers] is sitting there within those outsourcing firms.”

But this bottleneck is good for American Linux developers because it pushes up their salaries, true?

It doesn’t exactly work that way, Marinaccio says. Eventually, a new arrival liberates himself from his underpaying subcontractor and looks for better wages. But after years of earning around $70k – during which he has become a seasoned professional – an American company can woo this foreign-born Linux expert with the still low offer of $100k. (Low, that is, given that an American with similar Linux skills might command closer to $150k.)

So on balance, the flow of open source experts from other countries has a mixed effect on domestic Linux salaries. The H-1B bottleneck helps keeps U.S. salaries high, yet the continuous supply of new talent acts to lower paychecks for American Linux developers.

“It fluctuates,” Marinaccio says, noting that the net effect is something of a wash.

One factor that may influence Linux salaries long term is the countless young developers who are now drawn to open source. Back in the mid to late 90s, interest in Linux was limited to hardy pioneers. (To see Linux life in that simpler era, look at the 1997 Atlanta Linux Showcase; note the picture of a young Linus Torvalds mock posing for the cover of GQ magazine, or giving the keynote speech – gosh, the audience was over 100 people.) It wasn’t until the 2000-02 period that a larger mass of Linux enthusiasts began coalescing.

Consequently, there has yet to be even a partial generation who has grown up learning open source. So there’s a scarcity of veteran experts (at least in America), forcing companies to offer big paychecks to hire top Linux pros.

What happens when the current crop of young open source advocates (who enthusiastically fill Linux user groups at every university in America) matures and reaches the job market? Will this vast cohort of budding experts depress pay? Or, on the other hand, will the current crew of young open source developers be enough to keep up with business’s enormous appetite for open source software?

James Maguire is the managing editor of Datamation.

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Tags: open source, Linux, IBM, IT Jobs/Salary, datacenter

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