Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Another Doom and Gloom Article on the State of the Open Source Developer in the U.S.

Just got done reading an article from Datamation written by Rob Enderle entitled, "Will Google Kill Open Source (And do Open Source Developers Have to be Underpaid)". A link to the article is here . I am not really interested in the Google killing open source phenomenon. I have heard both sides of the story, as there is always a lot of debate about this, but I do not really lean one way or the other.

What interests me of course is when he talks about Open Source developers being underpaid. I want to focus on one particular paragraph in the article. It states the following:

"In addition, those that have adopted Open Source generally find line managers focused like a laser, not on getting down hardware or software cost (which is already as low as it can go, and you can’t get blood out of a stone), but on getting down labor cost, resulting in off-shoring or foreign labor being brought in at discount rates. There really is nothing to support the compensation for OSS developers like there generally is in the proprietary world."

I know I have discussed this in the past, but from my vantage point, I am not seeing what he perceives is happening. First of all, we are seeing salaries for Open Source developers in the U.S. increase at the present time. In my over seven years in recruitment of Open Source developers, I have yet to see them go down. There was a period during the "bust" that we saw them level off, but we have yet to see them go down. Currently, it is simple economics of supply and demand. The demand far outstrips the supply, therefore, there is no place for the average salary to go but up. Companies have really realized this and started to put it to work in the last 6-12 months. We have probably seen on average an increase of 5-10% in the level of base salaries in the last 12-18 months.

Now, I must admit, this does not account for the below average salaries that international based consulting firms initially bring their consultants into this country. But, the developers generally transition away from that arrangement and end up receiving the mean salary level once they do so. Therefore, if you want to argue in favor of his point of decreased salary levels, that is the only place that we have ever seen them, but that is the case whether it is open source based work or proprietary.

In addition to his compensation point, I am not too sure I agree with the off-shoring of positions as well. Do not get me wrong, it still takes place. But, I believe it does not take place anymore now than it has in the past. And, I would bet that there is even a decrease in off-shoring that is currently taking place. The two primary reasons behind this are increased salary levels of international talent and the quality of the end product. On the salary level front, you can just examine the financials of the Wipro's, etc. of the world to see that they continually are under pressure due to the increased salary levels abroad. They continuously have to look to a new venue to attract talent at an attractive rate. But, if you believe in the freedom of open source software, I would hope there are people that believe in a free market. If that is the case, this is just globalization continuing to take place.

Overall, I still think the future is very bright for the Open Source developer. There continues to be heavy demand for their talents, and thus I predict we will continue to see a steady climb in compensation levels for these individuals until the supply can catch up. And, I am not seeing that happening any time soon. Thus, no worries at the moment if you are an Open Source developer in the United States.

I am always happy to hear people's thoughts on this subject matter, so please feel free to either write a comment on the blog or send me a note, I will look forward to hearing from you.

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