The Guardian Careers site published an article yesterday discussing which skills you should have on your CV to ensure your application is “at the top of the pile” when applying for IT jobs.
Among the usual traits such as being able to program (they suggest Java, but with a willingness to learn new languages), one of the recommendations is “Open up to open source”.
In a succinct paragraph the article manages to introduce the idea of open source, as well has explaining both its benefits to the public (in terms of having access to zero-cost versions of software) and why IT companies and departments would be looking for it.
Engaging with an open source community provides you with the opportunity to gain practical experience in working on projects with a distributed team from diverse backgrounds. Any skills relevant to the IT industry would be desirable to an open source project – not just programming but also skills like project management and technical writing.
The public nature of open source projects also means that your work will be open for potential employers to examine. Code you’ve written for a previous job may be locked up in a company’s version control system, but by contributing open source code you give a potential employer the opportunity to see evidence of your competence in the field.
Of course, beyond the benefits of the general IT skills you can acquire, specific experience in open source engagement can be of value to IT companies who are increasingly taking advantage of open source software. To get the full value from open source implemented in an organisation, that organisation should be prepared to engage with the community process, allowing them to get bugs fixed, contribute to the project, and possibly influence the project’s direction in their favour. To make this possible, they’ll need people with experience of community engagement.