The information economy market (10% of GDP in most countries) is a large market and software is one of the key elements within this market. Representing a significant share of the software market, FLOSS now provides a large number of jobs.
A Full Employment Market
When comparing the overall unemployment rate to the IT unemployment rate in various countries, it is clear that the IT market is close to full employment: this is no surprise, as market demand for IT-related personnel is increasing at a faster pace than qualified IT professionals are coming onto the market.
|Overall unemployment rate||IT unemployment rate|
|US||5 % (January 2008)|
|European Union||6,80% (October 2008)|
|IT-related jobs||% of the population|
The Indian IT-BPO industry is one of India’s outstanding successes. It provides direct employment to over 2 million people directly and over 8 million indirectly (for every job created in the IT-BPO industry, 4 jobs are created in rest of the economy according to a Crisil Survey) in sectors such as commercial real estate, physical security, transport, catering, hospitality and mortgage banking industries. As a proportion of national GDP, the Indian technology sector revenues have grown from 1.2 per cent in FY1998 to an estimated 5.5 per cent in FY2008. Net value-added by this sector, to the economy, is estimated at 3.3-3.9 per cent for FY2008.
|IT Exp. & Services Exports||162,000||170,000||205,000||296,000||390,000||513,000||690,000||860,000|
Free software: use, read, modify and share the code
Free or open software is specifically software for which the source code is open and accessible for everyone to use, read, modify and share. This enables collaborative development, unrestricted technical learning, faster innovation, reduction and sharing of development costs, as well as unrestricted code auditing at unprecedented levels.
It allows interested and curious individuals to learn the inner workings of sophisticated software components without the burden of formal contracts, and without the artificial barriers imposed by proprietary software, that hides behind the back box of binary code entire layers of a software architecture.
It is bringing about a radical change in the way innovative projects can recruit highly skilled programmers, as the exposure of the code allows programmers to get interested in the projects, and prove their value in a much more direct and efficient way than in the traditional software industry.
By allowing re-usability of a multitude of software components, it favours quick innovation, where the effort can be focused on the (usually small) fraction of the code that produces the novel service, in a true « stand on the shoulders of the giants » fashion.
By eliminating the artificial barriers imposed by decades of proprietary software licensing practices, it allows users to test and deploy software components prior to the formal procurement process, giving the technically savvy people an opportunity to assess the solutions independently of marketing, brand and policy considerations. As such, it allows even small players a real opportunity for acquiring a significant user base without disproportionate marketing investments.
For all these reasons, free software lowers entry barriers, opens a market place for maintenance services and weakens monopolistic situations, reviving innovation and competition in market segments where monopoly players had stifled these, and fosters in their place interoperability and standardization.
A strong and sustained growth of enterprises
These observations are confirmed by various studies: Gartner estimates FLOSS penetration of the IT services at 27% of the IT market in 2011, and according to the UNU-Merit led Floss Impact study, « defined broadly, FLOSS-related services could reach a 32% share of all European IT services in 2010 and the FLOSS-related share of the economy could reach 4% of European GDP by 2010 ». This is a major revolution in the field of information technology as well as of the other sectors of economy that are high consumers of IT.
It comes with various challenges, some of which are related to training the developers, engineers, architects, project leaders, managers, teachers and researchers of tomorrow.
According to the sources mentioned above and to our analysis, 40% of employment in IT will be FLOSS related by 2020. Assuming 2% growth in annual IT employment, this represents 1.5 million direct jobs in Europe, i.e. the creation of 1.2 million totally new jobs. To these figures we must also add thousands of related jobs stemming from other IT jobs and activities impacted by FLOSS usage.
FLOSS faces several challenges, some of which are well known, like software patents, DRM technology, or various anti-FLOSS strategies put into play by legacy players whose business model is directly challenged by FLOSS; these challenges are best discussed in other sections of this roadmap.
But the analysis above shows that there is one major challenge, too often overlooked, that is of paramount importance in this part of the roadmap: the shortage of skilled professional and how to address it.
Recent studies (OPIEEC) warn of a shortage of qualified personnel, and this is particularly true in the FLOSS market: industry has discovered FLOSS relatively recently, and has since its discovery played a sort of free raider role over the past ten years, draining a significant amount of skilled professionals, whose proficiency in FLOSS had developed over long periods and many years, and which are not easy to reproduce on demand in a short time.
It takes time to train skilled programmers, capable project leaders, insightful software architects, and even simple technicians for the FLOSS world, where proficiency is something more demanding than passing a simple professional qualification test on a given piece of software: one needs to understand the inner workings and rules of different code communities, the intricacies of a plethora of programming languages, software frameworks and build systems, the basis of free software licenses, and how to design software to benefit from the community effect.
There will be an increasing need for these kinds of skills, and to respond to this need, we must make sure that these skills will be acquired through proper education in IT, and not despite legacy education methods in IT : we face the challenge of turning FLOSS proficiency from an art to a science.
Recommendation #1: Specifically tailored Curricula for FLOSS in IT Higher Education
The natural answer to the need for skilled IT professionals proficient in FLOSS is to adapt the current IT-related curricula in academia to take into account all the specificities of FLOSS. Some authoritative voices have already advocated the need to restructure IT curricula, incorporating for example the participation in FLOSS projects (Paterson, CACM 2006), and we believe that there is an urgent need to go much further, by adding several new topics to the traditional IT courses, as well as properly recognizing that the effort required to teach these new topics is often higher than for teaching traditional material.
Various isolated and uncoordinated approaches to teaching FLOSS exist already, so we are not starting from zero, but there is now an urgent need to create a set of common guidelines for this new curriculum, getting it validated in academia, creating new teaching materials and textbooks.
All this takes time, and getting the approach accepted takes more time, and then training the first students takes even more time, so it is becoming urgent to move forward, and to fund an international initiative that can federate the existing experiments into a unified approach.
Recommendation #2: Favoring the usage of FLOSS tools in all engineering cycles
Proficiency in the usage of FLOSS tools and techniques (collaboration, distributed development, user communities) is becoming a need even outside the IT sector itself, so special attention needs to be paid to the choice of tools and methodologies in higher education, in all areas, to make sure that exposure to FLOSS tools and methodologies is ensured for everybody.
Recommendation #3: Opening FLOSS-specific research centers
Teaching Computer Science and IT-related material in higher education, as the ACM clearly states, cannot be done properly without a significant presence of research in the area. Teaching FLOSS efficiently is no different, and will also need a significant presence of researchers specifically interested in FLOSS-related problems and technologies.
As has been shown in other disciplines, an efficient way of jump-starting the process is by creating research centers directly connected to academia, and with strong bonds with code communities, where researchers, teachers, students, programmers, and members of code communities meet and work together on topics where they have high skills.
Recommendation #4: Validation of FLOSS professional experience, and FLOSS Professional certification
As mentioned above, FLOSS allows a form of self teaching that is unprecedented in the IT scenario, and this needs to be properly taken into account via appropriate means.
Local rules, which vary from country to country, may allow the award of a degree, or a number of academic credits, on the basis of the skills acquired by professional (or even non professional) experience: this should systematically be allowed for FLOSS skills too.
Industry should also mobilize to set up professional certification for specific skills or application domains, as this will allow low-level needs to be fulfilled more easily.