The open-source answer to the IT skills challenge

Matt Peachey October 29, 2019


Why IT companies are turning to open source to address the shortage of graduates, an ageing workforce and the changing working habits

Ensuring every industry has the right workforce has been prominent debate in the media for many years. There is a very real economic threat for the G20 countries if they fail to close the gap in terms of skills. Last year, Accenture estimated that this group of nations could collectively lose $11.5 trillion in gross domestic product (GDP) in the next 10 years if they failed to adapt to the supply of skills required. In the US alone that could cost $975 billion and when you consider the delta between job demand and available workforce in the US, that is very worrying. However, that is the broader economic landscape - are we not insulated from this problem in the IT bubble that we live in?

Unfortunately not; the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million computer science jobs available, but only 400,000 computer science graduates leaving university with the requisite skills. The challenge is the same in Europe. The European Commission has conjectured there will be 756,000 unfilled jobs in the region's information communications technology (ICT) sector by 2020 and in the UK alone there could be 1 million ICT vacancies by the same year, which could cost the UK £63 billion a year in lost GDP.

Why should these broader issues matter to us in the data management sector? Our sizeable part of the IT world - Gartner estimated it was worth $46.1 billion in 2018 - is pretty fundamental to the smooth operation of IT infrastructures. More and more businesses are moving online and data is underpinning the modernization of every industry. If you do not have the right people to store, manage and analyze the data you will be at a major competitive disadvantage.

The problem is, finding the talent to fill the gaps comes at a cost. The World Economic Forum estimated that on average the cost of hiring a new employee is $4,425. Even before we consider the challenges of hiring more specialized roles in the database industry a quick calculation of the cost of finding the shortfall of computer science graduates outlined above very quickly becomes a huge figure.  A survey by Kronos in April 2019 underlined the immediacy of the challenge; 38 percent of respondents said the time-to-hire for salaried positions was growing and 47 percent said it had led to an increase in the cost-per-hire.

This is not the only difficulty, though, because even if you find the right talent you are faced with another challenge - technical debt. Research last year by Stripe and Harris Poll estimated that organizations were wasting up to $300 billion a year addressing "technical debt" as developers were forced to maintain legacy systems and bad code, rather than transforming and modernizing IT infrastructures. This rings particularly true in the database sector where traditional proprietary commercial database management systems like Oracle have ruled the roost.

At a time when budgets are already constrained enterprises can ill-afford to be hiring in expensive, precious new talent simply to have them wasted on keeping the lights on.

And just when you think hiring the right talent is complicated enough you have to consider the profile of the workforce. An ageing global population creates a real risk that accumulated intellectual property (IP) will gradually slip out of the workforce as experienced engineers retire with little chance of a younger generation eager to replace them. There is a worldwide concern that Millennials - and those that follow them - are increasingly disdainful of traditional roles in corporate IT infrastructures. Add to this data from the World Economic Forum that suggests increasing automation and artificial intelligence will demand 54 percent of all employees will need significant reskilling by 2022, and the skills challenge becomes even more complicated.

All this data suggests a dire picture for the IT industry and if the database sector is a microcosm of these trends then there are significant business and technical challenges ahead. However, rather than become downhearted I am very positive about the future for the database market, particularly open source technologies such as Postgres. Key commentators, like Merv Adrian of Gartner, have already said that by 2022, 70 percent of new applications will be run on open source databases.

This ties with growing evidence we are seeing of large enterprises embracing open source to meet the need for greater agility and innovation, without the costs associated with closed source software. Having seen their digital-only competitors leverage open source to support their IT infrastructures even more traditional enterprises recognize open source enables them to move faster; but it also has the twin benefit of making IT roles within their organizations more attractive, because there is clear evidence that open source is far more attractive to developers than traditional closed source technologies. Just look at the Stackoverflow Developer Survey 2019 and MySQL and Postgres are the two most used databases by developers, while Redis and Postgres are the most loved, and MongoDB and Postgres are the most wanted.

Can you see a pattern emerging? That's right. Postgres maintains a strong position throughout; that is a great thing for IT organizations worrying about attracting new talent, skills gaps and reskilling staff. One of its key benefits is that Postgres is a fork of the original relational language that Ted Codd at IBM developed, which went on to become the foundation of Oracle's database technology. This compatibility means significantly less training for DBAs to understand how to implement and manage Postgres. So not only do you have a route to escape the clutches of Oracle you can go a long way to reskilling your existing workforce without racking up a huge retraining bill!

It is also supported by an active community, which is constantly innovating - exactly the type of technology that will attract talent to your organization. Make no mistake, the skills challenge is a huge issue for everyone in the IT industry, but in the database sector the growing presence of open source alternatives is a good thing. Not only does it give customers more choice, but it also offers an attractive solution to attracting, retaining and reskilling staff.

*This article first appeared on Computing, 24 September 2019.


Matt Peachey