There was a time when Open Source Development was considered to be a playground for amateur developers, but nowadays such initiatives have become the groundswell of creativity and opportunity. Even though the product in many cases is free, there is ample scope for money to be made. The highest paid professionals in the IT industry are now associated with Open Source Development. In India much of the IT infrastructure is being supported by Open Source Initiatives.
Reputed companies are vying to have Open Source Professionals in their payroll. Such software comes with the original source code, unlike licensed software, which is available for a hefty fee. The companies can rationalise their budgets by saving the money that they would otherwise be paying as license fees, and they also have the advantage of using the original source code to develop a version of the software that is more suitable for their needs.
An open world
If you are good at Open Source Development, companies will come looking for you. There used to be a time when Open Source was synonymous with Linux and Java, but now it includes several middle-ware, ERP, BI and other enterprise applications. A glance at the popular job-hunting sites tells us that the Open Source Skills that are most commonly in demand include content management systems such as WordPress, Joomla! and Drupal. All three are good examples of on going Open Source Projects that have been built by contributors from around the world.
The basic framework of the data management system can be created by using WordPress, Joomla! or Drupal, but for putting special features in the overall set-up, companies need to hire competent professionals. There is also demand for Open Source Database Systems such as MySQL, and mobile, e-commerce and web server technologies. A normal Google search on Open Source Projects will give you thousands of leads.
How to begin?
Open Source has now become so vast that there cannot be any clear-cut guidelines for anyone to build a career in this field. There is nothing that stops a programmer from working with both licensed software and with Open Source. In fact, the difference between the two seems to be narrowing down as the expansion in field of IT continues. Companies that are the biggest vendors of licensed software are also spending huge sums of money for promoting Open Source Initiatives.
A normal school and college education, followed by some popular certifications can fetch you a good job. But by participating in Open Source Projects, you will be able to acquire new skill sets and you will add new credentials to your resume. While applying for a new job, you should try to give full details of the Open Source Projects that you have been involved in. You must describe the project in as much detail as possible, and also explain why people use the product and more particularly, why you became involved with the project.
Your reputation is your certification
As far as the basic programming related knowledge is concerned, it can be had from any reputed training institute. NIIT, Aptech and others provide courses in Linux, MySQL, etc. Once you have the basic training, you will be free to apply your ingenuity and creativity at various projects that you choose to become a part of. The best certification in Open Source that anyone can hope to have is reputation, which only comes from the work you have done in some development project.
Once you have done some good work, people within the community of Open Source Developers will start recognising you, and slowly you are able to build a reputation. This will automatically lead you towards better job prospects. One of the most popular hangouts for Open Source Programmers is SourceForge (http://sourceforge.net).
Google Code (http://code.google.com), the initiative from the search giant Google, offers lot of opportunities to developers not only for posting their own projects and participating in those started by others, but also by way of providing different kinds of tools that can be used for software development. You can download the source code for the popular mobile OS, Android, and use it to develop all kinds of apps, which can then be offered in the Android market for free or for a fee.
Codeplex (http://www.codeplex.com), an initiative of Microsoft, has thousands of Open Source Projects running at any point of time. If you do some good work here, you will make a reputation not only in the eyes of the community of developers, but also of Microsoft. Of course, it is not at all necessary that you should join projects started by some corporate or another individual. You can also start your own project and if you are creating something interesting then other developers will take notice and join the project for fixing bugs and implementing new features.
With certain specific skill sets, you can join commercial Open Source projects like Fedora, Mozilla, Apache, Alfresco, Pentaho, etc. Here the chance of being paid for contributions is pretty high. When you become part of project, you usually begin by becoming a tester. That is you try to identify the bugs, even as you get an inkling of the technology behind it. Eventually you can try to come up with solutions for the bugs. You can also contribute by doing a through documentation of the project.