Why open source is a draw for job candidates

The chance to work with open-source technologies can help federal agencies attract top IT professionals.

Shutterstock / Pictofigo

The tech surge that revived the ailing HealthCare.gov website serves as a tool for recruiting top IT professionals from outside -- and within -- the government.

Joseph Castle, director of the General Services Administration's Digital Service, said he looks for talent in the public and private sectors.

"It can be a struggle to get people to come to GSA," he said during a July 12 panel discussion on Open Source Market Disruption hosted by FCW sister publication Washington Technology. "My ace in my pocket is to tie myself to the U.S. Digital Service team that changed HealthCare.gov."

The number of top candidates is limited, and it has been a challenge for federal agencies to compete with the deeper pockets and flexibility of private-sector companies.

"People in Silicon Valley don't go to USAJobs.gov," Castle said. But appealing to candidates' sense of challenge and desire to make a difference can lure them to government, he added.

Even the private sector is having issues competing for IT talent. John Coble, a solution architect for SAIC's Software Integration Service Line, said he had recruited an engineering student who had five other job offers from competing companies. Coble told the candidate he couldn't match financial offers from some competitors, but he could offer a guaranteed opportunity to work in an open-source development environment. That won the candidate over, he said.

According to Castle, who has hired three new technology employees in the past few months, new talent from the private sector isn't the only way to get top job candidates.

"There are really good people already in government," he said. Convincing those employees to move to another agency could be a matter of giving them the chance to work with new technology and open-source and DevOps practices they might not have access to in their current positions, he added.

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