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Red Hat CEO Bemoans State Of Education, Tech Talent Pool

Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik said Tuesday that it's tough to find well-qualified job candidates in the United States who also embrace the open-source movement's entrepreneurial values and culture of innovation.
It seems that Bill Gates isn't the only high-tech executive concerned about the state of education.

Red Hat Chairman, CEO and President Matthew Szulik said his ability to find well-qualified candidates in the United States who also embrace the open-source movement's entrepreneurial values and culture of innovation is extremely limited. Of the 500 people Red Hat hired last year, more than two-thirds came from abroad, he said.

"My business problem is not marketing or competing externally. My biggest problem is recruiting," Szulik said Tuesday in a keynote speech about open source and innovation at the C3 Expo in New York.

The problem is twofold, according to Szulik. First, he pointed to a dramatic decline in government-funded research and development, both basic and applied. Cost isn't the only reason that technology companies are centering operations offshore and have opted for partners in India, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

"Research and R&D is going where the supply and the technical talent is," Szulik said. "It's like eBay for R&D."

An even more troubling problem, however, is the state of U.S. education at the K-12 and higher-education levels. Szulik recalled a recent conversation with a university official who was considering lowering the requirements for admission to his school's undergraduate technical degree. Szulik said he wondered if that was a trend U.S. businesses should be supporting.

A better alternative, he said, might be to embrace efforts such as the Sakai Project. Under that initiative, Indiana University, MIT, Stanford University and the University of Michigan are sharing courseware in a collaborative learning environment. "Clearly, our view is that the collaborative process of the open-source process can be applied here, too," Szulik said.

"Certainly, I am benefiting as a leader of an economic enterprise," he added.

Another effort supported by Red Hat is the One Laptop Per Child project championed by Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab. The project supports the idea that a low-cost notebook PC should be available to every child and is endorsed by companies such as Google and Advanced Micro Devices. A working prototype was demonstrated earlier this month at the Red Hat Summit. So far, though, acceptance of the idea has been limited.

"I think what I find most humbling about this is, when I leave the United States, most of the other officials welcome these discussions, while I have trouble getting the attention of the local school district at home," Szulik said.

Addressing business-related questions from the audience, Szulik said the influence of the Mozilla Firefox open-source browser, as well as Web services, is reshaping user expectations of the desktop, which in turn is laying the groundwork for upcoming updates from Red Hat, Novell and Xandros. "The desktop productivity suite is the tricky part," he said.

Asked to address competitive dynamics with Novell, now that Red Hat has finished its acquisition of JBoss, Szulik said the open-source culture will prevail. "We're going to support Novell the way we would any other partners, and hopefully they'll be wildly successful with JBoss technology," he said.

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