Samsung Talks About Its Aggressive Linux Talent Recruitment Strategy

jennifercloer's picture
I recently spoke to Samsung's Ibrahim Haddad who is the head of the company's Open Source Group in Silicon Valley. He is leading efforts to find the best Linux and open source sofware talent to help Samsung maintain its market position and shares with us why this is a priority for the company, how they're finding this talent and what they're doing to attract and retain open source developers.

ibrahim-collab2013Samsung is investing resources in setting up a Silicon Valley presence to attract  leading open source developer talent. Why is this a priority for the company?

Haddad: It is not a secret to anyone how important open source and its ecosystem are to Samsung. During his keynote at The Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit on April 15, 2013, Sang-bum Suh (VP, Software Platform in the Software R&D Center) emphasized the role and importance of open source at Samsung. I’d also like to stress that this goes beyond just communities such as Android and Tizen. As Dr. Suh alluded to, there are open source components in use across several Samsung product lines.  As a company, we realize that we need to move beyond just being good consumers of open source, and being a contributor to a few select projects, to being very active and strong contributors and thought leaders in the component communities that are the foundation for our software platform and used in many products.

Why are Linux and open source developers in such high demand by Samsung?

Haddad: Samsung uses Linux and open source software in a wide range of products: mobile phones, tablets, TVs, home appliances, cameras, etc. Software is a key differentiator and having great software talent is a significant added benefit that compliments the great hardware design talent that Samsung is famous for. Across Samsung, including at the Open Source Group, we are looking to hire Linux and Open Source developers to help drive innovation and collaboration within the company.

We heard Samsung say at The Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit that it has more than 20,000 developers. That's amazing. What does that mean to the company? 

Haddad: In today’s technology environment, all kinds of companies are becoming software companies. Samsung is not very different from that perspective. We are very well known as a company that drives for innovation on the hardware side and creates great products across a wide range of consumer verticals. Software is a great differentiator and open source software is a core component of any software strategy. Having said that, Samsung is very much engineering-driven and we are looking for developers who can advance that function within the company.

As for developing competence, there are several ways that include new hires, promoting internal developers with proper training and mentoring, and doing small acquisitions when appropriate.

As part of the Open Source Group, our goal is to build a very positive image for Samsung in the open source space as a great place to work if you are an open source developer. We are creating the environment that will allow us to hire and retain talent. Internally, we are in the process of creating mentorship programs that will allow us to propagate that knowledge (not just technical, as there is an abundance of that) but also the open source development and collaboration know-how. Hiring top-tier development talent that already is used to working ‘The Open Source Way’ helps us with that goal of mentoring our existing developers.

What does "talent" mean to Samsung? What kinds of people are you looking for to work in the open source community on behalf of Samsung? What skills are most important?

Haddad: Great question and very timely as we are ramping up our open source group and we are in hiring mode now and for the next few years.

I can speak to what talent means to the Open Source Group. We are looking for individuals who have strong technical competence in several open source technology areas (system, cloud, web, virtualization, media, etc.). However this is only one part of the whole picture. Candidates must have open source development expertise either as an existing contributor, possibly with path to becoming a maintainer with the proper support, or be a current maintainer looking for a “home” that will allow them to focus more on upstream projects. They need to be able to motivate themselves via the work they are doing. We also look for people that are great team players in the true collaborative open source sense.

Once they join, members of the group will contribute to open source projects that are important to Samsung products, help product teams with the open source components they own, and promote open source best practices within Samsung. Additionally they will be our ambassadors to the open source community at large and towards the specific projects they are contributing to. So, as you can see, we are really looking for great technical skills, as well as exceptional communications and cultural abilities.
We have the opportunity to build a team from scratch and build a culture that will help us infuse some of the open source ethos into Samsung. It is really a great time to bootstrap the group and be at Samsung.

Our annual Jobs Report indicates that Linux developers are among the best paid and most highly-sought. How does Samsung attract and retain developers?

Haddad: I must admit that hiring is a bit of a challenge given the current demand for open source talent. We are taking several steps to allow us to attract Linux and Open Source developers to our group. Some of it may sound basic but they are new measures being deployed for the first time within our group. These include:

•    Work from home option: This is especially viable if you don’t live in Silicon Valley or in the Greater London area where we have our two primary offices.

•    Flexible hours for people coming to the office: Even if you live within commute distance to the office, we make it easy for people to do flexible hours.

•    We provide the proper internal environment needed by open source developers: Great hardware, VPN/e-mail supported on Linux, internal Wiki/Git/etc. servers; we are trying to emulate the work environment in open source projects.

•    Another aspect of hiring and retention is the ability of our developers to reserve a minimum percentage of their time to focus on working with upstream projects as a core task.  

•    Enable developers to be visible within their project and the open source community. As part of performance management, we require our open source developers to choose the conferences they would like to attend and do a talk at.  They have total freedom in organizing community events for their project, ranging from a pizza and beer get together to hosting meetings for their projects at Samsung sites or at independent venues. And, of course, we take care of the logistics and cost.

•    In addition, we have restructured our benefit and total rewards package to be very competitive in Silicon Valley.

All of these combined provide a welcoming environment not only for open source developers, but for software developers at large.

What would you say to the skeptics in the open source world who aren’t sure that Samsung is ready and able to change to doing things ‘The Open Source Way?’

Haddad: I think they probably missed the fact that Samsung is already a major contributor to several open source projects. The Linux Foundation yearly report on The Linux Kernel Development ranks Samsung as a top 10 contributor to the kernel development (#8 to be exact). There are several such projects where Samsung is a major contributor. We are also members of the Linux Foundation at the Platinum level and current participants of several projects hosted at the foundation. This alone is a clear commitment from our side to the importance of The Linux Foundation and its mission, and clear indication of our support. But we can do better and it is our goal to do so.

Furthermore, Samsung has an internal culture that prides itself on the ability to be flexible and change to take advantage of new markets and new technologies.  While it is true that the company has primarily been consuming open source technologies and components to this point, with targeted contributions, there is a very keen awareness that to retain market leadership, we have to move to being more proactive and involved in helping contribute to the communities we rely on to help develop our products and experiences.

The Open Source Group in Silicon Valley (and partner groups at corporate HQ and in Europe) were created specifically to help advise and push Samsung’s culture in the right direction for effective open source involvement and to drive Samsung contributions. While there is still a lot of interesting work to do, there is a clear mandate at the highest levels of the company to move in this direction.

I am personally having a blast, and I truly believe we are on the right path.