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  • 11/27/2015
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The Network Skills Shortage

Networking professionals are in short supply as network demands grow. Automation can help.

When the hubbub around SDN and then DevOps began to grow loud enough to elicit a response, the response from the network side of the IT house was somewhat expected. As is often the case when automation is mentioned, there were rumblings that both technologies were going to result in deep reductions in networking staff.

But that’s not come to pass, nor is it likely to. That’s because IT has a talent shortage -- yes, all of IT. Though security is most often highlighted as suffering a skills shortage, every silo in IT seems to be struggling to find the talent needed to fuel business growth.

According to a Cisco report, The Global Talent Competitiveness Index 2014, the shortage of skilled IP networking professionals will be at least 1.2 million people in 2015. "The common trend across all regions in the analysis is that demand for employees skilled in IP networking far exceeds the available supply," the report notes.

The shortage can be seen in incredibly low unemployment rates across job roles in the industry: Network architects and admins, developers and supporting techs, according to staffing firm Robert Half:

  • Technology Computer network architects 0.7%
  • Software developers, applications and systems software 1.3%
  • Network and computer systems administrators 1.7%

So it’s somewhat easy to understand why CIOs would lament the lack of skilled professionals available to fill the holes rapidly opening up across their organizations. Consider, for example, the growth over one year in the median engineer to device ratio across all size organizations.

Figure 1:

In 2014 the ratio was 1:36. A year later? It’s 1:59. That’s an increase of 63% -- in one year, according to Computer Economics. 

Even assuming smaller growth rates, that’s an astonishing rate at which to pile on the responsibility for managing devices on a single engineer. But if the network doesn’t grow, it’s never going to be able to withstand the coming deluge of data and things and applications that require it. It won’t be able to perform up to consumer or corporate user expectations, which in turn degrades the productivity and profit (for which those apps are being developed, deployed, and delivered) of the entire organization.

So what’s a CIO to do?

Operationalize the network. Apply DevOps to network operations. Treat infrastructure devices like code and automate and orchestrate as much as possible. Consider SDN. Consider SDDC or plain-old-automation, but consider something -- and do it soon.

Contemplate it not just to ensure your networking staff can keep up with the growth, but as a means to potentially lift the burden enough that they can mentor and train new staff that might not be skilled in all the networking nuances, but could become skilled, given the right opportunity. With experienced networking professionals already in the organization, it’s possible to augment staff by training them up rather than hiring from what appears to be a dwindling if not non-existent pool of experienced network engineers.

But existing staff can’t mentor and manage the network manually at the same time. They need help from somewhere and that somewhere is automation and orchestration.


Comments

Skill crunch

I guess as the SDN/NFV technology proceeds towards maturity we may face accute crunch of skilled manpower, although automation sounds good but again we do need skilled engineers to manage them.

@Lori MacVittie: How do you see upcoming scenerio considering if we have automation in place.

Re: Skill crunch

The demand on the network is growing exponentially but, the labor supply is growing on a linear curve that seems to be quite flat. The result is that in the short term automation can be utilized to try and bring engineer to device ratio up to 1:100. However, in the long term, educational institutions and individuals will have to focus on ways to produce a greater number of finance, science and technology professionals.

Fundamental IP Network Understanding

"....The common trend across all regions in the analysis is that demand for employees skilled in IP networking far exceeds the available supply," 

 

I am really surprised about this finding.   I would think most tech personnel have a basic understanding of IP networking.   Maybe I am wrong ?

Re: Fundamental IP Network Understanding

Class C:

 

You are very wrong.  IT Networking is a Professional Skill all in itself. It is a department. It is the backbone to any infrastructure.  The lines have become blurred because the employer has been allowed to force the 'one size fits all' job decription.  It does not work that way and IT was never structured that way.  Like any Industries there are Standards. 

"....Do one thing and Do it well." IT Networking is one thing, full of many, many, many things. Yet, it is one thing.

MisMOr

Cheers!

0b11101110010011111

Re: Fundamental IP Network Understanding

@mmorrisonm779    I agree.    And I also agree networking is it's own function and that companies have lumped everything they can onto  IT, just to save a dime.

Though I am still surprised that entry level IT personnel do not understand basic IP networking. 

One cannot even setup a workstation without that.  

Re: Fundamental IP Network Understanding

@Class C,

I can see your point of question, it might be relavent to when a person entered the industry too.  It was 2003 for me.  Networking was much less prevelant to the person without the education and certifications required.

Technicians working on pc's did the build or rework and configured the pc,Installaiton at customer location was more delivery of device(s) setup and plug the RJ-45 into the network card and walked away.  In a corporate environment of course., the Networking dept was repsonsible for making the port live as notified.

I loved the corporate life when I was there. Very compartmentalized. I am not there today, I work for a small business as their IT Administrator and my responsibility runs the gamit. (including VoIP) w/some 3rd party support.  Believe me, some days I do ask why.  ahahaha

Good talking to you,

Cheers!

Re: Fundamental IP Network Understanding

@mmorrisonm779    Yeah I see.  I guess there are many different tech scenarios in place, I had never worked in a "plug-n-play" environment when it came to setting up workstations, always had to at least understand the fundamentals.

But this is a big world and in it are many different ways to do things. I worked the corporate world for awhile as well but I did not like to be marginalized. 

Meaning one could only do certain things and was banned from others.  I started off in the SMB environment where everything is your responsibility - I am back there now and I enjoy the challenge of being responsible for everything.  It does stress me out sometimes but compared to the other option, I prefer this one.

It has been a pleasure !

Cheers. 

Re: Fundamental IP Network Understanding

Well Said!

Re: Fundamental IP Network Understanding

"IT Networking is a Professional Skill all in itself. It is a department. It is the backbone to any infrastructure.  The lines have become blurred because the employer has been allowed to force the 'one size fits all' job decription.  It does not work that way and IT was never structured that way.  Like any Industries there are Standards. "

Mmorrisonm, but in most of the company's networking engineers has multiple roles. They have the role of system admin, network managers/engineers where profile varies from managing the network, to desktop including printers etc.  in certain cases they have to look for network security issues too.

Networking Shortage: Whose Fault is it Anyway ?

I wonder if this is purely the fault of IT.   Sure a large amount of blame can go there.   But it doesn't seem that companies understand the importance of the network either.  

One might argue it is the function of the CIO to convey this message and to that I have no explanation.

So I guess it is primarily an issue of IT, if one considers the position of CIO to be a part of IT.

Re: Networking Shortage: Whose Fault is it Anyway ?

If only there was some sort of economic law that could help us with a skills shortage.  Like supply and demand.

Some Possible Reasons for the Networking Shortage

Outside of the lack of time and support to gain networking skills, 

Most importantly, these skills must be used constantly.  IT can very rarely just focus on networking and companies for the most part don't want compensate for them to do so either.

Novice Networking Techs Look The Same

"...it's possible to augment staff by training them up rather than hiring from what appears to be a dwindling if not non-existent pool of experienced network engineers"

 

While I am skeptical that those looking to enter the field of networking do not have at least the basics to gain an entry level position. 

If this holds true, then companies can "train up"  individuals both inside and outside of the organization.

Networking Skill Shortage: The Silver Lining

Because the numbers are so bleak, it looks like a great time to enter the field of Networking.

Elicit or illicit?

Shoudln't it rather be elicit than illicit (first sentence)?

Re: Elicit or illicit?

Jaimie, yes, it shoud be, yikes! It's fixed now. Thanks for taking the time to point it out!

Re: Elicit or illicit?

Nice catch Jamie, no offense to anyone, but that is one thing that has slip through the cracks, spelling, using the correct tense of a word and proofreading.  hahaha, I am old enough remember when it was unacceptable to allow any content out 'not proofed.'

But on subject:  I wish there were a shortage, somebody's selling somebody a 'bag of goods' with this article.

Thanks All, 

Nice Read.

There Is No Shortage!

If there is a shortage, then why aren't salaries skyrocketting? At minimum, the salaries should be rising at the same rate as the device per person ratio from year to year. Networking professionals should be so flush with cash that they wouldn't be writing about it, but doing it! But this article exists. Maybe because the author has a better job with the magazine than being out in the field.

IT salaries are taking a hit because of work visas(H-1B, L1, EB-2, etc.). And with training budgets dropping, workers are tired of the endless treadmill of self study for salaries not keeping up with inflation.

Want a fully staffed IT department with solid SMEs in every position? Pay the money! But this article is pitched to CIOs who got where they were because they spend more time on the payroll than the technology.

 

Networking Professionals with specific skill sets

"That's because IT has a talent shortage -- yes, all of IT. Though security is most often highlighted as suffering a skills shortage, every silo in IT seems to be struggling to find the talent needed to fuel business growth."

Lori, we have to little bit correct the statement. There are lots of network professionals are in companies or job market with generalized skills and administration knowledge; but the skill set matches with specific areas/company's profiles may be less.  In such cases what we can do is hire such professionals and train for your requirement.