Network technology is constantly evolving. New tools and approaches arrive as others are replaced or discarded. The same can be said for managers, engineers, developers and other network pros, many of whom wake up one morning to discover that their once prized and sought-after talents are no longer as popular as they used to be.
For many years, network fundamentals remained relatively unchanged. This is no longer true, and many network pros are now beginning to feel the impact of possessing a dated skill set. "With advancements in SDN, cloud, segment routing, automation, and many other technologies, it's an exciting time to be in networking," said Justin Ryburn, head of solutions engineering at network analytics company Kentik. "There are great opportunities out there for any network engineer, operator or architect who is willing to invest the time in learning these new technologies."
But which network skills are the best bet for future growth? To help you stay on top of what's currently in demand, and what isn't, here's a rundown of today's hottest network jobs and those that are on the path to zero bits per second.
Cloud network architects are currently in high demand, Ryburn noted. "As more enterprises shift their workloads to the cloud, they are finding the underlying network to be a critical piece of the success," he explained. Cloud networking, however, is much different than traditional infrastructure networking, so it requires a new skillset, Ryburn added.
Steve Pace, head of HR at network management firm Forward Networks, predicted that cloud networking skills will begin to replace traditional on-premises network admins as more activity migrates to the public cloud. "There will be fewer boxes to install/configure/manage/maintain locally," he observed.
The hottest networking job today is a network automation engineer, asserted Pace. "In recent years, there has been a major shift to automate many repetitive network IT tasks with programming and orchestration tools," he noted. "This has been exacerbated with the convergence of DevOps and network operations. Network automation engineers are seeking to optimize workflows, reduce MTTR (mean time to resolution) and improve test methodologies."
Network engineers, in general, are facing the need to improve their programming and scripting skills in languages such as Python and Perl, Pace said. They also need to begin learning a wide range of emerging orchestration technologies, including virtual networking, Kubernetes, SD-WAN orchestration, Ansible, and Puppet. "Glassdoor is currently showing an average nationwide salary for a network automation engineer of $86,588 versus an average salary for traditional network engineer of $72,946, reflecting the more advanced programming, workflow and orchestration skills required," he observed.
Any IT pro that participates in the adoption, migration, integration, and automation of software-defined networks, and network functions that are virtualized in support of workload mobility, has a hot job, said Greg Jacobs, director, network and security product engineering at disaster recovery firm Sungard Availability Services. "This includes both public and private in the context of hybrid workloads," he noted. "This also includes key DevOps integrated roles, such as an automation developer/architect or product owner and product management."
Security analysts and engineers are "extremely vital employees," observed David Armendariz, general manager of the technology division at executive search firm Lucas Group. "They are responsible for the education of employees on computer and network security, along with monitoring network breaches and responding to attacks to the network," Such skills are invaluable, as security breaches can cost enterprises millions of dollars. "Security engineers are on the front lines keeping all data and technical systems safe, ensuring that security breaches do not happen," he said.
Not so hot
As long expected, automation's impact is beginning to reverberate across the entire network job market, making many manual network management tasks obsolete. "One clear example is WAN networking, where SD-WAN solutions have been widely adopted to manage most of the dynamic changes required of WAN networks," Pace said. "This is extending to software-based policy management of Wi-Fi networks as well," he added.
Telecom specialists, meanwhile, are becoming an endangered species. "As technology evolves, we’re shifting away from traditional telecom roles," Armendariz said. For decades, traditional PBXes were a communications mainstay. "Now we've evolved into VoIP, and with the ease of administration on the VoIP systems we're seeing more of a traditional network resource handling the telecom aspect of the network."
Automation also threatens the job stability of traditional network engineers. "Leveraging scripting or automated tasks is preferred in a rapidly changing and dynamic network environment," Jacobs warned.
The market is shifting toward transformation enablement, Jacobs observed. "Networks are becoming more abstracted through virtualization front-ended by APIs," he explained. "I expect to see more roles opening up in the automation and network development space as organizations adopt concepts such as shared virtual infrastructures, software-defined networking—both SDN and SD-WAN—hybrid connectivity and shared horizontal infrastructure services," he said.
The network job market will continue to be hot for the remainder of 2019, Ryburn predicted. "Between service providers and digital enterprise, networking continues to be a fast-growing segment of the IT market."