All the talk of software-defined networking and automation in the industry has generated some high angst among network engineers, who wonder if SDN will put them out of work. At Interop Las Vegas, a panel addressed this anxiety and the future of networking pros in a session with a tongue-in-cheek title, "Will SDN Make Me Homeless?"
While the panel of networking experts didn't see SDN as gloom and doom for networking engineers, they agreed that it will require an expansion of skills and a shift to becoming more of an IT generalist.
Networking pros are used to following a specific vendor's certification path to jumpstart their careers, but with SDN there's no such path, said Ethan Banks. Without knowing where the industry is going long term with SDN platforms, network engineers need to broaden their skills beyond networking, he said.
For example, learn service chaining or take a virtual firewall and set it up at the edge of your network. Work with the virtualization and storage teams in your organization, Banks advised.
"Instead of thinking of yourself as a networking person, think of yourself as an IT person with networking skills," he said.
Greg Ferro said companies expect their technical employees to have multiple skills. He described the future of SDN skills as a T-shaped skill set. Go deep on networking, but learn some things about virtualization, compute, and storage. You won't necessarily need to be a storage expert, but you should know some basic storage concepts, he said.
"It's the return of the generalist," said Michele Chubirka (aka Mrs. Y). "It makes the best sense for the business when you can talk the language of other teams....If you can't speak the language, nothing will happen."
Ivan Pepelnjak, chief technology adviser at consultancy NIL Data Communications, said colleges and universities should teach overall IT generalist skillsets, such that programmers understand, say, what a TCP three-way handshake is. Similarly, networking pros need to understand what's riding on the network.
"How can we build roads without knowing the cars using it?" he said.
With SDN, when something goes wrong, it will be up to network engineers to figure out what happened, Banks said. That troubleshooting will require learning new skills, he added.
Ferro said he views SDN as another transition in a career of technology transitions. But Chubirka noted that many are scared of how their roles may change.
"It won't be easy...These are grownups who have been doing things the same way. It's going to be frightening to them. We need to try to help them," she said.