I posted a Tweet the other day which gained a lot of attention in the networking community:
As SDN gains more traction, people start fearing for their jobs. Some jobs will decrease in demand and some will disappear entirely. However, we can’t stop progress just to keep those jobs hanging around. In the Twitter thread I made what could be seen as an elitist comment:
If you are replaceable by a script or controller, you were never a Network Engineer to begin with.
This was not meant to insult anyone, but rather be a wake-up call. If the only value you provide to the business is that you deploy templates someone else created, configure VLANs on a trunk, or can trace a flapping MAC in the network, you need to reskill and find ways of providing more value. This is not about Junior vs Senior. It’s about solving business problems.
Now, please don’t believe the “All Network Engineers must become programmers” mantra. That doesn’t mean that some people won’t be working in those roles. It doesn’t mean that those skills aren’t useful. They are. Very much so. However, how do you automate something you don’t know how to do manually? Pro tip: You don’t. You still need to know the fundamentals.
So, in a SDN world, what will Network Engineers do? Well, how about:
- Design networks
- Create configuration standards
- Troubleshoot networks
- Connect sites together over the WAN
- Connect on-premises to cloud
- Integrate network design and security design
- Provide connectivity to external networks
- Design and implement cloud networks
- Design and implement wireless networks
- Connect IT and OT environments
There will still be a lot to do. And the good news! It will likely be more entertaining than just banging commands on the CLI.
People tend to underestimate the network. “I just need the plumbing for my apps”. Which is true. Until you start adding constraints. Until you start adding physics. Until you start adding users. Until your network needs to scale. Until you find a bug. Until you find out the network is flat and open to attacks. The TL;DR, the network is not going away, and neither is your job, if you provide value to the business.
Any type of automated solution requires a lot more thought to be put into the design before going into implementation. This includes things like:
- Categorizing your sites
- Coming up with name standards
- Coming up with standard configurations
- Validating the design
Failure to do so will just mean that you’ve just automated your failures.
SDN may be scary, but it didn’t eat your hamster.