Career Forecast: Do Network Engineers Need to be Programmers?

I am fresh off a trip to InterOp Las Vegas…and happen to stumble across an interesting followup article on the show.  It is about the debate on whether or not network engineers need to also be programmers.  Interesting debate….what are your thoughts as you read the article?

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SDN: Programming Skills Needed – Or Not?

Posted by Marcia Savage
April 02, 2014

A lot of discussion around software-defined networking has focused on the future of network engineers and how they will need to develop new skills to adapt to the future of automated and programmable networks.

Indeed, the topic came up at a panel keynote at Interop Las Vegas on Wednesday. Steve Shah, senior director of product management at Citrix, said networking pros need to evolve their skillset for automation. Right now, there aren’t many IT folks with both networking and skills in programming languages, such as Python, he said.

Arpit Joshipura, vice president of product management and marketing at Dell Networking, agreed. “You need the network to be programmed, not provisioned,” he said. “That is the fundamental change that will happen in five years.”

But Dominic Wilde, vice president of global product line management at HP Networking, said the notion that “all of the sudden you have to become programmers overnight” is false.

“That’s the fallacy we need to move away from — you don’t need programming skills,” Wilde said.

While there will be a number of large enterprises that want to programmatically go in and code to northbound APIs and get deep into the details, the majority of companies are looking for simpler SDN products, he said. HP is working with more than 35 partners to create turnkey SDN systems that don’t require programming skills, he said.

But Shah noted, “If you want a more malleable network, then that programming skill comes into play.”

He cited PCI compliance as involving a lot of applications and complexity; in a programmable network, a script that instantiates devices needed, such as firewalls for PCI compliance, could be tested and rolled out in a week.

The panel, which was moderated by Eric Hanselman, chief analyst at 451 Research and SDN track chair for Interop Las Vegas, also addressed the state of SDN, how companies can get started on the transition, and obstacles.

Panelists agreed that SDN has moved past the “wild fantasies,” as Hanselman put it, to actual products and deployments. Wilde said SDN has gone beyond discussion of pieces like controllers to practical solutions for business problems such as better quality of service and security.

“I think people are seeing the potential” for how SDN can simplify network operations, he said.

But Hanselman noted that there’s still plenty of healthy skepticism surrounding SDN. Networking teams have been able to perform quality of service and isolation previously, so what’s different with SDN, he asked the panelists.

Wilde said automation and abstracting network complexity for greater agility is key. For years, network virtualization has been accomplished via VLANs, he said. With SDN, network virtualization doesn’t require reconfiguration of the underling topology of the network and can be done at greater scale, he said.

Read full post here: NetworkComputing.com