Is this you perhaps? You’re the king of the network. You know it all inside out (your company and its processes too). You have every CLI mastered, you know the RPs you use in-depth, you’ve seen and used all the big management platforms, and you even know a fair bit about a few critical applications. Great. You’re up to date with all the latest and greatest developments in the field (the ones that you think might affect you at least) and you have a warm, cosy and beneficial relationship with your major vendors.
SDN is just noise and wash. And the last ‘big thing’ (“cloud”) just means a VPN to somewhere. You encrypt and route the data, and you don’t worry too much about where it’s gone or what happens next. That’s why they went cloud, so it’s someone else’s problem, right? Things have been steady for years and won’t change too much despite all the current buzz and spin. You put your time and effort into doing your certifications years ago, and it’s pretty simple to renew them every few years. IPv6 never really happened. There’s always something new to learn (this is, after all the 21st century), but nothing too taxing.
Stop and think about that for a moment; if this is anything like your view of the current state of play, you have my sympathies and to some extent my understanding. However, I wonder if you’re happy with this world as you know it today? Perhaps, like the fictional mill owners and trade unions from The Man in the White Suit, you see progress and change as a threat now, or maybe you’re just tired of it all. I can relate to that – I’ve been there myself. (I used to wonder how ITIL and Service/Change Management might affect the world of F1 for light relief.) I’ve gotten over it, and these days I’m not content with that state of affairs. And I don’t think you should be either. The network world is changing rapidly. I plan to evolve right along with it and hopefully regain some of the excitement and sheer awe that brought me here years ago.*
Whatever your attitude today, you really should be asking yourself what you need to do to stay relevant, be meaningful and add value tomorrow – before your cost begins to outweigh your value. If you care about your career, if you think networking is more than just a job, you want to be more than just another ‘resource’. You want your creativity, knowledge and understanding to matter and have an impact. Well, I’d suggest that learning a programming language be high on your to-do list. If you think there are better things to focus on, that’s cool, as long as you have a focus and you’re preparing for the future. Don’t become the Blockbusters, HMV or Jessops of the networking arena.**
The overall stagnation of the industry we’re working in has its roots in many places, but I still see the incumbent vendors as mostly to blame. Networking is almost ‘money for nothing’ for these companies at present (minimal investment, maximum profit). Next up is the ITIL and Service Management crowd. I know the network is central to almost everything, but ultimately ITIL and its ilk attempt to protect the system simply by minimising its exposure to change, not risk. Perversely, the amount of improvements I’ve NOT made to networks under my control is far greater than the number I did, because it really wasn’t worth the effort. Last but not least is of course the applications and their developers; thanks for rewarding my strategic role, my skills, knowledge and importance by making me responsible for all your bad code. Don’t let this all wear you down any more – things are about to change.***
What’s that? Your manager or your company simply don’t believe any of this new technology is of any value whatsoever and never will? They probably didn’t think TCP/IP or the Internet weren’t that big a deal either, but I bet you’re not still looking after an IPX network, and you’ve a great big fat Internet pipe. It’s your career, not theirs – if you need to, check out and move on. Right now you can learn about what you want outside of work, but if doing anything real seems too distant, think hard. Manufacturers are falling over themselves to offer device APIs and on-box languages, support OpenFlow and other SDN technologies as well as virtualisation and related protocols. The flexible, agile and dynamic network of the future won’t involve most of the tasks that fill your day today, which no doubt fill you with boredom anyway. Let yourself and your skills free and embrace this; it’s mostly a shift of perception rather than hard work.
Do you think programming is boring or just not for you? What do you do every day? You program a switch or a router or a firewall; it doesn’t look or feel like it but that’s exactly what you are doing on a discreet, per-device basis. When you move into PBR, QoS or load balancing, it’s perhaps slightly more obvious. You’re applying policy and genuine logic (even intelligence and context) to a flow of traffic, but it’s easy to miss. So, take a step back and a step up and re-evaluate your thoughts about what you do today, day-to-day, how you might translate that into a programme – and how awesome that could be. You do it already with scripts and a detailed knowledge of CLI commands and syntax and the networks you support and design; a programming language simply makes it easier, more powerful, repeatable, modular and safer. A language lets you focus on what’s valuable and important, not on the mundane. See my earlier article for just one practical example of how things might improve.
I hear you. There’s always something new to take up your time. You’re right, there is, but don’t think you can ignore this one. Put it at the top of your list or risk irrelevance sometime soon (and sooner than you might think). Adapt and survive or fall by the wayside. If you’re lucky, perhaps you might find a long-lived niche (like those COBOL and VAX guys did), but this is likely to be by chance rather than design. Don’t bet on it. Some incredibly intelligent and driven people have drawn out the possible future landscape (and continue to do so), and have made almost anything possible. All we have to do is run with it; go get some new trainers and burn it up.
In the next part of this series, I’ll be discussing basic programming elements, terminology and structure; once you understand that, it all becomes reasonably simple, regardless of the language. I hope you will ‘tune in’.
Other articles in the series;
**Three national ‘high-street’ retail store chains that have closed down in the UK this year, supplying Video/Game rentals, music CDs and digital cameras respectively.
***-Some thoughts on SDN and virtualisation’s effects on the employment market can be found here: You’ve Changed – SDN’s Casualties