I am so excited. Just today I’ve started working in a new role around infrastructure programmability and NetDevOps. But how did this happen to a classic network engineer? And why is this relevant to you? Please come with me on this 20-year trip!
In my previous life I worked for Ericsson, supporting mobile technologies (like GSM, GPRS, UMTS), but by 1998 I had already heard about IP networks and got really interested. I started studying in my own time, and finally was able to start working in networking by 2000. Since then I have had a networking background like many other Systems Engineers (SE). For 10+ years I worked as an SE focused on SP technologies. I got my CCIE in 2002 because I loved networking. Loved the challenge. All the cool guys had it and I wanted to join that club. I was willing to spend my evenings and weekends studying for it, and passing the CCIE exam felt absolutely great. It was all about the excitement!
Fast forward 20 years
A couple of years ago I attended a DevNet session delivered by Hank Preston, and it opened my eyes to a new world of technology. I got the same feeling of excitement I had 20 years earlier when I first discovered networking and IP. A new world of opportunities was opening in front of me! I wanted to learn all this stuff. I got addicted. Since then I have spent a ton of hours on DevOps, network programmability, and software in general. I can honestly say that since the introduction of IP networking , this is the most important wave of technology transformation I have ever lived.
You don’t know what you don’t know
The main challenge I see for us, systems engineers, is discovering this new world. Very often we are buried in our day-to-day job, and do not really know what is happening in the outside world. I see 3 main challenges here:
- Technology: there is so much cool stuff happening around software, but we need to know it exists. Events (ie. Cisco Live, Virtual Teams, local meetups) are great opportunities to create awareness.
- Opportunities: many times we might feel like there are no business opportunities to position software products, when in fact the problem is we are not involved in those opportunities.
- Stakeholders: with the current shift of budget from IT departments to Line-of-Business (LoB) owners we need to develop new relationships with different stakeholders. The main issue is that many times we don’t even speak their language. They have such different concerns and challenges, we need to learn those before coming to them with selling propositions. That is what we have been doing for many years with our IT customers: understanding their challenges and addressing them with our solutions. We just need to learn how to do that with LoB owners.
What should we do about it?
- Exposure: we need to see what this is all about. Not with fluffy presentations, but with real stuff. We are engineers, we like to learn by doing: let us play with things. Break it, fix it, break it again, fix it again. I have spent the last couple of years doing this with multiple new topics. I love it. We, systems engineers, love it. But first we need to know things exist. And these things need to be cool. If it is boring stuff (or presented as such) that looks like the same old, same old… nobody will follow.
- Willingness: you need to feel the desire to morph into something else. Into a next-generation network engineer, with a new set of additional capabilities that allow you bring additional value to your customers.
- Adaptability: compared to 20 years ago, today we have some real globalization and universal access to information. That makes all the difference in the world… specially in the world of open-source that we need to navigate. Not only there is a myriad of alternatives, in terms of technology and solutions, but they tend to appear and disappear faster than ever. You may learn about a certain solution, and 6 months later it is gone. This is one of the big concerns for anyone new to the world of software, programmability and open source projects. But you know what…? Get over it. I am sorry but this is the new world, not only for our kids but also for us. We need to navigate it, as anyone else.
- Alignment: people with experience in this new world should help and define what specific solutions align well with networking use-cases. We need guidance on what might be more relevant, to save us time. There is no need for everyone to lose cycles on things that are not worth it. This is critical, and I am not talking about ‘learn Python’. Nobody will learn python because of learning python. It is too big of an effort with no real reward in itself. It is much better to include some python in a meaningful exercise that brings real value. Then we will understand the real value of something like python, and learn more as required for other useful exercises.
What have I done about it?
- ‘Hands-on with DevOps’ whitepaper: One of the most interesting and important topics I have found in this new world is DevOps. When I first learned about it I attended multiple sessions where the key message was ‘this is a cultural change, your company needs to work in a different way’. And it is true. But that is definitely not enough, especially for an engineer. So I started digging into it, to learn what it really meant from the practical point of view that we, engineers, need. And at a certain point I arrived to something I think is unique. I documented the whole process of how an engineer could learn about DevOps automation, the complete learning path to get really fluent on the reality behind that word. Following just this document would allow any engineer coming from a networking background, to be able to speak the language of LoB owners inside any company. It would allow them to create new relationships with these new key stakeholders. I just created something that I would have loved to have when I started getting into this new world. And I did it in a way that any engineer could replicate it on their own, with no cost at all.
- Blog and Learning Lab series: I decided to create a clear and useful learning map for anyone wanting to learn about DevOps from scratch. I publish every 2 weeks a small piece with an associated new learning lab I create for the occasion. That way readers know they have 2 weeks to work on the new piece, and after that they will get a new one in the same series, that will build on the previous knowledge. All with practical exercises based on a real application. This learning map extends for months, allowing readers to follow the path at their own pace. And on top of that they can reach out to me when they have questions.
- Events: I am a firm believer of delivering content face-to-face. That’s when you create the biggest impact. I leverage as much as possible whatever opportunities I have to present in front of an audience. I do it in our own Virtual Teams, Cisco Live, local meetups, etc. Whenever there is an opportunity… I’m in! I became aware of this new world via one Virtual Team session, so my ultimate goal is always to have that kind of effect on attendees for my sessions.
What will we do to help with this transition to programmability and NetDevOps?
- Community: we will build and excite a community of field advisors and practice leaders to develop infrastructure programmability, DevOps and NetDevOps know-how in the engineering teams, and support for related sales engagements.
- Capability: our engineers need a library of relevant content ready to use, and relevant to their needs. Using different collaboration tools we will storify and share business-relevant use cases, best practices and replicable customer references.
- Customers: the ultimate goal is to help engineering teams to boost their sales and increase the funnel of programmability-driven customer engagements, including the creation of new trust relationships with line-of-business owners.
I am a firm believer that we, networking engineers, can morph into those next-generation NetDevOps engineers we want to be. The opportunity is ahead of us… we just need to jump on board. ALL IN!
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