How to be a network engineer in the age of automation
I’ve been involved with network engineering for the better part of 20 years now and I’ve observed massive changes in the industry during those two decades, from Frame Relay and ATM becoming obsolete to Ethernet taking over and becoming a pervasive technology. But besides me getting older and different transport technologies going through existential crises, the biggest development in all these years was the emergence of network automation and programmability. This is the change that has probably affected the most what it means to be a network engineer these days.
Yes, different technologies and protocols come and go in classical network engineering, but automation requires a completely new set of skills. These new skills vary in complexity and usability from learning how to write YAML files and working with Ansible, to writing HCL files for Terraform configuration, to being fully proficient in a programming language such as Python or Golang. The basis and foundation for all these new skills comes from software development. This has always been tangential to network engineering, but with the advent of automation is taking a front row seat.
Depending on the size of the networks and environments you are working on, and how your company is organized, it might be you that has to become a proficient software developer and bring automation into your organization. Or, you might have to work with software developers and explain to them how the network is running, what needs to be done to automate your business processes and workflows in a language and with concepts that they understand and that they can easily turn into source code.
You are not alone
If all of this sounds daunting to you, don’t despair, you are not alone on your automation journey. We have a fantastic community of engineers at different stages in their careers that are more than happy to share their hard learned automation lessons with you. I host a weekly live stream on Wednesdays at 9:00AM PT called Simplifying Network Automation with NetGru that is being broadcast live and recorded on the Cisco DevNet YouTube channel and LinkedIn account.
In two recent episodes I’ve had the privilege of hosting Julio Gomez, Principal Sales Architect at Cisco. We’ve discussed how applications have evolved over the years – from monoliths to micro services architectures, containerized applications and Docker, Kubernetes, CI/CD pipelines, telepresence (not the Cisco one), mirrord, Okteto, and more. Most importantly, we talked about how to be a network engineer in this new world surrounded by all these exciting technologies. Here are links where you can watch these recorded episodes: