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Getting Started in Cisco’s DevNet

- November 2, 2015 - 0 Comments

Mark Watney is “The Martian”, in case you haven’t heard. In the movie, he’s a Botanist stranded on Mars. But in the book, he’s first a mechanical engineer, and a botanist as his second skillset. It’s hard to if he’s an engineer-botanist or a botanist-engineer, but he’s a pretty cool guy. Think McGuyver with better one-liners. Cool enough for Matt Damon to play his character in the movie.

THE MARTIAN

It’s great when we IT folks have more than one specialty as well. The Martian (Watney) picked Mechanical Engineering and Botany – a great combo when you happen to get stranded on Mars. It seems like Networkers are never just networkers any more as well. It always seems to include some route/switch, but then… voice? Security? Data center? Development?

Which brings me to Cisco DevNet, the topic of today’s post. The name even sounds a Watney-esque: DevNet – sounds like Developer-Networker. But it’s really the single best resource to network with others and find resources about software development related to Cisco products. That includes the complete spectrum of people – from networkers who just cracked a book to start learning Python to people who make their living developing software.

Personally, I find Cisco’s DevNet to be pretty useful, and I have loved the DevNet Zone at Cisco Live. But I wondered how to get you excited DevNet. And the best way I think is for you to try a few features. So my goal today is to introduce you to a few features, and give you a few links as places to launch.

You can pick my suggestions or try your own. I’d love to hear what you tried, and how it worked – If you do, post it here, or tweet me your favorite, @WendellOdom, and put a #CiscoChampion in the tweet if you think of it!

The DevNet Web Site

The word developer makes us think of the folks that do the job for a living. For the purposes of this post, and for DevNet itself, change your thinking. Developer means anyone who has interest in development – from building basic skills, from just learning enough lingo to talk to real developers, to getting deep, and yes, even you professional developers who know the game.

Cisco’s DevNet is Cisco’s software developer web site. Software developers can make great use of this site – but so can networkers. Even if you never expect to program the data plane of a networking device, networkers should still plan to consider development skills as key stills for the future, just like voice, DC, and security.

To get started, browse to devnet.cisco.com (or developer.cisco.com), and look around. Next up: a couple of highlights, with links to good places to get started!

Labs and More Labs – Schedulable and On-Demand

Networkers love labs. So do developers! Cisco’s DevNet helps by providing lab environments and lab exercises, places for free play as well as to learn with an organized learning activity.

Of course, the overarching theme of a lab for development is to test your code against the devices that they code will be controlling or relying upon. Sometimes that equipment can be pricy for a lab. For developers, it can just be beyond their skillset to set up a network to test their code. But it’s a great place to start.

I’d suggest these starting places:

Click a lab! Do not be afraid!

All APIs – API Index – a Developer’s Dream

If software is eating the world, then APIs are the teeth of the software.

I spent hours informally chatting with software developers about a year ago, some of that at the first DevNet Zone event at Cisco Live San Fran, 2014. The overarching theme: life as a developer revolves around APIs, far more than specific programming languages. I remember one specific conversation with a couple of developers where they said they learned APIs all the time, that one new API per week was not unusual. As someone who hadn’t even written a simple piece of code to use any API at the time, well, that was a Developers-are-from-Mars-and-I-am-not kind of moment.

A developer might work through a problem with the sequence on the left of this next figure; notice that the solution revolves around the features and function of the API.

It’s a generalization, but in a broad sense, networkers have traditionally approached problems in a similar way, as shown on the right side of the figure. The toolset to solve a particular need is the feature set of the various networking devices, rather than an API. And like developers, networkers often begin with sample code copied from documentation.

So you networkers – you know that you know where to find out about all the features for the product sets you work with most, right? Developers need the same resources. For developers, those resources are APIs, and guess where Cisco’s API documentation sits! You guessed it, DevNet. You can start with the big list – think of it as the equivalent of the command reference or configuration reference for all your favorite Cisco OS’s. Or you can start by looking at technology, and you will see some links for API docs for that technology.

Where should you start? Here are two places:

  • The API Index at Cisco’s DevNet is a great place to launch if you want to know what APIs exist, and where to get the documentation and code.
  • Pick a technology area from the DevNet Main page to find your topic of interest and then look for the associated APIs.

Getting Started in Cisco’s DevNet

DevNet Community

Cisco does an amazing job of creating and fostering online communities. For example, Cisco’s support forums serve as a great place to collaborate to get answers to specific technology issues. And the Cisco Learning Network (CLN) provides a great place to collaborate while studying for an exam.

Whether you are a seasoned developer who might need to get some detailed questions answered, or a newbie trying to overcome those first many things you have to learn to start learning the big items, the DevNet community can be a great resource.

Here’s a few recommendations on getting started:

  • Start lurking. Do that by checking out the subspaces in the DevNet Community, and subscribe to a few.
  • Note that you can subscribe and receive emails, or receive notices that you see after you login to the DevNet site.

The DevNet Zone Conference at CiscoLive!

Cisco Live is the best networking conference to attend, period. That’s just my opinion, but it’s an opinion based on 15+ times at the show (I have lost count), all but one on my own $. I am a believer. If I spend on one event for training each year, and only one, it’s Cisco Live.

The DevNet Zone at Cisco Live is one of the best parts of Cisco Live today – maybe the single best part. And the DevNet Zone may be a great lever to finally get your boss to spring for the cash to send you to the show. Read on!

What It Is: DevNet Zone at Cisco Live

The DevNet Zone at Cisco Live is basically the DevNet site come alive as a conference within Cisco Live. It has on-site labs, presentations, demo booths with knowledgeable people. I have been at three DevNet Zone events at Cisco Live in the last year and half, tons of great sessions, labs, and conversations. They’ve all been great events and getting better.

But I struggled with how to get across the idea of how impressed I was the event. So, some bullet points:

  • They had two presentation theatres running at the DevNet Zone in the US for a variety, and they were running most all day each day.
  • The sessions varied enough to have something for technologists and business people – plenty deep if you want to get your hands dirty, but it wasn’t all about just how to code to a particular API.
  • Knowledgeable speakers from inside and outside Cisco. As an example, there was a DevOps session with Adrian Cockroft and Gene Kim, to a session with Cisco product managers for their various SDN controllers, to Coding 101/102 sessions.
  • Some of the most popular sessions were the beginning coding sessions – lots of us networkers going for that next specialty!
  • Learning labs, all day, in a lab area, with the experts roaming around waiting to answer your questions. It was packed at both of the past two US shows.
  • See something in a session, or in a lab, and want to talk to an expert? You can usually find one nearby.
  • There’s a buzz, an energy, that is hard to describe. It’s like hanging out with all the cool kids, but all the cool kids like tech.

If you have any interest at all in software and its impact on networks, on SDN, on DevOps, on any of the topics you can find in the list of topics at the DevNet Zone, it’s well worth the time and money, especially with the cheaper price.

Where to start with DevNet Zone

The DevNet Zone is a scheduled live event, but you can get started today. Two suggestions:

  • Look at the schedule of upcoming Cisco Live shows in your theatre. If the timing is close enough, you should be able to see the details of the DevNet Zone part of the show there.
  • Keep clicking – if you click through, you can get on a mailing list for DevNet Zone updates about the show in your theatre! Here’s a link to the 2015 show in Mexico, and the 2016 show in Germany
  • Watch some recorded sessions from past shows, to get a sense for what’s at the show – and pick a session link to forward to your boss!

Close: Go do Some Labs

For most of us technologists, the idea of having lab equipment, software, and lab exercises available to learn something new has a lot of appeal. If you get nothing more out of this post than “Hey, here’s a great place to get some skills in lab”, wonderful.

So I’ll close with my favorite place at the site, the DevNet networking sandbox. You can play in that sandbox of labs too, or find your own!

You can also check out another of my blog posts about DevNet, with a top 3 favorite labs for networkers to get started at DevNet.

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