How network pros acquire skills for SDN, programmable networks

Changing networks require changing skills. Learn how some IT pros are developing network programming skills to navigate the shift to software-defined networking (SDN) and respond to the increasing complexity of IT infrastructure management.

pottery skill talent tools binary fluid maleable create clay by g stockstudio getty
g-stockstudio / Getty Images

ason Pichardo’s career path has mirrored the changes in networking over the past decade, moving from a traditional hardware-dominated past to a software-centric future that reflects the network’s growing importance to business operations.

“The industry started having conversations about digital transformation, and already we have moved to a hybrid-cloud state with programmability and orchestration. We’ve gone from talking about switches and routers to talking about how to speed to market faster and how to accomplish business tasks at a faster rate,” says Pichardo, senior network architect at insurance provider Anthem. (The opinions he expresses are his own, not those of Anthem, Inc.)

Pichardo has shifted from network engineer to a blend of network engineer and architectural engineer to pure architect. The moves have come so fast that, unlike his formal network training, he has had to get creative with attaining the skills necessary to succeed at digital transformation.

Here are some ways that Pichardo and other network professionals acquire the knowledge they need to stay competitive in their current jobs and careers.

Start at the search box

“Where to start can be an overwhelming question,” Pichardo says. He recommends beginning with simple Google searches about common concepts such as scripting and APIs. From there, he says, it becomes clearer which vendors and trainers are evangelizing the digital transformation that works best for you. 

Edward Ruffolo, director of technology at Miron Construction in Neenah, Wisc., credits Internet searches for kick-starting the company’s implementation of business intelligence and data-analytics software, a key component of its move to become largely cloud-based. Using Google, which Ruffolo half-jokingly refers to as “the greatest learning tool ever invented,” the network team and their peers were able to quickly identify key analytics and BI thought leaders to follow and stay current on trends.

Ruffolo and his area managers make it a practice to give team members technology topics that are part of the company’s roadmap so they can research and learn about them ahead of deeper deployment talks. “They have the opportunity to get familiar with the basic terminology and what’s included and not included in typical project scopes,” he says.

View your way to knowledge

At Miron, the IT team employs micro-learning – short, instructive videos available online – to work their way through a problem. “Oftentimes we know what we want to do with a new technology, we just don’t know how to do it,” Ruffolo says. “Instead of going off-site to an all-day seminar, we can watch a five-minute or 10-minute video and figure the problem out.”

He finds the short videos by product enthusiasts (compared to those by vendors) to be most useful because they are more independent in their approach to problem-solving.

Anthem’s Pichardo is a fan of longer form Webinars to help get his arms around the impact of certain technologies on the business. “Programmability transcends all different area, including campuses, data centers and the cloud,” he says. Webinars can show with big-picture or step-by-step approaches how to transform the network in this new era.

Let partners teach what you need to know

Technology partners – vendors and third-party – can be excellent channels to pick up new skills. Ruffolo instructs his partners to ensure that his team ends the engagement skilled enough to take over a project and goes so far as to include that as a requirement in contracts. Even if the project takes longer or costs more with that stipulation, he finds it more efficient and cost-effective than having to re-engage the partner or send the staff to separate training.

“We’re looking to them to not only show us what to do, but what are the pitfalls and blind alleys to avoid,” he says. “I want that skills transfer from our partners, where they are guiding the team from the elbow.”

Ruffolo’s networking team also taps into vendor communities

To continue reading this article register now