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SDN: A Particular Set of Skills Much in Demand

Dan O'Shea

Early on in its existence, software-defined networking (SDN) was feared to be a job killer, a technology transition so radical and so centered on automation that teams of networking engineers with legacy training could be shown the door.

Today, however, we're more often seeing the positive flipside of this fear: The SDN transition is looking very much like the ultimate career opportunity for engineers with the aura of SDN expertise.

Across the industry, it is becoming apparent that there is growing demand for technologists with a particular set of skills. (What, you thought Liam Neeson was talking about something else? It was SDN, man).

The latest big name SDN expert to change employers is Tom Nadeau, the SDN author and open source player, who has just migrated from Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) to Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD).

At Brocade, he'll join former Juniperians (Juniperites?) Benson Schliesser, who recently joined Brocade in the same-name role of distinguished engineer, and Lloyd Carney, who became Brocade's CEO last year. (See Brocade Poaches Key SDN Exec From Juniper, IP Veteran Joins Brocade's SDN/NFV Team, and Ex-Juniper Exec Now Running Brocade.)

Sure, these moves away from Juniper also can be attributed to the fact that things are in a state of flux, to put it mildly, at Juniper right now. Juniper also lost executives Doug Murray and Joe Palazola in recent months to Big Switch Networks . (See Investor to Juniper: 'You Suck', Juniper CEO Preps New Roadmap, and Big Switch Names Palazola Operations Chief.)

However, these moves also fit into the broader trend of SDN-driven job jumps. For example, well-regarded technologist David Meyer left old-school Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) last year for Brocade's warmer embrace of SDN. Also Prashant Gandhi and Jeffrey Wang departed Cisco for Big Switch. (See Cisco SDN Expert Leaves for Brocade, Big Switch Recruits VP from Cisco, and Big Switch Appoints VP of Engineering.)

SDN may not be the job killer it was once thought to be. It certainly could greatly change how networks are operated and managed today, but it can't get there on its own. There are major roles for engineers to play in designing the SDN-enhanced networks of tomorrow, and figuring out the rules and process that will guide their operation, as well as in the evolving standards and open networking communities. Many of the recent hirings have involved big names, but all of this activity also should serve as a motivation for ambitious networking engineers out there. Put the time and effort into learning everything you can about SDN. Then, update that resume.

— Dan O'Shea, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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Liz Greenberg
Liz Greenberg,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/14/2014 | 1:06:29 PM
Re: Not just vendor jobs
@mbushong, I agree with you overall with one exception...underlying infrastructure and its attending support systems.  That will continue to require some expertise in order to make sure that it not only works but supports all of the great things happening on top of it.  Sure a lot of specialized hardware will go away and one will no longer need that knowledge, but things like fiber, lasers, etc that are required to haul all the bytes around will need to keep improving, evolving, etc and so will the support systems that take care of their care and feeding. 

So early adopters...bring in the big SPIT bucks, hardware/laser/connector engineers...you go get-em too!
User Rank: Lightning
2/11/2014 | 8:52:15 PM
Re: Reminds me of how things were when we first started using E-Booking Services
I think so. But the scale of SDN hiring in SP environment is dependant on their strategy. Ironically I see majority of developing countries looking at vendors to 'offer innovative SDN stuff'. Also there is a big confusion on what is needed for SDN/NFV environemnt. A DC person with VM/Virtualization background able to design, manage a EPC? Or is it good to train EPC engineer with VM basic and expect him to work on?. 

User Rank: Moderator
2/11/2014 | 12:09:35 PM
Not just vendor jobs
I suspect the same dynamic will play out (though more delayed) in customer environments. When the SDN solutions start hitting the market with a bit more force, customers looking to deploy will be actively looking for architects and engineers capable of pulling off such a transition. Those network engineers who have experience will be able to cash in. The early opportunies will come before there is much supply, meaning those in the know will be able to take advantage.

That said, I don't want to predict the demise of network engineering. SDN is obviously predicated on the existence of a performant underlying infrastructure. But the biggest opportunities will be for a new breed of engineer.

Mike Bushong (@mbushong)

User Rank: Blogger
2/11/2014 | 10:50:18 AM
Re: Reminds me of how things were when we first started using E-Booking Services
This transition could be even more significant for the service providers. Will they start hiring more known SDN/NFV experts into their companies as they get deeper into the SDN/NFV transition. Vendors like Pica8 and HP have developed SDN starter kits to help with the learning curve, but might be time for carriers to take a closer look at the skills sets of their engineering teams.
User Rank: Lightning
2/11/2014 | 9:32:50 AM
Reminds me of how things were when we first started using E-Booking Services

Reading your Article I was reminded about the first Time Online Booking/Ticketing Systems were launched in the US and then Globally.

It was said that most Travel Agents would lose their jobs to Automation and it would be much harder for them to find new ones.

Fast-Forward to today and What one sees is that a Significant number of these Travel Agents have been absorbed by the Likes of Expedia,etc.

Also,companies[I am talking about Independent Travel Agencies here];have worked much-much harder to retain existing Customers especially Big-Ticket Bulk Customers by offering Discounts,etc which can't be matched by Online Ticketing Sites today.

Ultimately the Customer Wins.

We are seeing the same Process at play with SDN Today.

Eventually a stage will come when the Networking Engineers(who have extensive Experience with SDN) will not just earn more but will feel more rewarded/Valuable in the work they do as only they will have the experience to handle such Complex systems.


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