After an incredibly busy week at the Layer 123 SDN World Congress in Düsseldorf, questions of how education is delivered and how it should be delivered in to the field are churning in my aching brain. After a (really) high number of conversations, it’s pretty clear that education for SDN, NfV and network automation is on the mind of professionals and current students alike.
With an almost cocky and over-confident certainty, it’s easy to guess that most network engineers and architects have taken the Cisco road to gain skill sets. Some invest in more neutral options like CBT Nuggets and IPSpace.net, which bring a rich variety of additional content. Cisco have almost certainly set in concrete the way traditional network engineers ‘have’ to learn and as the corporate ladder is ascended year by year, every freshly minted manager believes that his or her staff must follow the same road and ‘earn their spurs’. Not to say there was anything wrong with it, but times change and so must education and learning.
The traditional path to education and certification goes something like this:
NetEng: I need to learn and validate my learning for my employer, or partnership status with Vendor
Vendor: Please buy this course book, set of books or course material
NetEng: Ok, I’ll go off and learn this epic amount of stuff
Vendor: Thanks for your cash and please don’t cheat at the exams
NetEng: Thanks and I’ll see how important the material is and how much time I have
Vendor: Ok, well, at least it was said
NetEng: Ok, now I’ve read this tome of knowledge, I’ll go do the exam
Vendor: Good luck
NetEng: I passed. Here you go vendor. You can be confident we know your product in this area and trust us with *your* customers. Also here you go manager; my cert! I did it. I do network now
Vendor: Yay! Have some discount. Also well done and have a logo
Manager: Please get one of the seniors to shadow you
NetEng: Thanks! And ok 🙂 Trust me! I have the power of certification
When something new comes along, the path doesn’t really change that much:
NetEng: Oh what’s this protocol I’ve never touched before? I better go and lock myself in a room, do lots of labbing and take the exam
Manager: That’s not part of your personal development plan, so do it next year
NetEng: I’ll go learn it in my own time anyway
Vendor: You don’t get your discount until you certify your ‘learning’
Sales: We don’t get our discount until the exam is passed
Manager: Hmmm, maybe we can do it on your budget?
Sales: We’re going to escalate this to your manager
Manager to NetEng: I’ll not forget the extra hours you put in for this. It will be good for the business and good for you!
Sales: NetEng who?
Ok, so that was a bit dramatised, but it reflects my own experiences quite well. This is how someone who believes in open source communities learns, with full support of the business:
NetEng: I wonder how this works.
I’ll have a go as soon as I can.
Oh that’s how it works. I’ll implement.
Ok, didn’t work. I’ll mend.
Cool, show time. Manager, look at this.
Manager: Oh nice. That will be helpful. Go ahead and devopsificate it
NetEng: It’s ready to go…and…..done
Sales: What is it you guys do again? We don’t understand
There are huge crevices between the paths. As networking transitions to the latter model with something coming around every week it seems, we have to change our approach as an industry in order to learn and be agile when it comes to putting technology to work. Gartner has dubbed it ‘Bi-Modal’ and irrelevant of the name, the IT tribe seems to be splitting un-evenly between traditional world and ‘go make it happen’. The result is similar to traditional IT vs shadow IT. Traditional team vs ‘can do’ team.
As it becomes more difficult to explain the technology never mind use it, the sales and marketing teams also need a helping hand. How do we validate learning and certify where all parties get what they need?
In comes the ONF
So in the world of SDN and NFV, the traditional route is not great (excuse the pun). The networking technology industry has never been so fluid as it is right now. Training based on product or sealed command line options just doesn’t work. Memorising CLI is pretty pointless and architectures are only relevant to the customer problem. Sure, it’s handy to know where to start and what not to do, but there is no silver bullet. Blue prints and reference architectures are only a starting point and primarily used as conversational pieces. Education for SDN is critical when it comes to understanding the high level options. It will also allow you to assess the commercial or open source offerings for your employer or customers infrastructure/s.
The ONF at the Layer 123 SDN World Congress introduced the ONF-Certified SDN Professional Program (OCSP) training for the Associate as well as the Engineer level. Show Attendees could also take advantage of half day training sessions for both levels. They also released the associate exam at the training which could be attempted without cost, with the engineer exam to follow at a later time. Just for fun, this author attempted the exam on the Friday afternoon with Marco as a proctor from SDN Essentials (Doug Marschke’s company). The exam was really great to see as the topics were at the right level of understanding and tested understanding of knowledge from the traditional world and newer. Vendor lock in is easy to achieve, but how about the opposite? Not so easy. It’s great to see the ONF attacking this thorny issue.
At the time of writing, it is not known whether the author passed the exam! Results on Twitter as they’re released.
If you’re going to spend your own time learning and seeking validation for career choices as well as employer validation, the associate level offers a great starting point with progression on to the engineer. Go check them out.
For more information, seek out Rick Bauer at the ONF who is the technical programs manager.