F5 Super-NetOps initiative wins Network Innovation Award

The F5 Super-NetOps training initiative has won TechTarget's Network Innovation Award for its efforts to help today's networking pros develop skills for tomorrow.

SearchNetworking has awarded the F5 Super-NetOps training program TechTarget's Network Innovation Award, which highlights noteworthy advancements and achievements in the networking industry. The Super-NetOps initiative offers free online training in next-generation tools and methods -- also known as NetOps, NetOps 2.0, DevNetOps or NetDevOps -- using an open source model that enables the content to evolve and improve over time.

According to Hitesh Patel, director of product management in automation, orchestration and ecosystems at F5, more than 9,500 individuals have completed two or more of the Super-NetOps training modules -- positioning them to better meet the challenges facing today's network engineer. We spoke with Patel -- one of the founding members of the F5 Super-NetOps program -- to learn more.

Editor's note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How did the F5 Super-NetOps initiative begin?

Hitesh Patel: It really started a couple of years ago as internal training for our own engineers. We had people from a variety of backgrounds and with a whole smorgasbord of different sets of skills and levels of maturity around cloud, automation, and DevOps methodology and practices. What we needed back then was to get everybody on the same page and to the same level, in the service of our customers. Frankly, we have to be able to walk into customer conversations about these technologies and methodologies and be an authoritative voice of reason, with a high level of not only technical expertise, but also practical experience.

So, that was the challenge, and that's actually where Super-NetOps training started -- with us transforming our own workforce so we could guide our customers down the cloud, automation and DevOps paths.

A handful of terms exist to evoke the intersection of cloud networking, automation and DevOps, like NetOps 2.0, NetDevOps, DevNetOps, etc. Why does F5 use Super-NetOps?

Hitesh PatelHitesh Patel

Patel: None of those other terms existed yet when we came up with the name Super-NetOps. So, we asked ourselves, 'What's the goal here?' And it was really to change not only the skill sets and tools of traditional network engineers or NetOps-type personas, but to really teach them a new way of working.

That means 'fail fast, fail forward' thinking and constant iteration, with small rather than big steps -- the tenets of DevOps. We were creating the next iteration of a NetOps engineer -- one with the ability to leverage cloud technologies and tools, working in a way that is much more aligned with a DevOps methodology.

Why does this kind of professional training matter?

Patel: The industry is in this space where we're constantly churning out new technology, but we're not necessarily taking care of the careers of people behind that technology. But, if you want your technology to be successful, you need users. And what's the best way to create a very passionate, dedicated user base? Train them -- enable their careers and dreams. That's the best way to cement a technology set.

We're going to grab your hand and give you the skills you need, because we value you as a person and we value your experience.
Hitesh PatelDirector of product management in automation, orchestration and ecosystems, F5

Here's a personal story: My dad was a telecom engineer in England during the industrywide shift from analog switching to digital switching. A lot of the base knowledge changed overnight because of that massive disruption in the market. Programs weren't in place for my dad to learn that new set of skills, so he made a decision to move his family to the U.S. and take on a new career in a totally different field. I don't think people should necessarily have to do that to have relevance in the new world.

We've invested in this program to make sure we are educating people and helping them move forward in their careers. Someone has to say, 'We're going to grab your hand and give you the skills you need, because we value you as a person and we value your experience."

How has the F5 Super-NetOps training evolved?

Patel: We have always delivered Super-NetOps as code, with documentation and training assets that live on GitHub. Part of this workplace transformation is using a continuous feedback and improvement loop, so our students contribute to the training ecosystem, as in an Open Source project. We have users that are really good with grammar, and they edit the documentation, and we have other folks who use what they've learned to contribute new modules.

We're now actively pushing training materials that are inclusive of security, for SecDevOps-type users, and have incorporated partners, like Ansible, and open source solutions, like Kubernetes. We want to take all these pieces of technology and ways of working and empower a whole set of people to use them. So, we're not just going in with another Kubernetes training program. We're saying, 'This is how NetOps can leverage what Kubernetes means, and this is how that ecosystem works.'

It's important to note that this is not just an F5 program to pitch F5 products. This is really about teaching people the fundamentals first -- the core skills they need to have fruitful and productive careers.

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