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What it takes to be a steward of your SDN career

When it comes to SDN careers and training, the impetus is on vendors, enterprises and individual network professionals to create and pursue training and certification opportunities.

The term steward can conjure up ideas ranging from airline stewards to the stewards of Gondor from The Lord of the Rings. It seems more of a stretch, however, to make the term relevant to SDN careers and training.

But that's precisely what Vishal Sharma, principal at Metanoia Inc., a technology consultancy based in Union City, Calif., suggested during a recent MEF webinar on SDN and network functions virtualization certification.

Different segments of the networking industry have unique perspectives on SDN careers and skills. Vendors and suppliers, for example, need to consider how to train their own customers in the new technologies. Enterprises and managers need to determine whether to implement the technology, and then decide whether to train existing employees or hire new ones. Finally, networking professionals need to evaluate and look after their own skill sets.

To successfully merge SDN skill sets and deployment, these groups each need to possess a similar drive and awareness of the end goal, said Dan Pitt, vice president of MEF, based in Los Angeles.

"Resistance comes when people don't want to change," he said. "If you want to be successful in the transformation, be on the front side of the wave to improve the future."

In most cases, however, enterprises and operators struggle with how to address employee skill sets and training, Sharma said. To tackle this discrepancy, he said the industry should think about SDN careers and skills as a shared duty among those involved.

"You have to think about skilling as a joint responsibility," he said. "It's a function of the suppliers, the partners, the company and the individual. They each play a different role."

How enterprises can approach SDN career training

When referencing hyperscale companies that have successfully implemented SDN, Pitt said their success was due, in large part, to the experience and talent of their software engineer employees. But, he added, there's hope for other companies that might be behind.

"It's possible for the rest to catch up and move faster, if they have the right skills," he said.

SDN training and careers
These five things can get you started when it comes to SDN training.

But how do those companies ensure they have the right employees with the right skills? According to Pitt, it's more economically efficient for companies to train existing employees than to find and recruit new employees for SDN careers.

Investing in existing employees requires a proactive, top-down strategy that provides plenty of training opportunities, Sharma said. One example he cited was to create projects that allow network, cloud and IT teams to work together. Along with this collaboration, he said management should show employees the need for, and the value of, what the company is trying to accomplish.

Other opportunities he noted included boot camps, hackathons, formal training and certification. "Identify, encourage and require certification within the company," he said. "This provides both motivation and recognition, independent of the company."

SDN careers from the network professional perspective

Keep your organization in mind, but be a good steward of your own career.
Vishal Sharmaprincipal at Metanoia Inc.

While it's important for training and learning initiatives to come from top-level management, Sharma said, networking professionals should take control of their individual futures and careers.

"Keep your organization in mind, but be a good steward of your own career," he said.

Good career stewards, for example, do their best work for their employers, while also actively making progress intellectually, careerwise and in skill sets. In a sense, he said, they should consider themselves cutting-edge entrepreneurs within their companies.

But a key point regarding SDN skill sets for Pitt is not every networking employee needs to become a programmer. Instead, SDN requires a broader knowledge of networking concepts and foundations.

"To understand how software systems work, it doesn't mean you have to write code -- although it helps if you have experience," Pitt said. "But you have to understand how the whole ecosystem works and where things get done."

Along with this foundational knowledge, network professionals should take advantage of any learning opportunities. But the range of suggested SDN skill sets and certifications can confuse the decision of where to begin. To counteract the confusion, Sharma advised network professionals create a plan and stick to it. "Plan your trajectory carefully, and don't be buffeted by outside forces," he said.

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