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Reader Question – Should I get a second CCIE or focus on SDN + Cloud

December 19th, 2013 · 3 Comments · CCIE, OpenDaylight, OpenStack, SDN

I’ve been having lots of conversations recently with CCIE’s about where their future lies, and how to best leverage the skills and value they have created in the past in this new and emerging world of Cloud and SDN. These conversations started with a few peoples interest being peaked with what I have been personally working on, and recently has has increased to a dull roar as many network engineers in this industry are faced with an unmistakable fact – the world of network engineering is changing.


Reader Question – On 12/17/13 3:54 PM, [Redacted] wrote:


Hey Colin, it’s been awhile and hoping to get some professional advice as you’re definitely looked up to as a thought leader and in the mix when it comes to the cloud. I’m basically at a cross road. I’ve started taking steps toward the 2nd CCIE in DC but with the proliferation of articles implying that SDN may make an impact into the enterprise considering private clouds, I want to make a careful decision here and am considering a learning path towards Linux, Programming Languages like Python and eventually Openstack.  Is this a premature thought or paranoia? To me, all of this is news as I’ve been stuck in my virtualization bubble as well as the typical day-to-day networking technologies. But, now with VMware NSX, Cisco Insieme and the open source Cloud frameworks, I want to prepare for the steep learning curve now, if possible. You’ve been directly involved in these technologies for the past few years so I’m hoping you can provide some foresight. I know it will be your professional opinion, but to me, it’s valuable.  Thanks in advance, [Redacted]

My response to [Redacted]

[Redacted] you are on thinking in the right direction. The value you have as single CCIE in service provider is effectively maximized right now. Continuing with another vendor specific certification in a time of rapid market transition [commoditization] is not the best way of increasing your value in the market. Think back to the core value proposition of network engineering. In my opinion this is to take Business Policy, combine with application requirements, and design / implement a system that allows both of those to be achieved within the operational requirements of your business.

Five years ago, a reasonable next step to increasing your value (ability to achieve the above stated goals) would be to add another silo of expertise, validated by an expert level certification. This might be released as adding another CCIE, getting your VCDX, JNCIE, etc, etc. By adding another area of focus, and understanding at a very deep level all the elements that are required to deliver it, you increase your capabilities and therefore your value as an engineer.

Now for you to continue to add value to the market as you have in the past as a CCIE, you have to understand how to translate that knowledge and experience into the new integration space (Open Cloud and SDN platforms). This requires at minimum you attaining a baseline of skills in Linux systems administration (which btw, when you read DevOps in a job description what most of these positions are). You then have to explore the true value of a CCIE, with DevOps (Linux SysAdmin) skills. Past this minimum level of Linux Systems Administration skills surrounding the installation and configuration of Open Cloud and SDN platforms you also have to learn how to be a software developer.

As you polish your software development skills I believe you will start to realize the full benefit of the modern network engineer. Not only will you have an understanding of Cloud and SDN platform operations, but you will have the skills to consume and improve them. Let me repeat -

I believe the role of the modern network engineer is to Architect, Consume and Improve Open Cloud and SDN platforms.


Which Cloud / SDN platforms should you start with?

In my opinion OpenStack and OpenDaylight are great places to start. These are the new area’s of integration, the new IETF protocols. In the past you would learn OSPF, BGP, MPLS, etc. And be able to create complex networks to support complex business policies. All of this multi-vendor integration points have been moved up into OpenStack / OpenDaylight / etc. In the grand scheme of things both projects are pretty early on in their life cycles. However they are both rich in functionality and contributed / supported by an incredibly diverse community.

[Redacted], I hope I answered your question. Though more importantly I hope that I left you with some questions that I didn’t have before. These questions may be “What is my role in this new world of Cloud and SDN”, “What unique skills and perspectives can I bring to the community” and “Now that I have seen a new way of doing things, what can I do to help my friends”. I’ve asked these questions myself many times over the years. In the past couple years leaders in the community such as Kyle Mestery @mestery and Brent Salsbury @networkstatic (as well as many others) have helped me answer those questions. Hopefully I can can return the favor by helping others down that same path.


3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 J. // Jan 6, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Hi Colin,
    Thanks for the above piece. Can you expand a little on what you expect to see Network engineers coding? Will it be the provision of resources and services, camparible to vlan management and access policies? Won’t this code be subject to the traditional software development life cycle? Plan – code – test – deploy – bug fix, etc.. Hardly going to make implementation faster than current network practices, plan – change control – implementation…

  • 2 colinmcnamara // Jan 6, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    You are welcome, I just queued up a response article to your question

  • 3 brian // Jan 9, 2014 at 4:43 am

    SDN is revealing a chasm btwn 3 key knowledge domains:
    networking knowledge domain
    programming knowledge domain
    linux admin knowledge domain

    Its exceedingly rare to find a single person with the personal experience/skills to excel at all 3.

    Some think… well you’re a CCIE so you must be smart… just take a python/java class and learn how to program quality software, understand data structures, OO concepts, git, eclipse etc.

    Or some think… well you are an expert in java/python… just take a networking class and learn all about BGP, MPLS, IS-IS etc.

    I think its a mistake to think that “most” people in one knowledge domain or the other (networking or SW development) can easily (or more importantly … quickly) transition or acquire the skills sets of the other “domain”.

    Both knowledge domains require 5-10-15 years to develop the requisite skillsets, best practices etc.

    Having a basic understanding of the “other” knowledge domain is extremely beneficial.

    Expecting to compete with an expert in the “other” domain is probably not a realistic goal.

    I think many companies will retain their Networking Experts as Networking Experts and hire SW developers (or the reverse) and pair those 2 skillsets/people together into SDN solutions engineering teams.

    my .02
    ccie #1143

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