Just as service providers must reinvent their networks by using open source technologies, network engineers must also reinvent themselves to ensure they are qualified to handle this new world of software-defined networking (SDN).
Engineers that are well-versed in SDN and network functions virtualization (NFV) are in hot demand. According to a survey conducted in conjunction with SDxCentral’s 2018 NFV Report Series Part 1: NFV Infrastructure and VIM, 64 percent of respondents said that lack of training and in-house talent was hindering the adoption of NFV.
There are a variety of training options available to engineers, and many of them are provided by open source groups. The Linux Foundation has an extensive training and certification program for its members. Those training courses cover a lot of the group’s open source projects including Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), OPNFV, and Kubernetes. The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) has training courses covering areas like SDN and the Central Office Re-architected as a Data Center (CORD). And MEF has professional certification courses covering automation, virtualization, lifecycle service orchestration (LSO), SDN, NFV, and carrier Ethernet 2.0.
But the biggest challenge these groups have is keeping their curriculum up-to-date and finding experts that are knowledgeable enough to teach other engineers about these open source initiatives. “There is more interest in training than there is good quality training,” said Clyde Seepersad, general manager of training and certification at the Linux Foundation, referring to projects like ONAP that are so new it’s hard to find experts. “It is brand new, and we need to make sure the lab exercises are repeatable,” said Seepersad. “It has gone from concept to practical in a hurry.”
Seepersad said the Linux Foundation works primarily with its member companies on workforce training, and currently there are four different member companies in the process of retraining their engineers on areas like ONAP. The most difficult part, according to Seepersad, is getting network engineers to change their mindset about the network. “These folks spent 20 years in an environment where you only carefully touch the network every two years. Now, in this new mindset you have new version releases every 90 days,” he said. “They need to understand the concept of this.”
With that in mind, the Linux Foundation is about to debut a new course called “DevOps for Network Engineers,” that will be solely focused on preparing them for this new culture shift instead of just focusing solely on technical skills.
ONF and MEF
The ONF is also struggling to keep up with the fast pace of open source. “The industry is moving faster, and it’s hard to build a curriculum that keeps up,” said Timon Sloane, VP of marketing and ecosystem at ONF.
ONF’s training is primarily directed to individuals or training partners that work with the ONF on a course. For specific training on CORD, Sloane said there is an online CORD learning lab that people can use to get up-to-speed on the technology. But the group finds that the best scenario is when a company invests in a certain project like CORD and then dedicates engineers to work on the project. The engineers can then work directly with the open source community to get experience and feedback. “Frankly, I see more of that model than formalized training,” he said.
MEF, meanwhile, comes up with the criteria and materials for its certifications but then lets other groups teach the programs. MEF makes sure the trainers are knowledgeable and certifies them to teach the curriculum. “We make sure the curriculum is certified and then the actual teacher has to be certified in that class,” said Rick Bauer, director of certification at MEF.
More Training, More Pay?
Demand may be high for skilled engineers that are knowledgeable about open source projects, but having certain certifications doesn’t necessary equate to a big jump in pay. Seepersad said that most of the training that the Linux Foundation is providing is being paid for by employers, and it means that the engineers get new skills to add to their resume but that doesn’t mean they get a pay increase.
And ONF’s Sloane added that the additional certifications in these areas are a nice thing to have and may make an engineer’s resume stand apart from their peers, but it doesn’t necessarily mean higher pay. “It’s not like having a master’s degree or a Ph.D,” he said. “These certifications are not at the level where they drive hiring decisions.”
However, MEF’s Bauer said that his organization has data showing that people with certifications often do get paid more and that some companies will base employee pay increases on whether or not they have certain certifications. Interestingly, Bauer also said that MEF data shows that employees with certifications tend to stay at companies longer. “Companies are realizing that [offering training and certifications] is moving from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘have to have.’