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Is There a Future for Networking Engineers?

Someone sent me this observation after reading my You Cannot Have Public Cloud without Networking blog post:

As much as I sympathize with your view, scales matter. And if you make ATMs that deal with all the massive client population, the number of bank tellers needed will go down. A lot.

Based on what I read a while ago a really interesting thing happened in financial industry: while the number of tellers went down, number of front-end bank employees did not go down nearly as dramatically, they just turned into “consultants”.

Of course I lost the link to that article. If someone has something along these lines handy, please post it in the comments.

Something similar might happen in networking. While the number of VLAN- or firewall rule manipulators will be drastically reduced (I hope), the number of networking engineers required (assuming they deserve that title) might not follow that same curve - they will just do more productive stuff.

A bunch of engineers for the SPs does not compare with all enterprises needing one or two…

Unfortunately many enterprises I know have only one or two networking engineers (and maybe a few technicians). As long as someone believes they need to have some networking knowledge in-house, they will have to keep those two ;)

Also, keep in mind how many things that should be done are NOT done because nobody has time to do them.

Finally, once we stop believing in software-defined fairy tales, and realize application problems have to be solved in application layer and not pushed down to networking (I will probably retire before that happens), I expect networking to become more like power transmission. You will need experts, but not nearly as many mid-range engineers as before. On the other hand, people pulling cables in buildings are still making good money ;))

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5 comments:

  1. In these days Network engineers need to develop some programming skills, by that with the collaboration with core programming guys develop SDN/IBN App which can help the develop zero touch Orchestration. No issue with the job only need to develop some programming skills.

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  2. I think the ATM story came from a book, or at least I first heard it on this podcast about a book a few years ago (I haven't read the book): https://www.econtalk.org/james-bessen-on-learning-by-doing/

    From a statistical perspective this can of course happen, but the questions every bank teller or engineer is asking themselves are not really statistical - they are personal and individual, and there the effect is not necessarily the same - the demand might be still there, but you might not be able to move town to continue being a teller for example, or not have the time to learn new skills, etc.

    The network engineering situation is a little better since the learning element has always been an essential part of the job, so that makes that a little easier.

    Also, because I totally agree with your rant about broken application deployment: a beneficial side effect of this has been that it made network engineers involved with, willingly or not - and therefore more or less competent in - a lot more than just networking, which makes it possible for them to deliver some or more value across a technology "spectrum" if they care for it, as opposed to being just "vlan and firewall rule manipulators". I will guess this might be more so in internal IT departments where different technology groups are sort of in the same boat than in outsourced engineering service vendors, for example, where these tech silos can be a little harder to break. But of course this all depends on the structure and mindset of the operation. Then there are the tech companies that were able to turn engineering services into products, which is where the cross-competency development probably happens more naturally, and which I don't know why so many businesses think they can easily turn into, too (and by tomorrow).

    I guess networks and the fundamentals of networking did not really change too much, they just got abstracted away and/or recombined if you will - that does not make them irrelevant, they actually help in understanding innovation.

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  3. Agreed! and I hope we end up with something that is a healthy mix of external (vendor) and internal solutions. I want to see more internal development in enterprises as well, whether that be automation, open-source, or even self-designed network topology.

    I don't think we can get away with just cramming our square business problems into a circle vendor solution anymore.

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  4. Abstractions require someone who understands the thing they're abstracting. Network engineers won't go away, they'll just become more invisible. People who will believe they've disappeared will just keep perpetuating the myth that network engineers are extinct.

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