The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the way enterprises view networks and network experts. Transition to distant work has resulted in a decline in the security of corporate IT infrastructure and the growth of problems with cyber-security. According to some research, the number of cyberattacks on individual workers increased more than twice compared to the same term before the pandemic. Plus the pandemic—and the rapid digital acceleration that followed—has sped enterprise movement to the public cloud. This revealed the importance of protecting the correct network configuration and caused a new wave of interest in the network engineer profession.
The learning curve to become a proficient Network Engineer has become smaller. With the introduction of certifications from vendors and resources provided by the “old-timers”, it is now easier than ever to start learning networking. Motivated individuals can tinker on their own at home as similar protocols and equipment are nearly ubiquitous and with the advent of cloud infrastructure, virtual environments can be stood up to practice your skills. This of course would be only the basics, as an engineer can get real practical experience only through involvement in a project.
New skills and requirements
Due to the appearance of structured available information the threshold for entering the profession has decreased. As a matter of fact, in addition to common vendor programs and certification tracks like Cisco CCNA/CCNP, independent multi-vendor courses are gaining demand. Actually even having zero experience today, it’s possible to become a network engineer in less than a year with a career plan laid out. It’s possible to go from even nothing to a network engineering role paying a specialist somewhere around 75K or more in around 12 months, as an example of Southeastern U.S. And eventually one could even become a system or solutions engineer making way over 100k a year within just 2-4 years even with zero experience today.
However, the requirements for a network engineer have increased. Today he must not only know multi-vendor solutions (select and implement equipment from different manufacturers, find and compare worldwide enterprise network solutions by the vendor – Cisco, Huawei, HPE, Juniper), but also have a stack of knowledge in related areas such as security, automation, and software products.
A network engineer must be well acquainted not only with essential concepts of networking but with automated tools as well. Learning the full stack of networking technologies will make an individual an asset to pretty much any company. The full stack includes everything including routing and switching, data center, virtualization, automation, VoIP, cloud, SDN, IoT, and cybersecurity.
As network complexity increases and user expectations for performance, availability, and security grow, network engineers will need solutions to help them do their work more efficiently. Some of the common tools used today may need to be replaced or integrated into high-level systems.
We need to accept that networks are only going to get more complex and more interdependent with an organization’s technology stack. Network engineers must demonstrate how much value they can bring to any organization and the future of operating and managing networks that drive business outcomes.
What does Engineer 2.0 look like?
There are actually the top three network skills IT leaders are now actively seeking. Leaders are looking for generalists with an experience that extends well beyond traditional network skills. For instance, there’s now a need for network professionals who can configure a server or detect and resolve security vulnerabilities. So one of the required skills is versatility, as network engineers must possess strong technical skills, but team members who also have strong people skills will better maintain the level of partnership that’s necessary for cross-team initiatives, such as network security and ongoing maintenance, which are essential for digital transformation. The most sought-after network engineers are those skilled in in-demand program languages, such as Python, and who know how to configure, operate and manage networking infrastructure. Network experts who are familiar with DevOps, containers, Kubernetes, and Docker and the way they operate will be in high demand in the months ahead.
With enterprises of all types and sizes forced to transfer an array of essential business operations to a work-from-home model with virtually no advance warning, many IT leaders have come to realize that network operations and cybersecurity are now inextricably and permanently linked therefore set a high value on security proficiency. Over the past several years, enterprises of all types and sizes have experienced a string of serious cybersecurity breaches. As a consequence, the need for network teams that are deeply familiar with network security concepts and know-how to effectively defend vulnerable digital assets has also increased. Proper cybersecurity practices will help keep the enterprise network and, by extension, the entire business safe. In the years ahead, network and cybersecurity professionals will need to work closely together to form a holistic view of network operations and security practices. Companies will be looking for individuals who understand that the network is the business.
The game-changer – automation
The remaining network engineer problem is repetitive or routine operations. What should be the solution? Surely it is automation. The emergence of IT infrastructure management systems (from manufacturers of IT equipment), as well as the emergence of multi-vendor management systems, is the answer. Still, there are much fewer infrastructure design tools, and excel and individual vendor configurators are in use for now.
Such tools like Miraworks is a multi-vendor configurator, with the automation of equipment comparison, design, and preparation of commercial offers for multi-vendor solutions facilitates engineers to project networks more efficiently.
Network engineers develop complex software, manage versioning, and investigate complicated and subtle behaviors within these unimaginably intricate networks. The tools available and the skills required are changing to a higher layer of abstraction.
Network engineers are more architects and provisioners while also developing and sourcing. Network engineer 2.0 should be competent in automation, security, and cloud, apart from traditional network skills. Thus he needs to obtain the skills needed to plan, build, maintain, and secure network operations. Besides a network engineer should know 2 or 3 vendors in order to compare them and prepare optimal solutions in terms of TCO. To grow professionally and prepare custom solutions he should invest time to develop his general expertise. Thus he will be a specialist who can solve the challenges faced by corporations in the post-covid era.