Hold Off on SDN Certification Until You Have the Necessary Experience

Mike Fratto

Mike Fratto

Summary Bullets:

  • If you are starting out your career, avoid cutting edge technology training.  Existing technologies will remain relevant for many years and ground you in skills enterprises need today.
  • Cutting edge technology training makes sense for experienced professionals looking for new challenges and opportunities, but keep your options open.

One of the questions I see cropping up lately in conversations is whether IT professionals should pursue traditional networking training and certification or start diving into cutting edge technology such as software-defined networking (SDN).  The answer for a specific person is of course contextual, but my general advice is: if you are starting out in your career and you want to pursue advancement, stick with traditional certifications for the next few years and then re-assess the market and where you need to go.

There are a few reasons for following a well-worn path.  There are far more companies using traditional networking for the foreseeable future, and having a solid understanding of networking will be a useful skill for network professionals to advance in their career.  Even though the networking industry has been chatting up SDN for a couple of years, the fact is that we are still in the early stages of any shift to SDN, and if history is any guide, where SDN ends up in three to five years will look very different than how we predict the future landscape will look.

Moreover, I do not think controller-based software will entirely replace switching and routing in the majority of enterprise networks anytime soon, which means enterprises will still need professionals that understand switching, routing, and the supporting services that make the network run.  Change is incremental and iterative for a variety of reasons, such as dependencies that have to be satisfied, organizational inertia, lack of expertise, fear of change, the expense and risk of wholesale change, and so on.  The transformation to SDN will likely take far longer than anyone expects, and in the meantime, servers still need to talk to each other.

Finally, some of the certification programs today are very vendor-centric, such as Cisco’s upcoming SDN certification courses or HP’s ‘Architecting Open Standards HP Network Solutions,’ which includes OpenFlow in addition to other topics.  It is doubtful much of the vendor-specific knowledge will be transferable to another vendor outside of some top-level concepts.  A single vendor certification narrows your career scope, which is fine for a career goal, particularly if that vendor is a market leader today, but SDN is still in the early stage and it is not clear what technology or strategy will become widely adopted.

If you are an experienced network engineer with a bunch of certifications under your belt and are looking for a new challenge, vendor-specific certification courses on cutting edge technology make sense.  You already have the basics down, and with your existing experience, your career options should be rich.  Adding to your knowledge with vendor-centric training or more vendor-neutral training from companies such as Tallac or SDN Academy will open doors to more interesting challenges.  Your existing experience will help you transfer what you know into other scenarios.

No matter where you are you are in your career, remain cognizant of how certifications expand and limit your career choices and do what makes you happy.

About Mike Fratto
Mike is a senior analyst on the Business Technology and Software team covering the Enterprise Networking and Data Center Technology markets. He has extensive experience reviewing and writing about enterprise remote access, security, and network infrastructure products.

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