Can DevOps make over network engineers into coders?

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Software developers are now plying their trade deep down the stack with programmable networks, so why not give network engineers some Representational State Transfer (known as REST) application program interfaces (and perhaps hoodies) and make them developers?

“One of the things in DevNet we’re working on is what we call the evolution of a network engineer,” said Amanda Whaley (pictured), director of developer experience, DevNet, at Cisco Systems Inc.

Three years ago, Whaley brought her software development chops to work at networking legacy Cisco. Fusing these two areas together was still experimental at the time, so DevNet decided to test the waters by tapping Whaley to teach a coding class to Cisco Certified Internetwork Experts.

To her surprise, “I had this room packed with network engineers,” she told John Furrier (@furrier) and Peter Burris (@plburris), co-hosts of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s mobile live streaming studio, during the Cisco DevNet Create event in San Francisco, California. (* Disclosure below.)

The first REST API call — a request for specific data from a database for use in an application — that the class completed, using the Python language, retrieved a list of network devices, proving that coding is relevant to networking, Whaley explained.

“They were so excited because they saw that this is actually pretty accessible and easy to do,” she said, adding that the coding class caught on like wildfire from there.

Networking is a notoriously brain-straining area of information technology, so as DevOps becomes easier, it is reasonable to expect network pros to assimilate it to spur innovation. “Network engineers have had to learn new technology before, and now’s there’s just a new set, which includes automation and APIs and configuration management and infrastructure as code. And so they’re moving up the stack,” Whaley said.

Docker, Chef, Puppet do not a developer make

One caveat network engineers and others must beware of is that DevOps is more than just a bunch of tools they can buy, according to Whaley.

“Docker, Docker, Docker, use Puppet and Chef, and you’re good, you’re developing,” is a misguided attitude, she said. “It’s really a lot more about the culture and the way that the teams work together.”

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