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AT&T Retraining Workforce for Software-Centric Networking

If anything speaks to the inevitability of an industry transition to software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV), it's a behemoth like AT&T retraining a 280,000-strong workforce to embrace a new software-centric network.

That's the gargantuan task AT&T has set for itself, according to John Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president, AT&T Technology and Operations.

"We need experts in a variety of software specialties," Donovan said in a blog post Tuesday. "These include network function virtualization, software-defined networking, security, data analytics and the Internet of Things. Many of these technologies will be running on open source software. We even need our non-technical workers to be versed in those areas. Our salespeople, lawyers, accountants, recruiters, marketing experts and more also need to understand where we're going."

Where they're going is to software-centric networking. And what is that?

"It's the future," Donovan said. "Back when network traffic increased slowly and predictably -- mostly voice calls -- you built your network on hardware. You sent out trucks and technicians to install new gear, like appliances, routers and switches. The appliance and equipment makers built that stuff to last years… even decades.

"We don't have that luxury anymore. Demand for network capacity is booming. So we're turning network hardware appliances into software apps. It's similar to how you've probably swapped a separate camcorder, alarm clock or CD player for apps on your smartphone."

Donovan said AT&T is going to retrain and reskill its workforce instead of undertaking a massive hiring campaign. That ambitious undertaking will enlist the help of educational institutions and other organizations.

The company's goal is to move 75 percent of its network into software by the year 2020, from 5.7 percent as of last year and an expected 30 percent by the end of this year.

"But we can only keep up that pace if we help our employees learn the skills they need," he said. "We need them to be software-centric."

The retraining initiative is but the latest of the company's SDN-related moves, as it apparently recognized the benefits of the next-generation technology early on, as we covered here when the company tapped SDN for its new "Network on Demand" service in 2014.

At the time, the telecommunications giant said its new initiative -- part of the company's User-Defined Network Cloud (UDNC) strategy -- was the first such SDN solution in the U.S.

For the future, Donovan said the company recognizes the complexity of the task it's undertaking.

"I'm frequently asked if it's really possible for all our workers to make this pivot," he said. "The truth is, it will take us years to complete this transformation. We'll have legacy systems we need to maintain in the interim. But this is clearly where we need to go. We think it's where the industry needs to go. And we want to help our employees get there, too."

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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