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Let the Interns Lead Your Next Transformation
Oct 28, 2014

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My last post highlighted some ~400-year-old insights of William Shakespeare on innovation systems. This (long overdue) post shifts to the opposite end of the spectrum to look at the innovation that will be driven by the youngest people in our industry: interns and graduates.

 

We all know that the world we live in never stands still, particularly in telecommunications. So, what should those just starting out in networking prioritise? Is it more important to learn about the way things are now or to focus on where things are headed? Do we have enough certainty to describe what networks will look like in 5 or even 10 years? This is the challenge I set out to describe in my guest lecture at RMIT earlier this month. I wanted to capture the exciting changes that are happening in our industry but that leaves a lot of ground to cover.

 

Let's begin with first principles. Access technologies across all media (wireline and wireless) continue to push towards a true gigabit era. G.Fast/FTTdp is extending the life of existing copper investments and wireless technologies continue to accelerate. These trends, combined with the increasing use of fiber, ensure that future networks will be flooded with user demand.

 

Faster networks enable greater use of cloud services as bandwidth and latency improve. And, since cloud provides higher cost-efficiency and agility, it is easy to see why more and more of our daily lives will flow to and from (and within) data center environments. This isn't just for end-user services but also for machine-to-machine or Internet of Things. Finally, investment will continue to shift to cloud as usage patterns become more cloud centric. In Australia this is already visible, with a 'cloud-first' mindset helping to make Australia a market leader in cloud adoption, particularly for financial and government use cases.

 

This is fueling the current enthusiasm for SDN and NFV; it's about making the network behave like the cloud. It’s the feedback loop for the cloud service model and it’s changing the way we build networks.

 

While most cloud commentary focuses on new applications and services enabled by the cloud, the impact cloud is having on  the network is equally important. Traditional network investment decisions are fixed on lengthy cycles that restrict the ability of network owners to respond quickly. Building networks is expensive, time consuming and risky. And even if network owners correctly identify technology evolution trends they must decide whether to modernize their existing business or leave it at risk of disruption while attempting to capture emerging opportunities.

 

It's therefore unsurprising that innovation often occurs outside the walls of the incumbents.

 

Yet these companies provide a large share of the employment opportunities for graduates. As a result, it might seem that graduates are stuck with a choice between potentially outdated thinking or limited job prospects. Many will join companies where rusted on employees may have done the same thing in the same way for the last 30 years or more. However, today’s students don't come with the baggage of technologies long-since expired and have the freedom to explore solutions that might seem too radical or uncertain to established veterans. Ultimately, these graduates have a tremendous opportunity to transform their chosen industries.

 

A Telco senior executive confirmed this to me recently stating that the acquisition of cloud-focused start-ups isn’t just about closing any technology or business models gaps with the OTT cloud providers, it is also a deliberate strategy to bring in young employees and a renewed culture of innovation.

 

My presentation (below) shows some of what we're doing at Juniper to challenge the system design and architectural paradigms that limit the ability of networks to respond to the impact of the cloud. Talking to the RMIT students after the lecture I was super impressed at the way their thinking spans many traditional boundaries, particularly between IP and IT domains. I was also happily surprised by the enthusiasm many students felt for networking start-up ideas they've been considering.

 

The lesson here for all of us - no matter what stage you're at in your career - is that you can't afford to stop seeking opportunities to learn new skills and challenge legacy thinking, unless you want to be a dinosaur. So maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to let the interns lead your next transformation.