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Building Software Development Teams for Network Automation

At AARNet, we’re one and a half years into a three-year journey to scale out the depth and breadth of our software development team. Software development for many NRENs follows the old-style pattern of one or two people with good programming skills, massive organizational and contextual history and deep networking knowledge (this not being normally present in off-the-shelf coders). But this approach doesn’t scale – project work just backs up in year long queues waiting for peoples’ availability. As we began upscaling projects to team sizes of 3-5-8 people, the major scaling quirk we stumbled on turned out to be communications. Specifically, the Babel that ensues when old guard team members (the ones with 10+ years of convoluted Rube Goldberg machine business logic in their heads) suddenly have to communicate appropriate context to developers who are smart but still newly recruited.  The transparency and injection of new ideas revealed previous hidden problems with the way things had been done and proceeded to lift the entire organization’s maturity – how we develop new products, how to better understand true needs of our researchers, how to empirically measure success of new products or features, and when and how to transition a product or feature from best-efforts to loose SLAs to bullet proof carrier-grade service. AARNet will share its learnings thus far for other NRENs who may be about to embark on similar journeys and include a particular focus on AARNet’s recent progress around Network Automation and Virtualization of its network Infrastructure as a safe foundation for development and testing separate to its production backbone.



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