Python is a highly versatile programming language that is widely used across several industries. This language is used for a plethora of tasks, from scripting to network automation, making it an integral part of the network engineer’s skillset. In this guide, we discuss how Python is applied to network engineering. We also cover how to learn this language as a network engineer and the best libraries that you should be aware of.
What Is Python?
Python is a high-level programming language. It is more versatile than other programming languages and can be used for building websites, automating tasks, and performing data analysis. Python can also be described as a general-purpose programming language that is extremely useful when dealing with data and mathematical computations.
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Due to its many applications and how user-friendly it is, Python is the most popular programming language among developers, according to the TIOBE index. Using Python, programmers can write clear and simple code for small and large-scale projects.
What Is Python Used for in Network Engineering?
Python is one of the programming languages most commonly used by software engineers today. It is also an essential skill for network engineers. Network administrators, including Cisco, Arista, and VMware, use Python as their language of choice.
Network managers use Python to build scripts for automating network device configuration and creating graphical user interfaces, web applications, websites, and games. It is also used to configure application programming interfaces (APIs) on networking equipment.
How Long Will It Take to Learn Python for Network Engineers?
Learning Python programming fundamentals, such as object-oriented programming, basic Python syntax, variables, and functions, can take roughly five to ten weeks. However, this figure can vary widely from individual to individual.
How long it takes you to learn Python will be influenced by prior experience with programming languages, software development, network programming, and data science. Another factor is the medium you chose to learn. If you enroll in a coding bootcamp, you can become proficient in a matter of months. If you choose to learn unsupervised, your journey may be significantly longer.
The good news is that Python has a syntax that is easy to learn, so getting started with this programming language is never hard. The challenge is to get really good at it. With so many libraries to leverage, truly mastering Python can take many years of arduous work.
Why Should You Learn Python for Network Engineers?
Computing technologies are transforming how engineers do their jobs. Python is essential for people interested in network engineering, and employers worldwide are looking for people who are proficient in this language. Here are a few reasons why you should learn Python.
As a network engineer, learning Python sets you apart from the competition and improves your career prospects. Expertise in this programming language opens doors to higher-paying and senior positions in the field of network engineering.
Versatility and Usability
Python boasts a slew of applications, from building easily readable scripts to automating configuration tasks to troubleshooting network issues. Major network vendors are pushing Python as the language for programming network devices. For example, Cisco already embeds a Python shell in many switches.
Behind Python, there is a huge community of developers creating documentation and working on inspiring projects that push the limits of what is possible with this language. If you are programming with Python, you can rely on this community for help when you get stuck on an assignment and for ideas for your next project.
How Can I Learn Python for Network Engineers?
Python’s high level of abstraction and user-friendly syntax make it a great choice for programming newbies. Network engineers can take courses, read books, or attend coding bootcamps to learn Python and boost their network management expertise.
Python coding bootcamps are training programs that rely on hands-on projects and lab experience to teach students the most in-demand Python-related skills. A standout feature of most coding bootcamps is their strong career support services which help students find well-paid employment. General Assembly, Ironhack, nuCamp, and Le Wagon are some of the best Python bootcamps on the market.
The Internet is awash with courses that tackle Python. On learning platforms like edX, Udemy, or Coursera, you can find courses that teach you how to apply Python to a variety of industries, including network engineering. They usually focus on individual topics.
Many of these courses are self-paced and rely on a combination of lectures and lab experience in simulated network environments. If you are disciplined and can learn without supervision, taking an online course might be right for you.
If you are looking to apply Python to the field of network engineering, we recommend this beginner course taught by CBT Nuggets trainer John McGovern and this Udemy class created by David Bombal.
Many Python programmers are self-taught. If self-study is your preferred learning method, then you can’t go wrong by choosing to learn Python with books. The literature on this programming language is extensive and the best Python books will help you master its most complex aspects.
Python books are great because they use language that is straightforward, precise, and simple to comprehend. They also go into great detail on the specific aspects of the language being discussed and include practice problems and questions that you can do on your own.
If you are a network engineer or studying to become one, we recommend you check out these books on Amazon:
- Python Scripting for Network Engineers: Realizing Network Automation for Reliable Networks by Wajid Hassan.
- Automate the Boring Stuff with Python: Practical Programming for Total Beginners by Eric Chou.
- Mastering Python Networking: Your One-stop Solution to Using Python for Network Automation, DevOps, and Test-driven Development by Eric Cho.
Top Python for Network Engineering Libraries
Network automation has become increasingly common and the modern engineer has at their disposal a wide range of tools for automating network configuration and change management. If you are still a novice in the field, the following list will simplify things for you by showing you the most important libraries you need to be aware of.
- Netmiko. This Python library was designed with networking devices in mind. It provides an abstraction layer over the Paramiko Python implementation of the SSHv2 protocol and keeps lower-level features hidden from the automation engineer.
- NAPALM. NAPALM, or Network Automation and Programmability Abstraction Layer with Multivendor support, is a Python library that uses a unified API to simplify automated interactions with networking devices.
- Genie. This is a Python package created to test automated networks. It is easy to use and gives the engineer fast access to a wealth of information on the state of the network.
- ncclient. ncclient is a Python library designed to make NETCONF scripting and automation easier.
- Requests. The Requests library hides many of the intricacies of making HTTP requests behind a simple API. It includes various built-in methods for retrieving or pushing data to a REST API, including GET and POST requests.
If you’re searching for tools that are safe and powerful, then the five Python libraries above will get the job done. However, there is a world of Python libraries out there, and we recommend that you explore as many of them as you can to expand your knowledge.
How to Learn Python for Network Engineers: A Step-by-Step Guide
Learning Python is not only about reading books or taking an online course. Practice is essential. Lots of it. To help you in your journey, here are the basic steps to follow to learn Python for network engineering.
Step 1: Figure Out Why You Want to Learn Python
Before you start learning Python, think about why you want to learn it in the first place. Having a clear idea of what your motivation to learn this programming language is will help you keep going when the journey gets hard, which it will. Knowing what is moving you will also help you come up with clear and quantifiable goals. These goals, in turn, will allow you to chart a detailed learning plan.
Step 2: Learn the Fundamentals
Before diving deeper into network engineering, you must gain a basic understanding of Python syntax and fundamentals. This should take you anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month. By the end, you should have no problem explaining to a friend what the terms data type, list, tuple, dictionary, conditional, loop, function, and object-oriented programming means.
Step 3: Work on Structured Projects
Once you are comfortable with the syntax and the basics of Python, it is time to get busy with projects. After all, you will forget everything you have learned in the previous weeks unless you put it to use, and there is no better way to do that than doing projects. Projects will enhance your skills and help you build a portfolio that you can use during the job search.
You can find great project ideas on sites like Dataquest, Kivy, and Codecademy. You can also check out the Raspberry Pi Cookbook. In these resources, you’ll find structured projects that allow you to create fascinating things.
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Step 4: Work on Your Own Project Ideas
It is now time to work on your own projects to further your Python knowledge. At this point, you’d still be hitting the books on a regular basis, but you should have enough knowledge to work on cool projects that you are passionate about. As you build these projects, you should also be familiarizing yourself with debugging and troubleshooting.
As you work on your own Python ideas, you’ll need help when you inevitably get stuck. Good resources to find answers are Stackoverflow and the official Python documentation. Some interesting project ideas to work on are:
- Weather predicting algorithms.
- Simple network automation scripts.
- Command line applications using version control systems.
- Basic scripts for automating data entries.
Step 5: Get Familiar with Python Tools for Network Engineering
The last step in your learning journey, for now, is to get acquainted with the Python tools used in network engineering. You can do this through a combination of study and hands-on projects. The goal is to learn the ins and outs of popular libraries and modules like Netmiko, NAPALM, Genie, nnclient, and Requests.
Mastering these tools is a lifetime endeavor and there will always be more things to learn, even you have reached the top of your profession. As a network engineer and competent Python user, you need to be constantly learning and upgrading yourself to stay relevant.
Start Learning Python for Network Engineers Today
Python is an important skill if you aim to become a network administrator, network engineer, or network manager. Whether you specialize in Cisco, Arista, or VMware, being proficient in Python will give you access to new and exciting career opportunities.
You can use Python to build scripts for automating network device configuration and to configure APIs on networking equipment. Whatever application you are interested in, learning Python in 2022 is a sound choice if you are pursuing a career in network engineering.
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