Managing a Technical Career in Telecoms

May 19th, 2017 by · 2 Comments

This Guest Article was authored by Russell Lundberg, who blogs over at Bangkok Beach Telecom

I asked to Guest Post on Telecom Ramblings because their audience includes so many Telecoms & ICT Professionals.  I've worked my entire career on the technical side of Telecoms and have become concerned about the lack of career development skills taught to technical workers.  It appears that this is pretty close to none.  I could be wrong, and if you think so, please share your ideas in the comments section.  I'd like to know where and what guidance and coaching are routinely available to workers in our field.

There seem too few Telecom Engineers & ICT Professionals focused on their career at all, and fewer still acting on that awareness.  Mostly what I see looks like utter relief at having a job, disappointment at the prospects for advancement, and a resignation that it is what it is.  I always try to gently challenge these notions and point out that career advancement can be viewed as just another problem for Engineers to solve.

One of the biggest career hurdles for Telecoms Professionals relates to people's expectations of infrastructure.  Here is a general truism:

the best infrastructure is invisible: you don't see it until it breaks.

If you don't believe it then try to recall the last time you marveled at the reliability of running water or the dependability of a light switch or how quickly you and a friend exchanged a bunch of Whatsapp messages back and forth.  Infrastructure tends to be taken for granted by everyone; its existence only acknowledged when it disappoints.

A consequence of this is that Telecoms & ICT Professionals often tend not to get recognized for doing an outstanding job.  In fact, the better they do their job, keeping a high-quality network in service, the less recognition they are likely to get.  What recognition does come is often the negative sort correlated with those service outages and failures that are so hard to avoid completely.  Therein lies the rub of career development: without recognition, one risks laboring in obscurity.  Career Development requires confronting and countering this fundamental truth.

To develop your career, you must gain recognition and visibility, preferably not for trashing the network.  But it seems few Technologists have any real notion of how to go about that.  The most common actions I see are posting resumes to jobs boards and hoping for the best.  This is hardly a coherent career management strategy.  Is there a more effective way for advancing a career in technology?  I think there is.

First, a guiding principle is that to get ahead in your field, you must be visible in your field.  An excessive willingness to labor away in quiet oblivion is one of the reasons technology workers find it so hard to get ahead.  If no one sees what you do, what you are capable of, then no one will ask you to do it.  Here are some steps that you can take immediately.

  1. Beyond Five Nines, Focus on Cost Containment

Assuming you have mastered the art of maintaining your part of the network, you will receive great positive recognition is you are seen to be a leader lowering the cost structure of the business.  Lowering the cost structure is one of the biggest impacts any employee can contribute, bigger even that increasing revenue.  This is so because top-line revenue gets filtered through the entire balance sheet; Cost Containment goes directly to the bottom line.  So dollar-for-dollar, cost savings help more than revenue.

Techniques for realizing Cost Containment include new technologies, alternate solution architectures and clever negotiating skills.  Each of these can be used to deliver the same services at a lower cost or provide new services for the same cost.

Always remember, outstanding service quality comes first.  I'm in no way advocating worse service to save money.  A well-documented focus on Cost Containment is what you also do to receive positive recognition from your current employer.  This will help you when it comes time to discuss raises and promotions.

  1. Document Your Workplace Accomplishments

It is quite common in many disciplines to build a portfolio of your previous work.  Artists, Graphics Designers, Architects, Product Managers all maintain a record of their previous contributions.  Telecoms & ICT Professionals should, too.  Include in your portfolio any project in which you played a significant role.  A brief list of examples:

  1. Documented progress on Cost Containment projects.
  2. Analysis for new projects or initiatives.
  3. Workbooks you've created for recurring reporting or budgeting.
  4. Reports you've developed, maintained and automated.
  5. Position Papers you've written.

When bonuses, merit raises, promotions and job interviews, bring your portfolio to showcase your contributions.

  1. Create and Update Your LinkedIn Profile

LinkedIn is a social network, often called "FaceBook for Business".  It is one of the most popular and effective places for professionals to see and be seen.  Creating an account and updating your profile are the simplest and fastest ways for you to raise your professional visibility.  Upload a professional photo, enter a headline, craft your summary and add your work history.  Focus on adding keywords so that you will appear in search results.  There must be more than a million LinkedIn tutorials and courses on Youtube.com.  Check out one or two and get to work on it.

  1. Join Industry Groups and Forums

The goals here are both to increase your visibility and to advance your education.  There are many places online where you can do one or both.  Once again, LinkedIn offers an excellent solution in the form of Groups.  There are dozens, maybe hundreds of technology-related LinkedIn groups.  Join as many groups as LinkedIn allows, groups in your discipline, and engage!  Passive reading might improve your education, but to raise your visibility you must ask and answer questions and join the discussions.

There also are many, many other places for you to indulge your passions for technology.  A brief sampling of other online venues includes stackoverflow.com, howardsforums.com, slashdot.org, engadget.com, lightreading.com, and IEEE.org.

Your criteria for joining any group should be a) how closely the topics align with your discipline, and b) how active is the community.  The ideal match for you will be an active forum closely related to your field.

Don't confine your interactions to online venues only.  If there are relevant groups meeting IRL in your area consider attending.  Face-to-face meetings are an even better way to be visible than online forums.  Search meetup.com for your city and discipline.

  1. Publish and Teach

Publishing on the Internet is a great way to promote your name online and increase your visibility.  Try blogging. It's easy to set up a personal blog site for free.  Go to wordpress.com, medium.com, tumblr.com, blogger.com.  LinkedIn also has a publishing platform for you to consider.  You might write about things you do every day in your job, though mind revealing proprietary information.  You might also write about things you would like to be doing every day.  This will both prepare you for that role and advertise your interest and expertise.

Teaching others has long been espoused as one of the best ways to learn anything.  It also happens to be a fabulous way to build your reputation.  Whatever expertise you presently have, try creating an online course for it, or a guide or a cheat sheet or a step-by-step procedure or an infographic.

Social media provide many other venues to express yourself.  You could put up a FaceBook page (though I caution you to avoid cat videos); set up an account on Pinterest or Instagram. Twitter is another way to engage in lively debates online.

Build Your Career

By now a couple things should be clear to you. One, that there are many, many ways for you to improve your visibility.  Find a couple ways which suit you and engage actively and aggressively.  Get started today!

Second, developing your career is 100% up to you.  If you wait for someone else to do it will never happen.  Please don't simply lament that there are no jobs out there and no use in trying.  Take Action!

For more career advice and encouragement, follow my blog Bangkok Beach Telecom.

 

Categories: Industry Viewpoint

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2 Comments So Far


  • George J. says:

    Telecom is a real b*tch. It’s frustrating, and mid to senior level management politics ruins just about everything when it comes to advancement or hope for betterment.
    And I think some people will agree that the real technical engineers who do everything this article suggests and are really good at what they do, are generally some of the biggest jerks in the industry.

  • Anonymous says:

    Its alarming to me that none of this advice (and its not a critique, I think its accurate) is focused on innovation or trying to lift up the industry. Your best way to survive is “cost containment” and updating linked in. Ouch. Telecom become such a stagnant cesspool and frankly, very few people get to take advantage of the items above or get ahead if they do it on their own. They become the targets of the same cost cutting, because why have an expert on staff when you could have a few monkeys stumble their way through it all?

    When is the most excited and involved this community board ever gets? Is it around a new technology? Is it when a new player enters the field barely recognizable as a telecom at all? No, its what $#!t company is going to buy another $#!t company.

    The consolidation that has happened has almost universally been toward the bad actors in the industry, too. They are unsupportive other than lip service only to the next generation of telecom technology and ideas. How long has a Donovan or Chiosi been espousing great ideas in great forums, and yet in order to get an Ethernet circuit with AT&T you still need an ASR, 180 days, and 50 people who don’t get to attend lectures and are not supported trying to push new concepts?!

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