I was talking to one of my nephews and he said he is getting an IT degree so that he can move ahead in his career. He currently is a repairman for Frontier, the mid-sized teleco. That certainly gives him a lot of hands-on experience in telco. But there are drawbacks in working for an under-capitalized company who is still trying to find ways to modernize its DSL. I would have to agree with him that his experience in keeping old copper working is not going to make for a lifetime career. When I look at how hard Verizon and AT&T are working to get out of the copper business one can imagine that it will be obsolete within a few decades.
So my first question is to ask him what he wants to do with the degree, and his answer to me is networking. Whew. Because in my opinion nobody should be spending energy on specializing in servers these days. With the explosive growth in cloud computing that whole business line is going to be mostly be reduced within a few years to giant server farms run by Google and Amazon.
I remember when my own company had an IT guy who ran our server and internal network. At forty employees we thought we needed this because storing our files and keeping PCs working seemed like a lot of work. And servers were more art and science in those days and I don’t think any of us really understood what he was doing half the time. I am not sorry to see those days go. There are many tools today that make IT easy for small companies and our need for an IT guy died a decade ago.
But there are still technicians out getting Cisco certified and I shake my head at the world that would take their money to do so. One doesn’t have to look around very much to see that we are headed for a world that is taking the brains away from the edge of the network. Every part of the industry is working on technologies that will collapse all of the brains to huge centralized hubs. There is not a need for more than a few gigantic cable TV headends in the country. The cellular companies plan on migrating all of the brains from cell sites back to data centers within the next decade. Centralization and efficiency is the new mantra of the carrier world and this doesn’t bode well for companies or technicians who sell and work on the edge of the network.
In these cases bigger really is better, and centralized hubs will win because of the huge savings in hardware, software and labor. It is incredibly expensive for AT&T to upgrade all of their thousands of cell sites and it takes six months and an army of technicians. But make those sites into dumb transmitters and put all if the smarts in a data center and AT&T could effectuate a nationwide upgrade nationwide on the fly.
I saw an article yesterday that talks about the fact that Google doesn’t require a college degree to get hired there. In fact, the word college isn’t even listed in their hiring guide. They instead look at what people know and what they can do. They value expertise and the ability to think over a college degree. This doesn’t mean that they don’t hire people with degrees; it just means that they don’t believe that a degree demonstrates any particular expertise that can’t be gotten from real life experience.
So where is the best place to start in telecom today? If I was starting at the bottom I would look for a job as a trouble-shooter on FTTH networks. That experience is going to teach you a lot about networking and also a fair amount about the triple play products and integration. And it will teach you to work well with customers and other technicians. With the explosion of fiber networks these jobs must be one of the fastest growing segments of the industry, so a person starting their career ought to be able to find such a job if they are mobile and ready to move where the work is. If I didn’t want to be a technician I would look to work at one of the engineering companies that design fiber networks. The typical engineering firm works on enough different projects to give you a taste of everything. Engineers are forced to keep up with the cutting edge while a fiber provider like Verizon gets very locked into their specific version of the technology.