Telecommunications specialists (TCSs) design voice and data communication systems, supervise installation of these systems, and provide maintenance and service to clients after installation. Systems can range from a connection between two offices on different floors of the same building to networking databases, and voicemail and electronic mail systems throughout globally distributed offices of multinational organizations. Specializations include voice transmission, cellular capabilities, data communication, cable-to-modem communication, and satellite communication capabilities. TCSs act as information distributors, client representatives, construction supervisors, and maintenance liaisons. Handling this variety of responsibilities requires good communication skills, a firm understanding of technical requirements, and an ability to work closely with other professionals.
According to our respondents, although telecommunications is a high-technology field, the basic rule is: “First, listen.” Everything a client wants to be able to do today, tomorrow, and ten years down the line has to be considered during the planning sessions, and often clients can’t identify their needs today and have no idea about tomorrow. “Forget about ten years down the line,” wrote one telecommunications specialist. TCSs work closely with their clients during the planning stages, trying to elicit information from the clients that will help the TCS determine and satisfy their needs. For example, if a company has plans to open a branch office overseas, the TCS should be aware of this when planning the system. “It’s all systems architecture” one former computer science major said, “except it’s in relation to data and voice technology.” Many TCSs work on-site for significant periods of time, supervising system installation and explaining system operation and maintenance to the client. TCSs often step back from the day-to-day management of the project during the installation and let their cabling and wiring experts do their job, as micromanaging a project can be fatal in this profession. Most TCSs remain their client’s contact for any service or maintenance requirements. Although TCSs are the first to hear complaints from clients, they also get to be heros when they solve the problems.
Unusual requests to TCSs are the norm. People don’t understand the technology involved so they usually don’t understand their options in terms of features and equipment. TCSs help companies determine their own capabilities and discover what good communications support can do for their businesses. Successful TCSs can juggle multiple tasks, being involved in up to twenty projects and handling 100 maintenance contacts.
No particular degree is required to become a telecommunications specialist. Instead, extensive job training programs are the norm. Those with strong math or engineering backgrounds have an advantage over the candidate pool in general; communication skills are an advantage too. Training programs usually last two or three months in large companies; on-the-job training in mentor programs isn’t unusual for smaller companies. Professional education is also standard in this field, as the technology changes almost as rapidly as the daily newspaper. Professional organizations are gaining respectability in this field, but membership in them isn’t required.
A TCS’s skills are valuable in a number of other technology-oriented jobs. Many become service sales representatives for high-tech products companies. Others who dislike negotiating deals contract themselves out as wiring specialists and perform installation and maintenance functions for a fee. Still others become computer network administrators, capitalizing on their understanding of the interplay between local wiring (connections) and performance (results).