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A Day in the Life of a Telecommunications Specialist

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.

Paying Your Dues

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.

Present and Future

Telecommunications specialists owe the growth of their industry to the growth of the telecommunications technology sector. Decisions about communications used to be based on a simple choice-telephone, mail, or messenger. The development of fiber-optic cable, coaxial cable, and computer routing and data systems all spurred the need for trained professionals who could coordinate the needs of the end-user (the client) with the capabilities of the data/voice server (the provider). TCSs fill that role. The future looks very bright for telecommunications specialists, particularly for those willing to continue their education. Positions are growing at roughly double the rate of jobs in the economy as a whole. Technological developments should contribute to this bright future, as the development of cable modems promises to speed transmission rates by a thousand-fold, the Internet develops as a telecommunications resource, and companies continue to invest heavily in their communications systems.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Trainees either go through a formal training program or are assigned a “mentor” who takes them along on client meetings. Many spend significant time offsite in these initial years, learning how to help clients examine their current and future needs and how to assess installation possibilities and problems. Many encounter unusual situations or strange requests that will arm them with horror stories for dissuading future clients from making the same mistakes. Hours are long; satisfaction is reasonable.

FIVE YEARS OUT

TCSs initiate client contact and handle their own accounts, from first handshake to negotiations to overseeing final billing. Many have considerable latitude to negotiate contracts, and many are promoted on the basis of their success at getting good deals. However, positive client feedback is equally important, and complaints from a couple of vociferous clients can sabotage even the most promising of TCS careers. Hours flatten out; satisfaction and salaries increase.

TEN YEARS OUT

Many TCSs hold managerial or supervisory positions. At a minimum, those in small companies are now in the “mentor” role. Many TCSs consider entrepreneurial ventures and begin exploring these opportunities. The majority remain TCSs, though. Continuing professional education is important in order to keep up with the technological “revolutions” that keep taking place.