Going Virtual Means New Kinds of Skillsets – But From Where?

In my previous blog post, I discussed the need to test, test, and test again the components of the virtualized networks you want to install, how they work together, and whether they equal, or ideally surpass, the performance of the networks they are intended to replace.

Now let’s turn our attention to manpower.

Once your networks are virtualized, it shouldn’t matter to your network engineers whether they’re virtualized or not, since their performance should be invisible.

But as you virtualize elements of your networks, things are going to happen that will require you to have some personnel who understand both the communications and IT spaces. They have to be able to isolate the issues that arise, do the necessary troubleshooting, and solve the challenges in ways that smooth out the remainder of the virtualization rollout. And, as the networks get virtualized and you incorporate more and more software and computing power, you have to manage your end-to-ends much more effectively.

It’s a non-traditional approach for what has quickly become a non-traditional industry. And guess what? It’s not specific to telecommunications. Today, every industry in the world is looking for talented IT people, especially those with expertise in other fields as well.

Some executives try to hire talent away from their competitors. This is problematic in more than one way. First, many companies have non-compete clauses; why spend money on headhunters to find talent that can’t start working for you on day one? Next, recruiting someone away means either offering them a big salary bump or a promotion (or both, of course); this only drives up salaries throughout the industry, and you may have to offer a promotion for a position that doesn’t meet your day-to-day needs. (It doesn’t mean the person wouldn’t be a good manager, but if you need someone willing to debug software or run virtualization tests, he or she may be looking to manage people doing that work rather than doing it themselves!)

Another way to address the problem is to cross-train your network engineers in IT. Some of the biggest names in telecommunications are going that route; there are numerous training programs across the U.S. It’s added expense, sure, but it’s cheaper than the cost of trying to find, recruit, and retain engineers with experience in both fields. This approach works, but you may get some pushback from the engineers who already know their (current) jobs and resent being told they need to expand their skillsets.

Finally, you’ve already got experienced RF engineers in-house, so look to hire IT people – whether right out of school or with experience – who are interested in learning the RF side of things. You can cross-train them using your in-house talent, which has the added benefit of addressing some of the cultural differences between the two groups. This is a case where familiarity can breed comfort! (And the after-work beers don’t hurt, either.)

I do practice what I preach – here at TeleWorld we’ve been recruiting talent drawn from outside the traditional telco space. Most recently we brought on Bryan Goldberg as our VP of strategy and business development; much of his experience comes from working for one of the largest cable operators in the country, including six years managing nationwide rollout of Wi-Fi networks. And our various engineers come from different walks of life, as we try to bring our customers a wide variety of expertise to cover all of their varied needs.

However you approach the issue, one thing’s for certain: to get the most out of your virtualization efforts, you need to hire the right people. They just may not be the type of people you’ve traditionally hired in the past. That shouldn’t be too surprising, given the fact that the word “traditional” no longer has a place in today’s wireless world.

— Shervin Gerami

You may also be interested in:

Engineer’s Roundtable: Virtualization Challenges

Virtualization From an Operator’s Perspective