IP Telephony Engineers: The Innovators
With enterprises spreading their reach globally, companies increasingly seek to improve the way they communicate—whether it’s by telephone, e-mail or fax. Currently, Internet protocol (IP) telephony engineers are converging these technologies. These professionals are responsible for designing, implementing and supporting converged network solutions. With many organizations moving away from traditional telephone service and migrating toward IP telephony implementation and voice over IP (VoIP) adoption, the work of today’s IP telephony engineers will influence the continued endorsement of these technologies.
“There is a growing acceptance of technologies that run on IP telephony and VoIP networks—more so than probably two or three years ago. If you look at the acceptance of the population at-large trusting IP telephony and VoIP opposed to trusting land lines, there is a critical-mass acceptance for these technologies,” said Terry Barham, program manager, enterprise certification, Nortel Networks. “This is where the technology is moving. This is where people are building their applications. It’s all riding on IP telephony and in our view, this certainly causes an expectation that things will be IP-enabled moving forward.”
Roles and Responsibilities On the Job
Whether an IP telephony professional specializes in designing, implementing, supporting or consulting converged network solutions, today’s IP telephony engineers should have foundational knowledge in all four of these areas. However, according to Cisco Systems Inc. Learning and Development Senior Manager Ray Garra, IP telephony engineers generally focus on one of three areas within the vast umbrella of IP telephony job roles: architecture and protocols, technologies and applications, or services and products.
“To work in this field, a professional has to have a foundational understanding of VoIP, what those technologies are, from theory, to even T1 (a commonly used digital transmission service that consists of 24 separate channels), to basic routing and switching and IP addressing,” Garra explained. “So the foundation of all the voice tracks lays the foundation for a professional to go into unified communication, which is really an extension of the core network.”
According to Cisco Systems Director of Certifications Don Field, most IP telephony engineers perform many different tasks. “An IP telephony engineer can be involved in the planning, designing, implementation, operation maintenance, configuration or troubleshooting of Cisco products or solutions for technologies applied in a customer setting, like an office, school or government agency. An IP telephony engineer could also be in a support role. For example, we have a technical-assistance center that is staffed with experts in all the different areas in which Cisco offers products, services and solutions,” Field explained. “Also, someone who is skilled in IP telephony may not think of themselves as an IP telephony engineer because his or her job responsibilities may span across data, security, wireless access or VoIP.”
At Mitel Networks Corp., a developer and provider of communications products, Manager of the SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) Infrastructure Team Peter Hillier’s responsibilities vary significantly depending on the project or what stage of the design or delivery process they are working on. Hillier manages a team of eight designers that is responsible for implementing SIP into a proprietary language so that Mitel’s 3300 Integrated Communications Platform (ICP) can understand it. Basically, Hillier and his team provide translations for the 3300 ICP.
“Currently, we are actively delivering content. So every day we typically assess any problems that have been introduced in new code or have been discovered by the verification team and try to classify those defects into different priorities—whether they need to be resolved immediately or in time for our internal trials or customer trials. Once we assess the day’s workload, we go to our development team and assign the work,” Hillier explained. “However, since we are nearing our release stage, we are also ramping up for another new release. So we have to be very active and aware of what content is going to go in our next release, what our resource overlaps are going to be and so on and so forth. This is always a difficult time because we are trying to do two releases at once—deliver one and start another.”
Mitel Networks Systems Engineering Manager Tony Hutchinson also holds various responsibilities under his job title. Primarily, Hutchinson and his six team members deal with the research and development environment. “Up front, we do a top-level view of what goes on to try to define the product. We look at what the product requirements are, release some information and documentation about the product requirements and try to get them to engineering as early on in the product-development process as possible. Other groups then take that information and documentation further down stream: Hardware will look at what type of hardware they would have to develop to achieve that, and software has to realize how they will configure that so it fits together,” Hutchinson said. “At the backend, we will take some of our analyses out into the field and provide information on how they might install a product with its new features, provide information on its limitations, etc.”
At Vonage, a pioneer in the Internet telephony industry, Jose Martinez, CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate), director of production support and former senior-call-processing engineer, has varying responsibilities as well. “As a VoIP engineer, my primary responsibilities were to provide a point of escalation for VoIP-related trouble tickets—this may be tickets coming from Customer Care or from our Networks Operations Centers. In addition, I worked with network and systems engineers to help architect VoIP networks, work with QA (Quality Assurance) to uncover new bugs and test features and VoIP devices to make sure they work correctly in our network,” Martinez said.
Technical and Soft Skills Required
For a professional working in IP telephony, experience is golden. In fact, because IP telephony is a developing technology, most of what is learned during one’s college education or through earning certifications is considered foundational. Entry-level IP telephony engineers should be able to: design a basic network solution; plan, design and/or engineer network solutions with basic complexity; and solve customer design issues in routine situations.
“From a personal view, when I was thinking about going back to the university, an engineer said to me, ‘You can do that, but one of the things that people really count is experience in the field. Having this first-hand knowledge can be quite valuable in itself,’” Hutchinson said. “And I think that has been very true in my career: I have seen many different things and gained knowledge in many different areas of communications. It has been quite rewarding.”
Time management and analytical skills are critical soft skills that all IP telephony engineers should possess. For Hillier, he must assess risk and difficulty associated with problems because he needs to be careful that time is not wasted solving a problem with little return on investment. “We walk a fine line because if we were to make the wrong call, we could waste time in an area of little return and expose ourselves in other areas that could have larger risk for the product,” he said.
Like Hillier, Martinez performs a lot of troubleshooting and analysis on the job. In addition, Martinez said he uses communication, writing, creativity and project-management skills on a regular basis as well. “For me, the most challenging part of my job is writing procedures for Customer Care because you have to take very technical material and write it down so tha