Believe it or not, there’s a technology-related job role that has been around for more than a hundred years. What is it, you might ask?
When the telephone appeared on the scene in the late 19th century, the world witnessed the birth of the voice technician, said Mary Ng, senior manager of the Unified Communications Portfolio at Cisco.
Today, that role is a little more diversified thanks to the emergence of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines VoIP, also known as IP telephony, as technology that enables voice calls to be made using a broadband Internet connection instead of a regular analog line.
“Voice over IP is still a very hot market — particularly in emerging markets,” Ng said.
Voice technicians primarily are responsible for installing and testing VoIP networks, meaning they need in-depth understanding of how they work.
Ng maintains that there are two specific entry-points into the profession. The first is through working with traditional analog phones or TDM (time division multiplexing) of technology.
“[Typically, this job role is suited for] somebody who begins with a help-desk kind of function and realizes they really like the voice technician or the voice role [because they] typically like to work with people,” Ng said. “Voice is unlike wireless or some of the other specialty skills because you deal with people constantly.”
The second way to get into VoIP is by working the IT or datacom angle.
“From the datacom side, it’s [not uncommon for] somebody from a junior technician or a help-desk kind of function to realize that the network is the platform now, and the Voice over IP infrastructure that lies on top of that [allows them] to add on many applications,” Ng said.
A Foot in the Door
“The base knowledge that [a VoIP technician] needs to have is at least a basic understanding of routing and switching [and] the standard networking technologies,” said Fred Weiller, director of marketing for Learning@Cisco. “From there, they can specialize and have a more targeted career.”
Weiller explained the importance of a solid foundation in voice by comparing it to the way a university curriculum is structured.
“[Let’s say] you want to be a history major,” Weiller said. “Before you can really dig deep into the history, you need a good foundation of English because you’re going to write a lot, and math, because you’re going to process a lot of data. And then you can move into [actually] studying history in-depth.
“Similarly, before you start doing a really strong specialization in voice or other specialties, you need a good foundation of routing and switching knowledge,” he said.
However, candidates just entering the field aren’t the only ones who require this type of training.
“Historically, voice used to be analog systems, and there are still a lot of people who have been trained originally in voice technologies,” Weiller said. “But as companies are migrating their analog systems to Voice over IP, it’s not just about new people entering the job market — it’s also about people retraining in the new technologies [such as] routing, switching and Voice over IP to be able to continue their role as voice specialists inside the company they’re already working for.”
It’s also not uncommon for voice technicians to stay in this job role for only a few years, according to Ng.
“Those who have much more interest in the engineering, designing [and] the implementing of new gear start developing a skill set and an interest in moving up to a professional level [such as] CCVP (Cisco Certified Voice Professional),” she said. “Ultimately, there’s a pretty good conversion rate to the CCIE Internet expert voice track.”
Ng said Cisco recently rolled out a new entry-level certification at the associate level — CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) Voice — that serves as a solid starting point for candidates who want to specialize in voice.
The candidate will first be required to take the routing and switching foundation certification on the CCNA, and by taking one additional exam, the CCNA Voice, he or she can specialize in the VoIP technician job role.
All in a Day’s Work
A typical day on the job for a voice technician consists of a blend of technical challenges, according to Ng.
One aspect of the job requires VoIP technicians to interface with the users on a network. They often work with people on outward facing that includes adding phone numbers, modifying people’s information and keeping up with their mobility needs.
“They’re typically not going to be given tasks to actually go into the network to modify it, [but they can gain] exposure by working with GUIs, or graphical user interfaces, to help configure and add people,” Ng said.
Another essential component of the job requires soft skills, especially given that they spend a significant portion of their time working internally with network engineers and senior voice specialists.
“[In this job role, you] need to have a blend of both [technical as well as soft skills] much more so than other tracks like security,” Ng said. “I see that soft skills are more prevalent on the voice track.”
Though installing new equipment is one of the VoIP technician’s most common job responsibilities, Ng said a person in this role also needs to be able to operate and optimize the VoIP network.
“It’s not only putting in equipment and making it work within the legacy systems, but really demonstrat[ing] to employers and clients the value of these systems,” Ng said.
Voice technicians also are faced with a number of short- and long-term challenges.
“The largest challenge is the emergence of new threats, new end-user functionality demands like iPhones, BlackBerrys, etc., as tying directly to enterprise-wide, highly confidential data and information,” Ng said.
“This technology is consumer-driven, [so people] experience the wonderful collaboration opportunities and the wonderful anytime, anywhere features in their home life first that they [then] want to bring to their enterprise life or work life, or to the government even,” she said. “[VoIP technicians are faced with the] challenge of keeping up with the consumer pull-through functionality.”
Another significant challenge for voice technicians is the risk of security threats to the network, Weiller said.
“An open network is a bit more difficult to protect than an isolated network,” he said. “So the voice professionals need to either become knowledgeable or be very much in sync with their security colleagues to make sure that when they do something for voice, they’re not opening up the network to vulnerabilities.”
It also is important for voice technicians to ensure their security colleagues are not breaking down the voice quality when they implement new security policies or devices, Weiller said.
“At airports, the more security you have, the slower the traffic,” he explained. “It’s the same thing for voice — the more security you may add, the more voice traffic will slow down. And voice is a real-time application, so the voice specialist [needs to] be working as part of a team and really be in the know of what’s going on.
“It’s really moving from being in an isolated team type of environment to being part of a bigger team, not only on the user side, but also internally,” Weiller added.
It is for these reasons that Weiller said soft skills — such as communication and project management skills — are becoming increasingly important to this job role.
A Bright Future
The advantages of working as a VoIP technician are manifold, Weiller said.
For example, the previous nationwide telephone system was analog, and though it was connected to the public telephone system, it was still very isolated. Now, since it is connected to the network, there are benefits such as the integration of applications, Weiller said.
Ng added that the functionality of VoIP technology provides other advantages that weren’t possible with the old analog system. For example, Cisco is working on technology that will encrypt individual phone calls so that a company could, for instance, encrypt only calls made by the CEO, she said. This would allow the network to maintain acceptable performance and high availability.
“If you did that with every phone call, there would be a large performance issue, [but now] you can be selective,” Ng said. “These are functionality benefits that the old analog system could not allow, so we know that voice technicians and voice associates need to be aware of this and at least be able to monitor it and report issues with performance. That’s a [good] way to broaden that role to policy-based functionality.”
– Deanna Hartley, firstname.lastname@example.org “