There are only 10 types of people in the world…
…those who understand binary and those who don’t!
This week was the seventh National Apprenticeship Week. So I thought it only appropriate to blog about some of our own experiences. We recently employed two apprentices, one in engineering and one in sales. Both are due to attend their first college session as part of their Telecommunications Apprenticeship through the Institute of Telecommunications Professionals (The ITP) later this month. They are both very much looking forward to starting their college course in Coventry alongside other apprentices from a good cross section of our industry.
Major success factors in any apprenticeship scheme are in house mentoring and experiential learning. Some of our engineers have over 40 years’ experience in the industry – myself included. As a result we have a wealth of knowledge to pass on to our apprentices and we take this mentoring very seriously.
”…we have a responsibility to help them develop their knowledge and experience to their full potential”
It would do more harm than good to simply pair an apprentice with a senior member of staff and not have any understanding or control over the information flow. There would undoubtedly be some significant benefits but it is inevitable that there will be holes in their basic knowledge. Our apprentices have already become valuable assets and we have a responsibility to help them develop their knowledge and experience to their full potential. To do this we must take a structured approach to their learning process which includes all the basics from Ohm’s Law basic electronics and decibels through to binary and hexadecimal number schemes. We have to make sure there are no holes in their basic knowledge.
This week our engineering and sales apprentices were really being put through their paces with binary, and hexadecimal numbering, code and character sets and an introduction to protocols. They have also been introduced to the intricacies of IP addressing and subnets. To enforce this knowledge we go back as far as Morse Code and then progress through Cable Code, Baudot, Murray Code, International Alphabet No.2, ASCII, International Alphabet No.5 and more to enable us to bring the apprentices through history to understand the way our current systems work. We have to get right back to basics to enable them to understand the fundamentals of the technology that underpins our very existence.
“…even the service on their personal phone is faster than was available for an entire global enterprise when I started in the industry”
It never ceases to amaze me that in our world today the business leaders, forward thinkers, designers and engineers of the future are entering a world where their home broadband connection and even the service on their personal phone is faster than was available for an entire global enterprise when I started in the industry. Having to work with such limited bandwidth is a great lesson in how to make networks efficient. This is another reason why history is so important, not just for history sake but also to have the knowledge to provide an effective solution where there is very little bandwidth available. The bandwidth limitations may be long term or for a short period of time such as in disaster recovery situations. There are still many challenging locations across the world including parts of the UK where reasonable bandwidth is beyond economical reach so these skills can be very useful. This is a prime example of where understanding the historical perspective helps us with challenging environments – and not just with connectivity.
I also find it incredible that there are many service and application providers – some very successful – making a living delivering their products to a wide range of organisations without any real understanding of the underlying principles. When I was an apprentice one of the best teachers at college drummed into us that we had to learn and understand the principles of everything we did. This advice has served me well for over 40 years. I have subsequently drummed this into the several hundred engineers and technicians I have trained over the years and will continue to do so with our apprentices. I want to make sure our apprentices are well equipped for a long and rewarding career and to be ambassadors for Astro and for our industry.
I guess all of this is what makes us different and probably the reason we have never been ‘mass market’. Throughout Astro’s 30 years we have been a specialist organisation picking up complex infrastructure deployments, interesting technical projects and challenging operational issues as a way of growing our business.
”…our diagnosis calls upon basic RF (radio frequency) principles and calculations”
A case in point would be an issue that we are working on at the moment where our engineering apprentice has been gaining some of his experiential learning. We are investigating a wireless network reliability issue. Our customer is in the middle of a shopping centre where there are many other retailers all with their own wireless networks. Every wireless network is spilling out and interfering with all of the surrounding wireless networks. What is good RF for other retailers is noise to us and vice versa. Our diagnosis calls upon basic RF (radio frequency) principles and calculations using decibels. The information for our diagnosis is a combination of test equipment measurements and wireless network equipment statistics and diagnostics logs.
This basic analysis has uncovered a very complex situation that requires an holistic approach. We not only have to consider our actions for our customer, we also have to consider our responsibility as a ‘good neighbour’ to the surrounding retailers as they are all suffering similar problems. This becomes as much a negotiation and collaboration exercise as it is a technical exercise. We see it as our responsibility to work with all parties to arrive at a solution that benefits all rather than arrive at a solution that resolves our customer’s issues while making it worse for everyone else.
In my many years providing third party troubleshooting services I believe this is where many service providers in the market would simply fail to understand the implications. Any actions based on a flawed understanding of the bigger picture could delay a sustainable solution by months and in some serious cases by years. We want our apprentices to always approach problems with an holistic approach with the appropriate knowledge so they do things right from the outset. As ambassadors of our industry that is the only viable approach.
”…it is really interesting to see young apprentices and very experienced technicians on a level playing field tackling these tasks together”
We are teaching our apprentices in a structured way to ensure they understand the basic elements of technology. This includes internal training sessions followed by practical tasks taken from real world examples and then a discussion around the apprentices’ response to the task. The tasks even tested some of our most seasoned technicians and engineers to the point where they have requested to be included in the post task discussion. Some of the tasks being set are based on my own experience going back as far as the early 1970s. This is enticing some of our senior technical staff to trawl through their memories to tackle the tasks.
It is really interesting to see young apprentices and very experienced technicians on a level playing field tackling these tasks together. For the apprentice the knowledge is fresh, for the experienced technician it may be over 30 years or more since they worked on similar problems. Our apprentices have brought countless benefits to our team. Benefits we had not considered when we decided to launch our new apprenticeship scheme.
”…I am keen to encourage other young people to consider an apprenticeship in our industry.”
Over the coming months we will be featuring blog posts written by our apprentices as a chronicle of their experiences. I am keen to encourage other young people to consider an apprenticeship in our industry.
On a final note, our industry is not all serious and this week’s sessions with our apprentices reminded me of a YouTube clip about IPV4, along with the quip at the top of this article, so I thought I would share this clip with you. You may have seen this a dozen times but is still very clever. Enjoy…
[frame id=”ipv6″ linking=”default” align=”center” type=”simple”][/frame]
For more information…
The Institute of Telecommunications Professional – http://www.theitp.org/
Wikipedia binary – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binary_number
Wikipedia hexadecimal – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hexadecimal
Wikipedia Baudot code – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baudot_code
Wikipedia ASCII – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASCII
Wikipedia decibel – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decibel