Let Go Or Be Dragged

Feb. 1, 2022
Leading today’s talented engineer comes with a new set of challenges. Learn what they are and how to meet them. […]

Successfully Leading Today’s New OSP Engineer

To say the telecom industry has changed over the last 20 years is an understatement. What we do, How we do it, and Who is coming into the industry, has all undergone a radical change. What and How we do things these days is driven by the new infusion of capital that has been made available, and rapid advances in technology, as well as the unprecedented demand for more and faster data across nearly every inch of the world. 

When we take a glass-half-full approach to Who is coming into our industry, we can see that today’s telecom engineers compliment today’s What and How very nicely, but leading the modern engineer comes with a new set of challenges that leaders in our industry have not had to deal with before. 

Here’s what we know about these folks.

Who Are They?

People entering the telecom industry these days are drawn to the monumental challenges at hand: they want to make a difference in the world and see broadband as a path to contribute to lifting communities up in opportunities. They treat challenges that arise in telecom as puzzles they can solve using data and technology. 

While it’s fair to say most people who have dedicated their professional career to this industry have been keen to tackle challenges and problem solve, today’s new engineer is more technologically advanced. Therefore, this person leads with technology to solve today’s industry challenges. The new engineer inherently knows how and where to find data and plug it into tools that in turn allow companies and consumers to know and do more with maps and data visualization than ever before.

From Where Do They Come?

Those interested in working in telecom at this time generally come by way of Technical Colleges, Community Colleges, and 4-year Universities. They generally begin in internships that are either gained through school partnerships or stand-alone opportunities offered by companies. 

More and more institutions are offering a wide range of training and education that encompasses the traditional skills still needed in the industry as well as technology-enhanced skills such as using Imagery websites, software like ArcGIS, operating a drone, building mobile applications, and writing code. 

This is not to say that there are not people entering the industry directly from high school, but by and large the trend is that those drawn to today’s telecom opportunities have some post high school training. 

“Because it’s such a connected world these days, the standard 9-to-5 box no longer exists. Today’s engineer will get the work done — but probably not on a traditional 9-to-5 schedule.”

What Do They Bring to the Table?

The new engineer has a genuine curiosity that can, at times, give people seasoned in the industry pause. A training style of This is how we do it will most likely be met with Why?, and once they have some experience under their belt, they will likely offer suggestions for other ways of getting a task completed. 

Can this be frustrating when time is of the essence? Sure, but in the long run, having a problem-solving acumen and a unique perspective is exactly what is needed to keep the industry moving forward and at the rapid pace that’s now required. 

When Old Meets New

Once upon a time, say, 10 or 20 years ago, it was standard practice for a telecom engineer to physically go out in the field and then build or create the data themselves. This was accomplished using Old or Existing maps that were usually hand-drawn and, in later years, CAD-drawn. 

Now, data sets are built or stitched together from the desk using online parcel data, soil data, and up-to-date imagery. The data sets are then analyzed from the desk using BI reports, Excel, KMZ, and other tools. Finally, someone goes out to the field to verify data using mobile apps, drones, lidar, and ground penetrating radar when needed. This new way of doing things not only speeds up the process but it also makes for much more accurate data in the long run.

While the new engineer is a seemingly perfect fit for the direction our industry has taken in recent years, they also come with a challenge that is of no fault of their own: they lack experience

To recruit and retain those coming into the industry at this time, it’s important for leaders (managers all the way up to CEOs) to understand how to create a win-win across their organization to retain talent and to ensure that their company continues to thrive for the long haul. 

Here Are 5 Suggestions.

1. Keep Them Busy to Keep Them Interested
We’re ushering in a new era in our industry, and it’s common that leaders task the new engineer with outdated tasks — or no tasks at all — because they don’t quite know what to give them to do. The attention span of the modern engineer tends to be short, and jobs are plentiful, so have a success plan in place for your new hires before you hire them to increase your chances that they stick around.

2. Be Patient
This is easier said than done in the current high stakes and high stress environment we all face. Still, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your team of future leaders simply needs more time to develop. This is in stark contrast to how things were done in the past in our industry where it was largely trial by fire and sink or swim. 

Quite simply, the old ways of bringing along new engineers does not work anymore. Expecting too much too soon from today’s engineer will undoubtedly create a revolving door at your organization. Is it challenging to be patient, especially in these get-it-done-yesterday times? Absolutely. But it will be worth it in the long run when you find that you are more often able to retain good talent.

3. Allow for Autonomy, and Accept That They Will Make Mistakes and Learn from Them
This is another tough pill for many leaders to swallow because the stakes are high and time is money. But you will find that this is the only way to move forward with today’s engineer. 

Micromanaging is a road to nowhere, and to think that people with little to no practical experience will not make mistakes in the early days of their tenure is doing your and your team a disservice. Have solid QC processes in place to ensure that mistakes do not impact the client and then — let go. 

Because it’s such a connected world these days, the standard 9-to-5 box no longer exists. Today’s engineer will get the work done — but probably not on a traditional 9-to-5 schedule.

4. Offer Encouragement 
It’s always been the case that tough love doesn’t work for some people, but today’s leaders need to take it one step further and be aware that it doesn’t work for the new engineer at all. These are deep waters your team is being asked to swim in these days, and your new team members will respond better to support in the form of praise. Keep in mind that this praise needs to be sincere or it will have an adverse effect on everyone on your team.

5. Model Soft Skills 
Leaders today are being called upon to dig deep into their soft-skills toolbox to train and inspire today’s engineers. Whether this approach resonates with you or not, this is the modern landscape and it is important to adapt. As a leader, you must walk your talk. That means working on your own soft skills, and taking the high road when it’s difficult. 

There is a Zen proverb: Let go or be dragged. This could not be more true today. As many of our experienced team members retire, we’re working hard to value and recognize the contributions of our veteran team members who are still an important part of our organizations. We must also usher in a new generation of engineers who will ultimately help our companies and our communities get to the next level in the telecommunications space.

For more information, visit https://millenniumgeospatial.com/. Follow Millennium Geospatial on Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and YouTube.

About the Author

Kevin Maes

Kevin Maes is VP of Engineering, Millennium Geospatial. For more than 25 years, Kevin continues to design and engineer networks on a national footprint, and building FTTH for 20+ years across Rural America. Kevin leads Millennium Geospatial’s strategic initiatives that are resulting in data-driven solutions throughout the country. Kevin spent time in the US Army (Infantry). He has a BS in Geography from the University of Minnesota. He earned his Executive Leadership Certificate from the Wisconsin School of Business Center for Professional & Executive Development. He is married with a son, and is an avid fly fisherman. For more information, visit https://millenniumgeospatial.com. Follow Millennium Geospatial on Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and YouTube.