All of us want to be online all the time and connect everything to the Internet, and so ‘the cloud’ has to be in perfect shape. Our sector is in need of good engineers that know how to keep the Internet online.
A lot of students want to work in ICT, but don’t fully understand what it entails. A little while ago I spoke with a teacher of a local school. She told me that a lot of her students want to work in ICT, since it pays so well. The booming sector! This is the image that they have of our job nowadays: work on a flashy computer, write some code and get loads of money.
Being an engineer at an ISP is much more than that. It is a craft, which requires technical skills, experience and know-how. The cloud is a virtual concept, but where do you think that cloud runs? Surprise: it runs on complicated physical infrastructure that needs to be monitored and maintained. To the end user a migration from one server to another may be transparent, but to us it brings a physical component with it – racks that need to be moved or switches and cables replaced.
It also requires managerial skills: time management and planning. With the demand of being online all the time, downtime needs to be limited to the shortest period possible and if downtime is unavoidable, it has to be at times when the demand is at its lowest. For the Netherlands that means that a lot of the work will be at night. This can take a toll on you, if you don’t manage the time well.
At big ISPs, a project manager is in charge of all this. Planning the maintenance, sending people to work on the hardware. And with a twenty-four seven Network Operations Centre, you can plan everything very well in advance – small tasks can be simply done at a planned time. For a smaller company like us, it is a bit harder. When one of us works at night, the next day he would likely be less productive, because he has worked all night already. Also we need to plan our other work around the nights in which we perform work on our own network or our customers’.
So, while building the cloud may look like a flashy, well-paid job to the uninitiated and a lot of the work is indeed done with a nice computer from the comfort of a desk during the day, it also requires to be a hands-on engineer, physically working on the infrastructure of the cloud, working nights and being able to really manage your time and act when an incident occurs. This is what makes you a true craftsman and able to manage the cloud – so the rest of the world doesn’t have to.