What Every Wireless Engineer Needs to Know

As I’ve stumbled my way through the wireless industry, I have asked a number of questions.  But one question has plagued me in my day jobs, in my studies and in my testing and lab:

“What do I need to know?”

But this question isn’t just limited to the next wireless certification, it’s also a guideline of where I need to invest my personal effort in order to be a great wireless engineer.  I’ve tried to boil down what I’ve needed to know to make it in this business.

Know Thy PHY:

We’re wireless engineers, and the physical layer is a crucial concept to understand.  Knowing how wireless works, the mechanisms and the details of how this magic is achieved is fundamental to being able to design, implement and troubleshoot wireless networks.

Know Thy Equipment:

Here is where the rubber meets the road.  You can have a “vendor neutral” certification, but you can’t have a vendor neutral network.  Each product has its own interpretation of the standard and methodology of how they achieve their results.  Understanding this is crucial, because you wouldn’t design SCA the way you would MCA.

Know Thy Process:

The process is how you are going to get to a where you are going.  Troubleshooting a network?  There’s a process that gets you to where you know what’s wrong.  Designing a network? There’s a process there as well.  Notice I didn’t say “standard” process.  I believe that if you know the process, understand its intricacies, you also know when you can cheat on the process, skip steps and continue to be successful.  Also, the process that works for you may not work for me.  See Also “Know They Self”

Know Thy Tools:

The tools are how we implement the process, and impose limitations on that process. Taking a packet capture?  Better know how your tool works, the limitations of that tool, as well as how to use that tool.  Failure to understand these concepts can lead you down the wrong path, and assumptions about what the data these tools generate actually mean.

Know Thy Users:

Users are the consumers of our network.  Knowing how they intend to use the network and the devices they bring.  User behavior can invalidate assumptions made, leading to gaps between intended use and actual use.  Often there is a big divide between wireless pros and common users.  Understand the difference and sometimes this means talking and interacting with users.

Know Thy Self:

This is a big one, and one that I think is often overlooked.  Self awareness is an important skill.  Knowing how you learn, knowing how you work, knowing what you need to do to be successful.  Also, knowing your biases and your limits really helps you get past some of them, or at least keep them from hurting your career.

It’s totally ok to spend a lot of time early in your career focused on getting your CWNE, or CCIE and trying to understand PHY and equipment.  But don’t forget about the other pieces.  Taking time to knowing the other aspects will help you become more well rounded, more relatable and overall a better engineer.

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