Technology Blog

Becoming a Wireless Engineer

by ‎04-29-2013 10:00 AM

            Hanging out with my friends the other day one of them asked “How can I become a Wireless Engineer?” As Wifi continues to boom more and more people are asking this question. They see the fun that us wireless engineers are having and the passion we have for what we do. I like what I do so much the only time it feels like work is when I have to do the documentation portion of the job, the paperwork lol.

 

                There are several types of people wanting to become wireless engineers. The two most common types are Network Admins who know their way around a network and Network newbies. These newbies are people that want to jump straight into wireless and do not have prior network experience. Most of the younger guys like myself fall into the second category because wireless is or will be their first real networking job.

 

                Following I will try to give a few pointers on how to become a wireless engineer. These pointers I will give are not necessarily easy but will increase your likelihood of getting that job you are looking for. These steps might not also be the “BEST” steps, but they were the steps I took non the less.

 

                If you are new to networking and may not have the experience yet to become a wireless engineer there is a few things you can do. I started off as an Access Point installer. If you do not mind getting your hands dirty and starting from the bottom then this is the way to get your foot in the door. I found this developmental partner directory page and emailed them one by one my resume and let them know I was looking for an installer position. This can also be done if you are skipping the installer step but you better have some experience and certification or they will not email you back.

 

                Once you get that installer job do not stop there. Most likely you will have a wireless engineer traveling with you on deployments. ASK HIM QUESTIONS! Hopefully if he is nice like most of us he will help you. My mentor during my installation jobs was Adam Glogovac. Adam worked with me after hours teaching me and answering any questions I had about the controllers or network configuration. Another thing that is good to do during your free time while travelling is studying. Order a few old controllers and APs off of Ebay and practice practice practice. One of the key thing to becoming an Aruba wireless engineer is to get some Aruba Certifications. ACMA and ACMP are the way to go to land that first engineering job. Aruba partners need a certain number of people with these certifications. Get them and you can easily email the companies in the directory above and obtain a job.

 

                One of the best key things to do is people networking. Meet as many people as possible. Talk to them. Express you passion for becoming a wireless engineer. A good place to meet people is twitter. Keith Parsons has a great tutorial on how to get into the twitter WLAN world here. Don’t just look at that link, he has a ton of great things on his website.

 

                Once you are on twitter and talking to people, ask questions. Marcus Burton, who use to work for CWNP now works for Ruckus Wireless, would let me email him any questions and he would replay with elaborate answers. Very nice guy and helped me a ton! Most of us on twitter are the same, ask us questions. We will help as much as we can. Just don’t ask the same question twice ;-)

 

                On top for the Aruba cert I highly recommend getting the knowledge capable to pass the CWNA exam by CWNP. It would be nice to even have this knowledge before you work on a customer’s WLAN… they would greatly appreciate it. I did not go in this path and I am ashamed at some of my first deployments lol. After you land that first wireless job do not stop there either. While traveling, you have plenty of hotel time to further your career. What I did while traveling was after work, go to a quit spot and study for CWDP/SP/AP exams. The knowledge in the books will help you tremendously. 

 

Hard Work, Determination, And Drive will get you to wherever you want to go. No excuses! Just do it ;-)

 

I would love to hear your story on how you became a Wireless Engineer and if you have any other tips for new commers.

Comments
Aruba Aruba

Sean is right on about asking questions.

 

The most powerful question you can ask if you're trying to learn wireless is this - "why?".  

 

"Why" is your ticket to the deepest levels of radio, RF and all the hardware and software that makes it work.  Never stop asking "why".   As you get each answer, you'll find out a handful of new things that make you ask "why" all over again.  Keep asking it as you go deeper.

 

Using Sean's example.  Let's say you start out hanging APs every 20 meters.  Why 20 meters?

 

That question takes you into PHY data rates and SNR.  OK, well what is a data rate and why do PHY rates depend on SNR?

 

That question takes you into modulations.  OK, what is a modulation and why does 802.11 use six of them?

 

That question takes you into bit encoding at the air interface.  OK, how many bits can be sent in a single instant of time, and  why do different modulations allow more bits to be sent instantaneously?

 

That question takes you into constellations.  OK, what is a constellation and why does changing the phase or amplitude of a signal allow the radio to create a grid of separate bit positions?

 

That question takes you into radio carriers.  OK, what is a radio carrier exactly and why does altering the power or timing of an alternating polarity current produce an RF wave?

 

That question gets you into both radio design and antennas.  What is a radio "chain" exactly and why does connecting a specially shaped length of conducting metal to it radiate an RF wave?

 

That question gets you into antenna design and resonance.  What is a resonant frequency and why does a certain length of conductor work for one frequency but not another?

 

That question gets you into wavelengths and bands, and so on and so on and so on...

 

 

Depending on your personal areas of interest, you can ride the "why" train for as far as you want to go.  Some people take just a few stops, others never get off the train.

 

At each of my example levels above, you could probably ask a dozen different "why" questions and fork a different track.

 

The point is that everything in wireless has a reason behind it.  And wireless is many many many layers of different technologies integrated together seamlessly.  Peel one layer and find a whole different layer underneath with new reasons behind it.  

 

If you can ask and explain why, then you understand these reasons.  That is what allows you to be a good engineer and to have the confidence that your technical designs will perform as you and your customers expect.

 

 

 

 

For me the journey to Wi-Fi engineer started by accident.

 

When .11g first appeared I took the job of testing some newfalngled HP-420 APs At the time I basically knew:-

 

  • that you used channels 1, 6 and 11
  • You had problems deploying in 3D cos of this

Soon we had about 50 of the devices installed around my place of work. I even knew where some of them were!

 

Then, in 2008-9 we underwent a mega network refresh and acquired a whole bunch of Aruba kit, with the aim of deploying pervasive 802.11n as soon as it was ratified.  Naturally, as I'd dabbled with Wi-Fi I took charge of this with another colleague. 

 

At this point I can say that I still didn't really know much about Wi-Fi. I knew about 5GHz - that there were very few devices which used it, but it would sort out this lack of channels milarky. 

 

Then I discovered the CWNP program over at Lever technologies here in UK and went on the CWNA training.  My colleague attended first, and I followed. 

 

As much as I hate the phase:-

 

OMG

 

It was like a light had opened up into this amazing world of RF Stuff. (To use a technical phase).  I was immediately interested by the complexities involved with making the stuff work, and more to the point, the amount of stuff I ddin't know and probably should!

 

And some point in between then and now, I think I became a proper Wi-Fi engineer.

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