It was 24 years ago today that I walked into the Hamilton East Telephone Exchange to start my journey of discovery into the Telecommunications industry. The noisy background of this electromechanical environment was a shock for a 19 year old recent university dropout. My official title was Trainee Telephone Technician, my job was to make the tea, run cable jumpers on the main distribution frame to connect new customers (and disconnect customers who did not pay their bill) and fix the Senior Technicians lawn mower.
6-9 months later I was transferred as part of trainee rotation to the main Hamilton Telephone exchange in Caro St. One of my most memorable experiences was witnessing the incredible dedication, that still lives today, of the technical staff of this company as they dealt with NZ largest natural disaster in living memory. The 1987 Whakatane earthquake.
Oh, and in 1987 Telecom was born.
After a period installing PABX's, sometime in 1988 I started a 10 year education in Wide Area Networking. This started with installation and maintenance of analogue data systems for customers. My favourites were Huntly Coal mines and the Mangakino power station. This technology evolved to Digital Data Services (DDS) the forerunner of the Digital Services Transmission Network (DSTN) that still lives, just, today.
Remote working (via dialup) became a big part of my life when I joined the Network Management Centre (aka NCC aka NOC) after the most gruelling 90 minute interview of my life. I was one of the first to get a dedicated desk top personal computer with an IBM PS2 Model30. Running MSDOS3.1 and Windows 2.0 with 64K memory and 30Megsabytes of hard drive space was cutting edge. Sometime around 1990/1991 I got my first Mobile phone. It came in a suitcase with a curly cord.
Being responsible for the 24/7 operation and availability of the DSTN became an intense period as the role involved Unix/OS support as well as application and user support for the management platforms let alone being the management centres SME for this technology. Resetting passwords for shift workers at 3am was not uncommon aside from the usual OS/application maintenance stuff or the regular microwave, cable and fibre outages affecting this service. Service management was a big part of our lives where minimising customer impact was our greatest focus, above fault resolution.
1994 was were I started my international globetrotting with a month long trip to Milan, Italy, to scope a replacement for the management systems used to support the DSTN. Somewhere here I got my first laptop priced at around $14K. A year later I had two more trips to Milan for a total of nine weeks. Those who have been involved with software development and testing will appreciate the phrase "stessa merda giorno diversa". July 1995 saw me seconded to Wellington for "3-6months" (I'm still here) to lead the technical delivery of this project where I was responsible for system deployment, network design, functionality and user testing, database conversion (3 databases into 1), user training and final acceptance.
During '94 & 95 there was considerable industrial action which resulted in most of the staff at the time going on strike. A very stressful time for some parts of NZ with aggressive picket lines and blockades of various buildings. The administration manager of the NOC brought in several boxes of Watties Baked Beans in case those of us "scabs" working got stranded inside the building. Lucky for everyone the Hamilton picketers were not in anyway aggressive, to the point that they actually entered the building to get the tea trolley at morning tea time. Luck for them as my American Football team offered to cross any picket lines to ensure that I did not miss out on lunch.
Back in Wellington the next four years involved a number of Operational Support System (OSS) design and network deployments including multimillion dollar contract negotiations for a number of technologies including; Frame Relay, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM), and IP Core MPLS network. Somewhere in this time I became a Project Manager including Project Management Institute (PMI) training, but don't tell anyone:)
November 1999 gave me the opportunity to skip out on the farce that was Y2K and join the CDMA Mobile network deployment project. My job was to manage the delivery of all things Data related, including WAP Gateways and Online Portals not to mention the various Lucent technologies.
The last nine years have been a blur of all things Mobile where I have been involved in product development, network support, corporate sales, technology strategy, bespoke customer application development, international conference presenter, solution design, customer support, technology deployment/implementation, media relations, TUANZ presenter, vendor negotiation, guest university lecturer, author of international standards and lots of other stuff that escapes me right now.
What have I learnt on this journey;
logos and brand names come and go
executives come and go
no one is indispensable
it's the people that make the process work
you need to be a master of your own destiny
knowledge is power only if you share it
the value of institutional knowledge is not understood
the company will not fail because the frontline staff and engine room guys & gals won't let it
you can make a bigger difference that you can imagine
it's the relationships you build (and mend) that make the biggest difference
Have I ever wanted to work somewhere else - yes
Do I regularly have offers to work overseas for larger companies, more money, or both - yes
Do I get as frustrated as hell - yes
Why do I stay, simple, because I really really enjoy what I do, I get to do lots of different things, the people I get to work with are amazing and I get to be part of making a difference to the lives of New Zealanders.
So enjoy your day, thanks for taking the time to read this and know you make a difference.
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No one listens to me
Comment by freitasm, on 24-Sep-2009 14:37
"electromechanical environment "... Ah, nice noise!
Comment by David, on 24-Sep-2009 14:49
Thanks for sharing. Insightful and a good read. Cheers! :)
Comment by stevonz, on 24-Sep-2009 15:45
hehe I used to "tap" phones... ahhh they were the days
Comment by Dratsab, on 24-Sep-2009 16:53
Good read. And good to see someone sticking with "one" company for so long.
Comment by Nyssa Waters, on 24-Sep-2009 18:33
Great experential write up Neal - amazing past and this is why you are such an amazing source of knowledge!!! Rock Star!!! (PS Didnt know you were a Hamilton Boy, now it all comes together) hehe... -Nys (Hamilton Chick) xoxo
Comment by Brenda, on 24-Sep-2009 20:46
yet another awesome person who left hamiltron ;-)
Comment by johnr, on 24-Sep-2009 21:47
Tapping the old telephone boxes I had this down to a fine art and was quite proud of it....Nice read Neal
Comment by daman88, on 24-Sep-2009 23:40
Wow 24 years in Telecom -- You must be spending half of your life in there, You must be one of a God in Telco tech :D
I wonder how many more of you, like yourself in a company -- spending all of his/her life to serve :P
Comment by Balchy, on 25-Sep-2009 08:19
heh 24 years? you must almost be catching up to Lindasy Mills :)
Comment by Bung, on 25-Sep-2009 08:42
24 years might be unusual now but Telecom used to have people that had "retired" after 40 years to get their Govt. Super and then came back as double dippers.
NealR joined only about 5 years before Card pay phones were introduced. By then all the older ones "should" have been modified to stop tapping via the handset cradle.
Comment by Troy Albina, on 26-Sep-2009 01:45
Neal, great read! Caused me to review (quickly and in my head) my own long sojourn. I've only 16 years in Telecom, the remaining 9 in Defense Contracting but what a nice ride! Thanks for driving me to reflect.
Comment by Pramod, on 10-Oct-2009 05:07
Neal its really interesting and amazing story . You Rock !! Load of invaluable experience ..
Comment by Tony Skinner, on 2-Apr-2012 08:58
Excellent article Neal and sure brings back memories for me. I must say that I can relate to much of what you have written about. Now I know quite a lot more about you.