Where is your job headed? An interactive feature

Will your job be around five years from now? If so, how different will the work be?

The technologies that course through the network are changing dramatically, demanding entirely different skill sets and expertise. What was Sonet and ATM is becoming Ethernet. What was a central office (CO) is becoming a data center, a video hub, a content cache. So what about the people that work there?

In a 2008 Telephony story on the central office of the future, Verizon’s vice president of network architecture Stuart Elby told me, “I don’t have a sophisticated IT force in every CO, and I can’t envision doing that. That’s just too much retraining to say, ‘OK, you’re not going to work on a cross-connect anymore, you’ll manage a Sun server.’”

Entirely separate categories of products are merging, requiring the expertise of completely distinct tribes to master a single box. Routers come with optical components. Switches are integrated into blade servers. And Ethernet is comingling with legacy traffic and multiplexed wavelengths in the same box.

And it’s not just about migrating from one technology to the next. Regardless of where it sits in the network, one of the features network equipment vendors most consistently promote is their products’ ability to reduce labor expenses by eliminating either people or tasks (and if you eliminate enough tasks, you can eliminate people). Whether it’s ROADMs, passive optical networks, automated patch panels or even cross-country optical provisioning, the gear is all being designed to reduce the need for people.

At the same time, equipment vendors are increasingly taking over network operations. As part of an outsourcing deal last year, Embarq network operators became Nokia Siemens employees, and their fiber installers left that task to Corning. Across the ocean, meanwhile, BT employees became Alcatel-Lucent employees in a similar deal.

What does this all mean for the future of jobs in the telecom business?

Telephony is launching an interactive feature (like this one) to address these questions, and we need your help. Post your thoughts on this subject in the comments section below, and we will include the most thoughtful ones in an upcoming cover feature in Telephony’s print magazine. (See, we’re outsourcing labor, too.) My colleagues are each focusing on a piece of this puzzle; here’s mine: How are equipment vendors – through the evolving technology in their products and their evolving role in carrier operations – changing the future of the telecom job market? How are they changing the expertise and skill sets needed? And how will today’s telecom workforce respond?

We want to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below. And then get back to work.

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