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How I Became A Project Support Engineer

Connor Whiteside is responsible for ensuring the smooth installation of our larger clients phone system projects. Recently we caught up with Connor to discuss how he became a Project Support Engineer at Rainbow.

Give a brief outline of your career to date.

I joined Rainbow in August 2010 as an apprentice telecoms engineer. I completed my training and progressed into a full time position as an engineer in 2013. On my first week I asked my manager for some advice, to which he replied “pick a system and be an expert at it”. From then on, amongst other things, I focused on cloud based systems which has since become my area of expertise. I progressed as an engineer for the next 5 years installing systems, fixing faults and training organisations in their new cloud based telephony systems as well as fellow team members. Early last year I was lucky enough to obtain the position of Project Support Engineer.

What was your favourite subject at school?

I loved English, History and Technology. My interest in English & History came from reading many books as a child, something I haven’t had as much time for since leaving school. However Technology was always something that appealed to me as I like the process of understanding how things work. Being able to design something from the ground up came naturally to me which I think goes hand in hand with what I do today.

Did you go on to further/higher education, if so what did you study and where?

I got accepted back into school for A levels, but after a few days I dropped out (much to my Mum’s disappointment) to pursue an NVQ in Electrical Engineering at SERC in Newtownards.

How did you get into your area of work?

As part of my apprenticeship programme we were required to attend a placement 3 days a week. I checked in the local paper and saw Rainbow Communications were looking for apprentices. I came in for an interview and got the job the same day.

Is this what you always wanted to do?

I had my sights set on being a teacher for the majority of my school life. This soon changed when I realised I’d need to complete another 6 years of school/university. I’ve always had a keen interest in IT & Technology which led me to where I am now.

Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?

Not strictly speaking, however my electrical engineering background did lend itself to the fault finding processes involved. Experience is generally obtained on the job, in my case I shadowed the more experienced engineers until I picked up enough knowledge to go out on my own. Once you’re seen to be competent your employer will normally send you on the relevant training course depending on which systems they sell and maintain.  With the shift in technology over the last few years, a background in IT would be a good place to start, project management experience would also be beneficial but in my case this has come through on-the-job training.

Are there alternative routes into the job?

Most people would probably find themselves in a similar situation to mine. Starting off as a system installer or desk-based faults engineer. Here you can gather knowledge and understanding of the company’s products & processes and most importantly build a good reputation with your team and customers.

What are the main personal skills your job requires?

The role is varied and requires a wide range of skills. In the beginning, problem solving was the big one. Along the way I’ve had to incorporate good communication and organisational skills. Customer service plays a huge part in what we do. As part of this I have to be able to accurately communicate the customers’ needs and their expectations of the business and vice versa.

What does a typical day entail?

My days include coordination of key installation projects from point of sale through to completion. I provide technical pre-sales support to the sales team, account managers and customers. This can include site surveys of customer premises as well as pre and post sales meetings which allow us to gain an understanding of the customers’needs and any improvements we could make going forward, this helps ensure a high standard of customer service. In my spare time I assist in technical support, responding to customer faults and queries. The training of customers and internal staff is also a key part of my role.

What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?

Always learning something new is the best part of my job. The communications industry is constantly evolving and the technology seems to progress every week. Just when you think you know it all something new comes out! This is also the most challenging aspect of the job; if you don’t keep up with new technology it can be very easy to get left behind.

Why is what you do important?

The success of our installations is vital. Even the smallest mistake or misunderstanding somewhere along the line could result in delays or even worse, a loss of service. I liaise between the internal departments and Rainbow customers to ensure we deliver a solution that meets their needs. Along the way I am constantly checking the feasibility of the project based on the requirements of the job. In a way I suppose I act as a translator, breaking down the terms and services into a language the customer can understand.

What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?

I would advise anybody that’s interested to give it a go! There are so many roles within the telecoms industry, I couldn’t have predicted where I would have ended up when I first started out which just goes to show the variety of roles and possibilities available.

If you weren’t doing this what would you like to do?

My first work experience was teaching in a local primary school. I guess if I had the choice I’d quite like to be a history teacher! Most people probably won’t see that coming.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?

Get a haircut, anyone that knew me when I started Rainbow would definitely agree.

Describe your ideal day off.

I’m a man of simple tastes, my days off are nothing to shout about. I like to go to the gym and if I can squeeze in somewhere nice to eat and drink I’m happy!

And finally, what’s the key to any successful job search?

I’ve only had two “real” jobs since I’ve left school. But in my limited experience I would say three things. Firstly a good CV, this will get your foot in the door. There’s plenty of websites that can help with that. Secondly, though I think more importantly, is to have a positive can-do attitude when it comes to the interview. Employers want to see you’re prepared to go the extra mile to help out. Thirdly, demonstrate your interest in the role, show that you have researched the company and ask plenty of questions if you get the chance.

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