As networks evolve, so do the skill-sets needed to design, deploy and maintain them. More software skills are needed at all levels as automation plays a larger role in everything from radio frequency testing to how the network is monitored and managed. Networks are more software-defined than ever, and IT skills are in high demand. What skills are telecom employers seeking, and how can people augment their current skills?

RCR Wireless News reached out to Verizon’s Adam Koeppe, senior vice president of network technology and planning, to discuss how Verizon’s workforce needs are evolving. This interview was conducted via email and has been condensed and lightly edited.

Adam Koeppe, Verizon’s SVP of Network Technology and Planning

How are Verizon’s workforce needs evolving as we move into a more distributed, software-centric 5G world? What are the key drivers for those changes? 

The skills our Global Network and Technology professionals need have been evolving with our technology.  We have been leading the industry on virtualization from the core to the edge of our network.  The disaggregation and decoupling of the compute functions from the software  requires that our team has the skills to remotely manage our network regardless of software provider.  Whereas in the past, partnerships with vendors and familiarity with a certain type of hardware was paramount, expertise related to software defined networking, cloud networks, and artificial intelligence have become far more important.

What skills sets or certifications are you looking for (particularly in a network management/operations context) that perhaps weren’t as in-demand 4-5 years ago? 

Cloud certifications have gained increasing importance.  A combination of cloud-native and network-centric skills are of particular value in our environment.  Security certifications and skills continue to be in high demand as we protect the networks.  AI and ML certifications and skills are increasing in importance as we strive to increase our network’s ability to self-diagnose and self-heal. Our internal list of in-demand skills with short supply includes cloud infrastructure engineering, virtual network engineering, network software and systems integrators, machine learning data scientists, cloud-native software developers and security specialists, among others.

What kind of companies are you competing with for employees? (Other CSPs, webscale companies, systems integrators, etc.?) Has that changed at all over the past few years? 

Verizon is an exceptional place to work and we’re seeing candidates choose to work with the V-Team who historically would have worked at CSPs, cloud companies, etc.  There is always competition for the best people and that competition continues to heighten as we modernize our network and our approach to managing the network into a more cloud-centric and software-centric approach. As we continue on our 5G journey and beyond, this is an exciting time to be a part of Verizon. Our systems are only part of the equation – our people differentiate us in the industry and we’ve been able to bring in incredible talent to work on the most exciting projects in the world.

Are there specific new titles, positions or organizational structure within Verizon that you think are indicative of the evolution of the network?

We have seen an increase in positions focused on cloud, data and artificial intelligence, and security. There is always a need for RF Engineering, and now we see this skillset paired with computer science and cloud computing to help enable solution like virtual radio access networks.

What would your advice be to current telecom workers (especially with network engineering skills) who want to keep their skills current? 

My advice would be to embrace change and continuously update your skills.  As technologists, we must stay current.  There is a great deal of education out there in the form of courses, certifications, whitepapers, and other written material.  For those already in the field, embrace opportunities to move out of your comfort zone into a role that will build upon your skills. 

What would your advice be to people looking to get into the field of telecom? How can they best prepare themselves? 

“Telecom” has become a melting pot for all different types of technical aptitude, so first and foremost, don’t limit yourself. A cloud-native, network-centric background and technical education is valuable for those who are interested in joining the network team.  There are other ways to join and grow within the organization if someone doesn’t have that background.  We have network employees who joined the company as a customer service representative, gained familiarity with the business and our network, and ultimately successfully applied for a role within Global Network and Technology.

Looking for more discussion of the workforce needs in a 5G, software-centric network world? Keep an eye out for an editorial special report, coming next week!

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