Finding the right job in broadband

Broadband is an industry as vast as the internet that it enables. But for how essential it is to the world we live in today, most don’t think too heavily about the infrastructure behind their constantly connected devices. And moreover, most are unaware of the rising opportunities to work on that infrastructure. 

From fiber splicing to climbing cell towers, there is a high demand for telecom workers right now. Not only do many of these jobs provide a great living (without $80,000 dollars of school debt) but they also offer rewarding opportunities to travel, work outdoors and help communities become and stay connected.    

Of course, there are a lot of moving pieces to keeping the world connected, and that means there are a lot of different roles in broadband — all with varying day-to-day qualities, conditions and tasks.  

Here are a few areas to consider while you evaluate what jobs might be right for you:  

The outdoor office, rain or shine 

Many field-oriented roles (which are in high demand) will mean your cubical is the great outdoors.  

Whether it’s pouring rain or a hot, humid day, you’ll likely still be out working, whether it’s on a cell tower or installing fiber. This is an important condition to assess as it can be a constant for physically-focused jobs in the industry. Broadband construction is particularly demanding as it can mean physically exhausting tasks on top of changing weather conditions.   

But just as the outdoors means working with the elements, it can equally mean fresh air, remote locations and views. If you’re someone who loves being outside, there are several broadband roles that could be extremely fulfilling.   

And if the outdoor office isn't for you, roles such as network technicians, broadband drafters, network architects and software engineers are not always required to be outside, rain or shine.  

Reaching new heights  

Some roles will demand not just getting comfortable working outside, but also with heights.  

This may mean working on structures from 30 feet to 300 feet above the ground, and plenty can be higher (with some larger towers reaching heights of over 1,000 feet).   

Whether you’re scaling a cell tower to troubleshoot a network failure or climbing a utility pole to lay fiber cables, it’s an essential quality to be able to keep a steady hand and calm nerves under these conditions — and that includes weather. Because of this, there is an obvious safety priority in training for roles like these, but it remains a personal preference as to whether you can work in these conditions.   

For many, the idea may onset some intense heebie-jeebies, but for others — it’s freedom. Take the words of these cell tower technicians from the video, “A Day in the Life of a Tower Tech,” developed from the documentary Vertical Freedom:   

"When you get up there, you get a heavenly moment,” said one technician. “Every climb is a great one." 

The network nomad   

While the process of installation, troubleshooting and repairing may continue to be a backbone of the job, working successfully as a telecom technician doesn’t look the same every day — and that often means changing up the location. 

Whether you’re perched at the top of a cell tower in the lush green of the northwest or laying fiber cables in the heat of the south, your work doesn’t end with the network of your neighborhood. The infrastructure that supports internet connection throughout the US is vast, and it constantly means traveling where the trouble is.  

Traveling as a telecom tech requires a strong sense of independence and flexibility. And beyond the varying work and weather conditions, you need a willingness to embrace change in the industry as whole.  

As Brian Stading, a former fiber technician and now CEO, told Broadband Nation, “If you're looking for something that is going to be the same forever, this is the wrong industry for you. It's constant change, and you got to be willing to grow and evolve and continue to learn.” 

For those eager for a fresh everyday work life, it can be a paradise profession. And people who are perpetual learners are sure to set themselves up not just for a summer job, but a lucrative career.  

And traveling for a career in broadband isn’t always paired with working outside. 

For example, Angel Benally lives on the Navajo Nation and is the Tribal Affairs Specialist at FirstNet. Not only does her job rely on broadband connection she didn’t first have when she started, her entire career is focused on helping bring connection to underserved Indigenous communities. She travels throughout the country, working with different Tribal Nations while also being able to work from home.  

“Everything I do is working with Tribal Nations, bringing them connectivity, and that's so rewarding,” she told Broadband Nation. “I get to wake up every day and feel like I'm actually making a difference.” 

For those who prefer staying close to home, there are still options as well. Broadband drafters, for instance, work on detailed technical drawings and plans for various installations and maintenance of telecom infrastructure, and much of their work can be done remotely with limited need for travel depending on the employer and customer base.  

A trade for those who love tangible tasks and tools  

Ever experienced that blast of gratification from completing a hands-on task? That Lego-mentality of piecing together a puzzle? That type of reward system is at the heart of a lot of telecom work. 

People who enjoy getting to problem solve, tend to tangible issues and see them through are likely to be fulfilled in many areas of this industry. These may include working as a fiber technician, a cell tower technician or as a construction worker (though it's important to note that construction can also be very physically demanding). 

This hands-on interaction with technology also means familiarizing yourself with tools — broad and specialized. From fusion splicers to fiber strippers, "learning how to use tools is a must," as Kelly Weissmann, a fiber technician veteran and training director at Clearfield, told us in an interview. And different jobs will present their own niche set of required tools and equipment to work with.

While telecom technicians and construction workers primarily deal with the physical aspects of the infrastructure, network architecture plays an equally critical role in ensuring broadband connection. Tackling issues like optimizing data flow or troubleshooting connection hiccups, network technicians must problem solve from a systematic perspective that complements the hands-on problem solving of many fiber and tower technicians.  

Regardless of what area you work in, a unique reward to completing a task in telecom is that you help people stay connected — whether that’s for a simple movie night or for someone connecting to a job that supports their family.  

A people person’s profession  

When it comes to working in broadband, the technical aspects may be the first thing to come to mind, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle. A big part of broadband is actually connecting with people.  

While the most obvious position demanding this skill is for broadband customer service, it actually plays a primary part in a range of roles. For many telecom technicians, you will be expected to interact with customers, both residential and commercial.  

You ultimately act as both a technician and representative of the broadband group you work with. And like any customer-facing role, that means being able to listen to their concerns and offer solutions, even when “customers are never happy,” as Mears Broadband’s CEO put it. A cell tower tech may likely have less face time with customers than a fiber splicer working directly in peoples’ homes, but it will still be an expectation that you can interact and communicate well.   

Connecting with people is part of the job, but it can also be what makes it the most rewarding, as you get to see the impact of your work.  

One woman working as a splicer with OnDemand said, “You have some people coming up to you, and they act like you’re a live saver” in bringing back peoples’ broadband connections. “It makes you feel good because people actually do see your work, and they come up to you, and they appreciate you.”  

Another fiber expert from Clearfield, Brian Schrand, told us about a time when a hurricane swept through Florida and wiped out numerous broadband infrastructures.   

“We would get on a plane with all of our tools and fly to Florida and start building a network,” he said. “And since we were all educated to the same standard, we built networks for all these people that lost everything. To me, there’s no job more rewarding than that... It’s been the best career I’ve ever had. It’s a very small community, but we support one another.”