Career / Career Progression

Moving Up in the NOC: Technician to Engineer

by Steve Schwettman
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Published on January 8, 2020

The good news is that rapid advancement may be possible in many NOCs. The first step is to observe your organization's employment structure and what it takes to get promoted.

You may find that your NOC follows a seniority-based promotion path. If that's the case, there may be no choice but to wait it out. However, most companies offer options for career-minded techs to jump the line. You aim to stand out as someone who doesn't just show up to work.

The NOC's senior technical positions involve more deeply in the inner workings of network operations and the company's IT infrastructure as a whole. The surest way to get consideration for these positions is to take a more profound stand within your role.

Identify Your NOC's Shortcomings (and Fix Them)

If you're a newcomer, it probably won't take long before you recognize some weak spots in the NOC's monitoring and resolution processes—these present opportunities to move up and increase your value. However, avoid assuming you must work for a bunch of incompetents. Problems in the NOC are usually due to the essential nature of information technology. Rapid progress in IT means that the NOC is constantly struggling to stay ahead of the curve.

There are a few common areas where improvements can usually be made:

  • Monitoring: Is your NOC monitoring all of the endpoints and processes it should be, or have infrastructure flaws infiltrated faster than the engineers can keep pace? It's impossible to discover an insight that the NOC isn't even monitoring for.

  • Diagnostics: When monitoring uncovers a symptom, diagnosis pinpoints the disease. A rapidly evolving NOC can easily misdiagnose or even ignore important metrics.

  • Knowledge base: A NOC's decision-making process is guided by its knowledge base. Incidents are often poorly documented or omitted entirely, resulting in redundancy and ill-conceived solutions.

  • Escalation: A well-tuned escalation structure is central to any NOC or help desk. It prevents the high-level engineers from being overwhelmed with requests, allowing the lowest tier to handle as many issues as possible. Equally important, issues shouldn't needlessly kill time among the lower tiers when they cannot handle them.

Automation is the key to making technical improvements in any of these areas. The NOC naturally becomes more proactive by identifying the predictable and configuring systems to take the necessary action, freeing techs to discover deeper insights.

Although many areas can be improved in your NOC, try to keep things simple. Your attitude can make the difference between someone destined to move up and someone considered an annoyance. Try not to act as if you want to rebuild the entire operation. Instead, start with a tiny issue at a time and work on it until it's resolved.

Seek NOC Engineer Training: Scripting, Automation

We've mentioned that IT systems constantly evolve, creating the demand for the NOC to keep pace. This continual march means that knowledge gaps can sometimes open in new areas, creating opportunities for techs who want to move up. It's common for NOCs to operate a step or two behind the tide in areas of programming and scripting, automation tools, data science, or database monitoring and optimization.

While this lag time is present in many organizations, it's particularly true in fast-moving companies, as the demands on IT outpace the NOC architects' ability to respond with appropriate monitoring, diagnostics, and resolutions.

Identifying such a knowledge gap can be an excellent opportunity to develop sorely needed skills. Making yourself indispensable is a sure path to job security! For instance, if you need more advanced programming and scripting skills, you may find that learning Python or Perl can jumpstart your career in NOC architecture and engineering.

Likewise, exploring the intricacies of automation tools such as Ansible or Chef/Puppet can drastically reduce the monotony of manual work required to resolve an issue.

If you go down the training (and possibly certification) path, keep your supervisor in the loop. There may already be a solution for the problem you're trying to solve. Communication is critical during this process. But with your boss's blessing, you may find plenty of opportunities to advance your position through training.

Find Workable Solutions

Nobody likes a whiner. If you think you'll move up by continually pointing out weaknesses, prepare to be sorely disappointed. Instead, you'll want the knowledge and skills to identify a plausible course of action when you report a problem to management.

This doesn't mean you have to iron out every detail before you report an issue; indeed, that would take far too long and lead to inefficiencies. You should, however, have an educated sense of how the problem could be solved. Here's an example:

A network on a large college campus was overwhelmed with traffic at certain times of the day, and the complaints were rolling in. Operations techs had monitored these overloads for some time, but unfortunately, the problem was undiagnosed or resolved. A recent hire pinpointed the cause as excess client-server traffic that occurred during the end of computer lab courses.

By studying the configuration of lab PCs and their server, the tech took the initiative to write a custom logout script that reduced traffic to the server by 95%. Solving this problem earned the new tech a rapid promotion.

Get Others on Board: Soft Skills

You don't want to go rogue in your pursuit of NOC perfection. Moving up from technician to engineer requires soft skills and technical talent, and the lines of communication must stay open. Your first point of contact should be your supervisor. They can ensure that any improvements you want to make are routed through the proper channels.

Unfortunately, in some situations, your boss isn't receptive to your ideas. As tempting as it might be, going over or around your supervisor's head can do more harm than good, so tread lightly!

In this scenario, the best way to get noticed is to pause your efforts on the NOC and instead focus on improvements you can make at your workstation to do your job more efficiently. If you achieve results beyond your peers, you will get noticed. Patience and diligence will serve you well in the long run.

Suppose you present a problem/solution scenario to your supervisor, and they like your idea. In that case, you will likely be put in touch with NOC engineers or architects to work out the implementation details. Once you've gone through the motions a few times, your super may eventually give you free rein to interact with the senior NOC Engineers at will. Pat yourself on the back!

Final Thoughts

IT pros always seem to be on the move. When a position opens on a higher rung of the ladder, it's common for supervisors to take some time to consider their workforce, sorting the dedicated pros from those who are just there to punch the clock.

Current employees with demonstrated knowledge and aptitude will be first considered for promotion from within. By taking the initiative, you can set the stage for rapid career advancement. The sky's the limit!


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