Moving Up in the NOC: Technician to Engineer
The good news is that in many NOCs, rapid advancement may be possible. The first step is to simply 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 other choice but to wait it out. However, most companies offer options for career-minded techs to jump the line. Your goal is to stand out as someone who doesn't just show up to work.
The NOC's senior technical positions have a deeper involvement 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 deeper stand within your own 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 the temptation to assume you must work for a bunch of incompetents. Problems in the NOC are usually due to the basic nature of information technology. Rapid progress in IT means that the NOC is always 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 that 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. It's easy for a rapidly evolving NOC to misdiagnose or even ignore important metrics.
Knowledge base. A NOC's decision-making process is guided by its knowledgebase. All too often, incidents are poorly documented or omitted completely, 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 are not equipped to handle them.
The key to making technical improvements in any of these areas usually involves automation. By identifying the predictable and configuring systems to take the necessary action, the NOC naturally becomes more proactive, freeing techs to discover deeper insights.
Although there are likely many areas that can be improved upon in your NOC, try to keep things simple. Your attitude can make the difference between someone who is destined to move up versus someone who is considered an annoyance. Try not to act as if you want to rebuild the entire operation. Instead, start with one small issue at a time and work it until it's resolved.
Seek NOC Engineer Training: Scripting, Automation
We've mentioned that IT systems are constantly evolving, 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 simply outpace the NOC architects' ability to respond with appropriate monitoring, diagnostics, and resolutions.
If you identify such a knowledge gap, it can be a great opportunity to come up to speed on sorely needed skills. Making yourself indispensable is a sure path to job security! For instance, if there's a need for more advanced programming and scripting skills, you may find that learning Python or Perl can jumpstart your career into NOC architecture and engineering.
If you do choose to go down the training (and possibly certification) path, just be sure to keep your supervisor in the loop. There may already be a solution in the works for the problem you're trying to solve. Communication is critical during this process. But with your boss's blessing you may find that there are plenty of opportunities to advance your position through training.
Find Workable Solutions
Nobody likes a whiner. If you think you're going to move up by continually pointing out weaknesses, prepare to be sorely disappointed. Instead, you'll want to have 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 its own 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 being 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 it was a problem without a diagnosis or resolution. A recent hire pinpointed the cause as an excess of 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 as well as technical talent, and the lines of communication need to 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 you may find that 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! The best way to get noticed in this scenario is to pause your efforts on the NOC and instead focus on improvements you can make at your individual workstation to do your job more efficiently. If you are achieving results beyond those of your peers, you will definitely get noticed. Patience and diligence will serve you well in the long run.
If you present a problem/solution scenario to your supervisor and they like your idea, you will likely be put in touch with NOC engineers or architects to work out the details of implementation. 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. Give yourself a pat on the back!
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 who have demonstrated knowledge and aptitude will receive first consideration for promotion from within. By showing some initiative you can set the stage for rapid career advancement. The sky's the limit!