Technician vs Engineer

There seems to be a lot of confusion regarding certain job levels in the IT field. Yes, we're talking about those who call themselves technicians and engineers.

The military has defined levels of operators. They are defined as 10-level, 20-level, and 30-level with 10 being the lowest and each subsequent level responsible to teach and train the previous into a deeper understanding of their job.

Let's define these levels as Tier-1, Tier-2, and Tier-3 and adopt this model for this discussion pertaining to technicians. T1, T2, and T3 for short.

A T1 technician is what we call an Operator/Maintainer. They operate existing and working equipment and keep it that way through routine maintenance. They are usually taught how to use established processes to carry out their tasks and aren't expected to do much outside of basic tasks and immediate customer support. A customer usually interfaces with a T1 technician first.

T1 technicians are usually restricted to direct customer issues such as Layer 2 switch port activation or resets, individual Layer 1 customer issues, and phone support.

A T2 technician is a senior T1 technician who utilizes experience to provide troubleshooting support to the organization. A T1 technician elevates unresolved issues to T2 personnel for assistance, and a T2 technician trains T1 on improving efficiency of tasks and new standards as they are published. T2 technicians usually handle all Layer 2 customer issues and maybe some Layer 3 ACL issues.

T3 technicians use their vast experience to easily troubleshoot most problems. This comes easier to a T3 tech because they have been around longer and therefore have experienced more. A T3 technician is usually the one who administers the Layer 3 portion of a network and rarely gets involved in Layer 2 issues outside of spanning-tree.

But this is the main difference between a technician and an engineer. A technician troubleshoots a problem based upon their reservoir of previous experiences, whereas an engineer digs into what is really going on.

Let's explain. A technician gets a call that a link is down between two switches. A technician will try to determine if the situation is similar to a previous situation to decide where to start the troubleshooting process. If this is an issue that the tech is familiar with they will quickly find the problem, however when they encounter a new problem never seen before they can quickly hit a brick wall in their efforts.

Most technicians will conclude that the Layer 2 link is good between two switches if the external link status lights are green and the interfaces show up and up. A technician may even look at the port configuration to determine if the trunk contains the right vlan information.

An engineer however, always starts the troubleshooting process from the ground up. Instead of relying upon symptoms to guess the solution they dig into the ones and zeros of a problem to determine ground truth. Sometimes this takes longer than a technician to find the issue, but they almost always find the solution where as a technician may not.

In the previous scenario with the switches an engineer will want to see the spanning-tree topology and root bridges, vlan database, and debug outputs before saying a link is good and looking at a different cause of the issue.

I can't recall how many times I was brought into a troubleshooting issue behind someone else and went off into the wrong direction because of where they led me and told me they had already done! Not any more, every issue gets worked on from the ground up. Layer 1, Layer 2, Layer 3 and beyond without moving on unless it is proven to not be the issue through a 'show' command, debug, or wireshark capture.

This system has served me well but admittedly gets on the nerves of other technicians who are constantly giving me the, "I checked that and did that already!" speech.

As technicians grow in their skillset and craft they should transition into more of an engineering approach to troubleshooting. An engineer is methodical and tedious in their approach paying great attention to detail.

While technicians primarily focus on existing networks and their customers, engineers tend to doc s on projects, upgrades, and improvements. A good organization will have a close relationship between their technicians and their engineers working hand in hand on both current issues and projects. Should we all live be in such a perfect world!

#Management #Technicians #Engineers #Career