Advice for the AV Newb

dawn-avnewb-0212I know that, in past articles and blogs, I have been a big proponent of industry education – because education is the key to success and advancement in the AV world. However, not all education is created equal, and not all education comes from a webinar or textbook. In fact, the best education, the most valuable education you can get in this industry is hands-on and tech-heavy.

Now, you are saying to yourself, “Tech-heavy? This is a tech industry! Everything is tech-heavy!” Well, yes and no. We definitely have some really beefy courses out there on elbow-deep-into-the-rack install stuff, and then there are the more theoretical and academic courses. To be the most versatile, most employable AV Pro you can be, you need to take both types of courses, as well as working hands-on in the field on real live equipment, even if you are ultimately a marketing or sales person.

At InfoComm this year, I had the pleasure to meet a couple of young men who were college students attending the show to see what sort of careers were available to them in the AV world. When talking with them, I gave them the following advice — take advantage of your summer break and holiday breaks from school and get some hands-on education by working for a local AV company. Find a small integrator or rental/staging house and ask for a temporary job in the install department. Heck, volunteer to do it for free or minimal student wages, if you can afford it! Just get out there and learn how to crimp ends, how to pull cable, how to build a rack and why you shouldn’t put the amplifier at the top. This ‘AV Basics for Dummies’ education will give you a base of knowledge that, at the very least, will assure that you can get a job as a tech with any AV company.

Beyond that, however, the education track that most AV Pro-hopefuls should pursue, if looking for a career with employability and advancement possibilities, is that of the design engineer. Learn the tech basics, then take classes on design. InfoComm’s Design Online, and its CTS-D prep course bootcamp are excellent examples of this sort of education.  Supplement that with some manufacturer specific courses on some widely used pieces, and perhaps some Syn-Aud-Con classes or NSCA coursework, and you will be a well-rounded and well-educated designer able to find work, while all your less tech-heavy pals will still be looking. And, if you can actually take the CTS-D exam and pass it? You can write your own ticket in many areas!

True story: Mr. AVDawn and I worked together for most of our AV careers. He only has about one more year experience than I do in the industry. However, Mr. AVDawn started his AV career as a tech, pulling cable, building racks and drilling holes. I came into the industry via marketing, by doing a freelance web design project for an AV integrator that eventually hired me outright to work in its marketing and sales department. As the years went by, Mr. AVDawn took the tech-heavy courses and worked his way up from tech, to lead tech, to designer, to lead design engineer. I worked my way up from marketing freelancer, to marketing and sales drone, to director of marketing and AV sales. We both got our CTS certifications. Then, after 13-14 years working together for the same company, Mr. AVDawn and I left the firm.

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Mr. AVDawn sent out four resumes, got four interviews, got four offers (all higher than his end salary at the first firm) and left for greener pastures. He got his CTS-D and subsequently wrote his own ticket into a quite lucrative senior AV implementation engineer job for a government contractor. On the other hand, I sent out many resumes and went on many interviews, only to find that the majority of the AV positions being filled in this region (like many regions) are tech and design jobs. I can’t tell you, over the past few months, how often I’ve heard, “Wow. You’re really well qualified in the AV field… but we’re looking for someone with a bit more technical background…” or “design background…” or whatever. In fact, I was outright told by three different potential employers that I was second choice — right behind the person with the tech-heavy skills.

It’s rather disconcerting to have a masters degree, industry certifications and over a decade in a field and being told that you just aren’t as qualified as a guy who has no degree (not even a bachelor’s, in many cases!) and equivalent experience, but in a slightly different area of the industry. And that darned CTS-D. So, I’m sharing this wisdom with all the AV newbs out there — even if you are more sales-y or market-y, even if you’ve never considered yourself ‘the engineer type,’ even if you think you’ll NEVER use it in your current position — look out for your long-term career and make sure your education includes hands-on, tech-heavy courses. Go to the ‘optional’ manufacturer training your boss is sending the techs to. Volunteer to help build racks and pull cable or to put together some CAD/Visio drawings in your spare time to help out the overworked tech and design staff. Get these skills and hone them and you will never want for a job. Our industry is gaining new interest and new competitors every day. IT companies and security companies are encroaching and poaching jobs from AV integrators, yet across the board, ALL of these companies need highly qualified design engineers, preferably with a CTS-D. You could be that guy (or gal!), so don’t shortchange yourself.

In the meantime, I’m still sending out resumes, still taking classes (in industry courses and to finish my second master’s degree, an MBA), writing and blogging for rAVe and doing as many freelance marketing/social media consulting gigs as I can to stay busy and active in the industry.  Anyone need some help?  😉

To learn find those awesome, tech-heavy courses I recommend (and wish I’d taken years ago!), visit http://www.infocomm.org  and click on “Education.” You can also check out NSCA, Syn-Aud-Con and any of your major AV manufacturers who offer general and equipment-specific training.

Dawn Meade, CTS – also known as AVDawn – is an industry veteran with experience in integration, AV sales, and social media. You can find her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/avdawn and on her AV tech blog. Reach her at dawn@ravepubs.com