The Heroes of Technology

We hear the word hero a lot. Webster’s first definition is “a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character.” Their second definition is “a person, in the opinion of others, has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal.” When I read those definitions and relate them to our industry the team of people that leap out are our field techs. I have been in the commercial AV/IT industry in some capacity or another for over 15 years, I have been involved with A/V in general for well over 20 years. I have worked with all types of technicians from the pure installer to the “laptop tech” and I have always enjoyed the cult of personalities and commitment they bring to the table every day. Of course I have experienced my fair share of bad ones but the good ones far outweigh those that were not so great and often the ones who couldn’t make it in the field are now engineers, programmers, project managers or even sales guys. I have technicians that don’t want to be anything other than pure installers, I have others that don’t want to actually install anything but love to land/wire racks, configure intelligent devices, mock up the system, and take it the last mile.

The one consistent attribute I see every day is the passion, commitment, focus, skill and overall dedication to their trade. It’s a tough job, sometimes you are an electrician, wire puller, ceiling contractor, carpenter, metal smith, network engineer, programmer, troubleshooter, project manager, customer service representative, sales person, and a myriad of other things, sometimes many of those at the same time. As an engineer I like to pretend that I have designed this stellar solution and provided the field techs with all the info they need to execute at a high level. Yes, I can hear the laughter as I continue this sentence. I know we all have the best intentions but more often than not we are implementing solutions into environments that were not specifically designed to accommodate them. I get on my pulpit and preach about the environmental challenges and try to be aware of them but the fact is we don’t often know what is above the lay-in tiles, what is behind the walls, and what might impede the infrastructure we so cleverly designed into the build. Everyday these guys go out and make us look good, there might be some complaining along the way, but for the most part they figure out how to get it done. The guys that take the reins and lead, find solutions, make the client feel great, take pride, and build a fantastic result meet every criteria of those definitions of hero.

We face new challenges every day, week, month and year in this industry. I enjoy finding that balance of new “green” techs that love technology but aren’t necessarily experienced in what we do and throwing them in with the experienced guys and watching that come to fruition. I have 21 year old “fresh from school” techs that are brilliant in all things involving networking, computing, and devices in general. We never let them rest on that knowledge, we have to push them to learn the entire process from hanging a display to cutting in a ceiling speaker. I have had new techs tell me they don’t need to know that because they can already load and alter code, program a DSP, but I say to them you can never truly be a great trouble shooter until you have experience in installing from end to end. Observing the relationship between the “greenie” and the veterans would be a highly rated reality show if any producer had a clue. (As a sidebar, should any reality TV producer read this, check out our industry, if guys catching crabs is entertainment you should see our days.) Our service techs that go out each and every day calling on systems that should have been put in the circuit board grave yard years ago keeping them alive with bailing wire, spit and BNCs. The different personalities from the guys that install in rooms where it looks like a Micro Center truck crashed and spilled its contents all over the highway to the neat and orderly guy who methodically stages everything. We have standards and practices but there are “old dogs” that you need to let be themselves for changing their ways would only slow them down. We put down moving blankets and respect the environments we are working in but you have to give them some latitude, if someone came in and organized my desk I would be lost for weeks. It may look like a mess but I know exactly where everything is, I have to give them the same respect. It is important to stop and take time to understand their days, what they see, how things are working for them, what tools they need to make them better & faster, what products are failing, and how is the client feeling about what we are providing. The field is our lifeline, it is important for us to interact with them, ask for their input, and come on site while they are there, not to inspect but to engage. Sell and forget and/or design and forget is not the correct approach. We never want to be over bearing and please, internal and external customers, do not park yourself in a chair and watch these guys work all day. Go sit in your work area and imagine someone sitting right behind you for awhile, it isn’t very comfortable is it? Please give them the same respect. Showing up is bringing a bag full of bottled water, a pizza, calling them before you leave and asking if there is anything they need. Stop in, ask them about the progress, look at the work, if you are of the expertise and see things that could be improved, mention it and explain why. Find your client, speak to them, make sure the client knows your guys and take a few minutes to speak together. The field spends more time with the clients than any other person in our business including sales. That engagement is incredibly important and can be the difference between seeing more business or that project being a “one and done” sale.

I love every single technician that works for our company. There are certainly some that are a little more difficult than others but they are all incredibly good at their jobs, they work hard, and they keep coming back day in and day out making us all look good. We all play our part and each part is important but the field guys do not often get the recognition they deserve. I will get on my pulpit and use this forum to say thank you to every single tech in the industry — you guys are all awesome. I will also apologize in advance for being an engineer, I do understand and please know that my lack of detail exists only because I know you are competent enough to figure out what I was thinking. To all the field guys, you are heroes, just ask Mr. Webster.

This column was reprinted with permission from Frank Sabella and originally appeared here.