Becoming a Voice / VOIP Engineer is a highly rewarding career path for those interested in communications. If you are interested in creating networks that enable people from all corners of the globe to have rich, multi-media communications, this guide is for you.
The title “Voice Engineer” or “VOIP Engineer” can imply different things. All of these variables are set by the industry you are working in. The work of an Enterprise VOIP Engineer and a service Provider VOIP Engineer greatly differ.
For example your job duties as a Enterprise VOIP Engineer may include creating VXML scripts for calls centers, creating call flows and running a small to midsize network. Your job may also require you to support the installation of new locations and taking support calls from end users.
Working for a service provider is a completely different ballgame. If you work for a large service provider your job role might be limited to a specific role. If you work for a smaller provider you may be expected to take a “jack of all trades” position that could encompass telecom, networking and systems.
There are a number of Voice platforms available on the Market. Some platforms are found predominantly in the Enterprise space. Other platforms offer less customization, but better multi-tenant capabilities and are best fit for a Service Provider. Here are a few examples of popular platforms.
You will find Broadworks clusters at service providers from all around the globe. Some mega corporations also have their own Broadworks cluster, assuming they can afford the roughly $1,000,000 cost of entry. This might be cheaper as Broadsoft is now pushing for virtualization rather than IBM blade center deployments.
Who uses Broadworks?
Cisco is everywhere in the enterprise space. I can’t go a week without a recruiter contacting me about an exciting “Voice Engineer” position related to Cisco Call Manager. It’s interesting to explain to some of them that “Yes I am a Sr. Voice Engineer, but I do not work with Cisco Call Manager”.
Due to the number of positions available with Cisco Call Manager, I’ve noticed that the pay scale is often on the lower end of the spectrum for Voice Engineers.
Who uses Cisco?
If you want to work for a “Contact Center” AKA Call Center there is a good chance that they utilize Avaya. Avaya has been around for many years, and even acquired Nortel in 2009. When it comes to reporting capabilities and call flow Avaya seems to have this down.
Who uses Avaya?
Metaswitch is another service provider platform. In terms of features, I do not find it as “feature rich” as Broadworks by any means. Metaswitch was originally targeted to providers that want to replace their aging Class 4 / Class 5 infrastructure with something “Next Generation”.
I’ve noticed that a lot of smaller telecom providers are using Metaswitch. Often these providers are in rural or sovereign areas.
Who uses Metaswitch?
Skype for Business engineers are in high demand. Which makes sense with the licensing models that Microsoft put in place surrounding this product. Many companies uses this solely for the Instant Messaging and Presence capabilities. Others go forward with the Enterprise Client Access License and use this as their office phone system.
Who Uses Skype for Business?:
In my opinion, Asterisk is what made VoIP take off. It gave us nerds a platform to deploy and play with for free. It enabled everyone to learn VOIP in the comfort of their own home, office or server room.
Many companies are running their own in-house Asterisk PBX system. Some service providers have highly customized versions of Asterisk or Freeswitch to enable multi-tenant capabilities.
While the support options are limited, the technical possibilities are endless for those using Open Source platforms. Not happy with a feature or behavior? Re-write it to best suit your business case.
Who uses Asterisk?:
Too many to list 🙂
Before you can become a Voice Engineer you need to lay the technical foundation. You need to have some baseline knowledge of Networking, Linux and Windows.
Most people will tell you that knowing how to punch down a cable is pointless. Companies hire field techs for this type of work! Why would a voice engineer need to know how to do such a mundane task?
In my opinion having this baseline knowledge will help to advance your career. There have been many times where I’ve been pulled into a situation because I am the only one that can “speak field tech”. The best way to learn the physical aspects of networking and telecom is to do it hands on. No matter where you are, you can find a local cabling contractor that could use help on a rush project. Even if you work as an unpaid intern for eight hours, you can learn a lot about the process to build a network from the ground up.
I hate to say it, but check out Craigslist.com under the gigs section. If you search for “Low voltage” you are sure to come across someone that needs a hand with a project.
Most VOIP platforms run on a variant of Linux. Obviously Lync is an exception to this rule. I cannot emphasis learning the Linux CLI enough. You need to know basic commands such as “cp, cat, less, more, scp, ssh, grep, egrep, vim, vi, ps, top”. I’m not going to provide an in-depth analysis of these commands in this guide. I’ll leave that to a Linux Expert.
Where possible I like to point people to vendor neutral training and certification. The Network+ certification is no exception to that rule.
Learning the topics that this certification covers will give you a head start when you begin learning about a specific vendor.
In terms of networking hardware Cisco is still the most common. I suggest learning at least CCNA level routing and switching. You will also need to have an understanding of how QOS works and how it can be utilized at different layers of the OSI model.
When I renewed my CCNA certification in 2008 I took a course from Chris Bryant. I believe I purchased a workbook for $99, and the video bootcamp for $250. Nowadays you can get this for much less. Chris has a CCNA bootcamp available for only $30. He does a phenomenal job at explaining concepts. I HIGHLY recommend this course to anyone interest in IT. Having some Cisco experience will not hurt you in your job search!
Getting your hands on Cisco gear isn’t difficult, but it does require some money. eBay is a great place to pick up older routers and switches. If you can get your hands on the right Cisco IOS you can also use GNS3 to emulate a network.
In 2010 I used GNS3 to emulate a large service provider network. I spent hours building out BGP peering environments, multi VRF MPLS networks, and network segments that used every routing protocol possible. GNS3 is free and can emulate Cisco routers and firewalls. They have an active community on their site that runs contests to keep users engaged.
Some service providers utilize Juniper in their core networks. I have not come across an enterprise that uses Juniper yet, however I’m sure they exist.
When I was with Vonage we started to replace Cisco gear with Juniper. After logging into a Juniper switch I noticed that the command line is a lot like Vyos. Vyos is the Opensource community fork of Vyatta which was purchased by Brocade a few years ago.
After doing some research I found that Vyos was modeled after the JUNiper Operating System (JUNOS). This explains the similarities.
You can download Vyos here : http://vyos.net/wiki/Main_Page.
I suggest going with a VM that way you can run it within a freebie virtualization engine such as VirtualBox.
Now that you have the “basics” handled you can move into the Voice focused training.
Session Initiation Protocol :
If you are serious about becoming a Voice Engineer you MUST learn SIP. SIP is the most common protocol for connecting multimedia communication networks. My advice for learning SIP is to install FreePBX (Asterisk) into a virtual machine, then take our course on SIP.
When you enroll in this course you will learn:
- What is SIP and the RFCs that it is defined in.
- The different types of SIP clients and servers
- The structure of SIP messages
- Overview of SIP response codes
- The structure of the SIP URI
- Overview of SIP headers and their purpose
- How the Session Description Protocol (SDP) works
- How SIP allows mobility through call forking, REFER requests and Diversions
- The details of SIP transactions and Dialogs
- How SIP proxies route requests (We discuss stateful and sateless proxies)
- The SIP Trapezoid model
- How SIP Registration works.
- How SIP Authentication works. We dive into how the MD5 hash is created.
- What challenges SIP faces with NAT and how to overcome them.
- An overview of the Real Time Protocol – AKA RTP
Click the below image to access the course:
There are a few options for learning Broadworks. Most of them require a significant training investment. From my experience you are going to see the highest salaries from Broadsoft based service providers. There is a high demand for quality engineers and a very small pool of talent. If you want to fast track yourself to a six figure VOIP Engineer salary deep dive into Broadworks training.
Direct from Broadsoft:
You can watch an overview video of Broadworks for free. The other training courses require an investment of $1000 – $2500 per course. Fairly steep for someone just starting off.
You can find the courses from Broadsoft here :
ECG is a systems integration group that specializes in VOIP Networks. They also offer hands on and online training courses.
Introduction to Broadworks Provisioning
This class introduces the principles of BroadWorks Users, Enterprises / Service Providers, and Groups. It shows how to manage services, devices, and user security to protect against fraud.
This course runs requires a $195 investment and about 3 hours of time to complete.
Broadworks Software Installation and Upgrade Procedures:
This course will demonstrate what it takes to install a member of the BroadWorks platform and maintain it through upgrades and rollbacks.
This course is $495.
Broadworks Server Patching:
Patching Broadworks is a difficult process. There are many variables and dependancies that you must account for. Historically when I would interview a Sr. Engineering candidate we would ask a series of patching related questions.
This course from ECG is $495.
Cisco Voice Engineers are in high demand, however there is a much larger talent pool. Cisco Voice Engineers can command a six figure salary depending on the size of the organization and how critical voice services are to the company.
There are many options out there for Cisco VOIP Training. INE is a great company that offers everything from CCNA VOICE to CCIE training. They also offer training for other Cisco focused disciplines such as routing / switching, datacenter and security.
CCNA Voice – Online Training
Mark Snow (4x CCIE) teaches this course. Mark has packed 25 hours of training into this class. This class will prepare you for Cisco 640-461 which is the current CCNA Voice Certification Test.
CCNP Voice – Online Training
Mark Snow teaches the 60 hours of training in this course. After taking this course you will have the knowhow to pass the tests (642-427 TVOICE v8, 642-437 CVOICE v8, 642-447 CIPT1 v8, 642-457 CIPT2 v8, and 642-467 CAPPS v8) required for the CCNP Voice.
CCIE Voice – Online Training
If you are dead serious about becoming a Cisco Voice Engineer, get your CCIE number. This will require you to give up your social life for about 6-12 months while in the process. The trade off though is everyone in the IT world knows what a “CCIE” is. Those four letters seem to give an immediate level of respect to the title holder.
Avaya Training :
When searching job boards you can find plenty of positions that demand an Avaya Expert. I’ve spoken to a fair number of companies that hire Avaya engineers and the salary range of $90k – $110k is fairly common in Arizona. I imagine those salary ranges can be adjusted accordingly based upon your local market.
Avaya training tends to be on the expensive side. Even more costly than Cisco and Broadsoft. I have not taken any of these courses from Global Knowledge, however I have heard good things about them.
Use the below link to see the available Avaya Training Options.
Sadly I have not found a third party source for Metaswitch Training. I’ve sent a request out to various individuals at Metaswitch, however I have not received anything back.
Metaswitch does offer some level of training material on their “communities.metaswitch.com” page. This will require a valid Metaswitch account to access. Of course you will need to work for a company with a Metaswitch to obtain a Metaswitch account.
If you are serious about learning Metaswitch it wouldn’t hurt to contact the support manager of a Metaswitch based provider. Doing a quick LinkedIn search will yield the results you are looking for.
You can find various guides about Installing and managing an Asterisk Platform all over the internet.
Here are a few videos from Digium :
You can also find more structured training on udemy.com for a very affordable price. Click the below link and check out this great course written by Joe Manning:
If you specialize in Lync / Skype for Business you can currently demand a serious salary. I get called a few times per month for positions that pay $120k+ per year. I imagine that there are plenty of qualified engineers out there, however the volume of work is still growing.
Training on this platform will require an investment of $1000 – $10,000 depending on the training company. The courses with a higher investment are often “Bootcamps” where you will spend two weeks learning, then complete your MCSE certification. Having an MCSE will assist in landing a great gig!
CBT Nuggets is always a great option for training on Lync. You can access their site for $84/ month. Here’s a link to one of their Lync Training options:
If you want to go all in with a Bootcamp. Check out this offering from CertificationCamps.com.
Session Border Controller Training :
Session Border Controllers are the specialized firewalls of the VOIP world. To be successful as a VOIP Engineer you must have the ability to deploy and manage at least one major SBC platform.
Oracle purchased Acme Packet for $2.1 billion in 2013. If Oracle is spending that level of cash on a company, they must be doing something right! I’ve had conversations with other industry experts and they agree that Acme Packet is king for the “access” side deployments. In other words the SBCs that face customer equipment.
When I wanted to learn Acme Packet the only option I had was to start working for a service provider that owned an SBC pair. If I receive enough interest I will develop a course on installing, and managing an Acme Packet SBC. This will not be a free course, however I will make the investment very affordable.
If you are interested in Acme Packet training, let me know.
If Acme Packet owns the access world, then Sonus is the keeper of the peering realm. Most major service providers have Sonus SBCs at their edge and use them for communication with other providers. My experience with Sonus is very limited, however they appear to be very reliable.
Learning Sonus is going to require a trip to a Sonus Training center. On top of the travel fees, you can expect to invest $1500+ per training course. See the below link to view the training offering from Sonus.
If you are still interested in becoming a VOIP Engineer you will need a few additional skills outside of the technical realm. These skills will set you apart from other candidates interviewing for a position.
There’s a secret to landing more interviews. It’s a little out there for some, but it works amazingly well. Ready for it?
DO NOT SUBMIT AN APPLICATION.
I’ve had the best results in landing an interview by bypassing “The System”. If I see an opportunity I am interested in, I go straight to LinkedIn. Once there I search for who I assume to be the hiring manager and contact them directly. Here’s an example :
“Hey John Doe. I noticed that your company has an open requisition for a Sr. VOIP Engineer. I have fifteen minutes available on Tuesday at 1pm. Let’s have a quick conversation about the opportunity. If Tuesday at 1pm doesn’t work, when are you available?”
I challenge you to try this when you are searching for a job.
Be an Active Listener:
There is a major difference between hearing and active listening. When you listen you are not waiting for the other party to take a comma break to assault them with verbal diarrhea.
Admit it, you’ve been in a meeting where someone has done this to you. People do this because they are not LISTENING. They hear the words that you are saying but all they are thinking about is what to say next. Don’t be this person. Be an active listener, process what other’s are saying and respond in an intelligent manner.
Understand what motivates people:
Every facet of business is a game of strategy. People respond best when you trigger something that motivates them. Some people are motivated by power, others may want achievement, security, social affiliation, or prestige.
At your current job pay attention to others. Who drives a luxury car? Who displays their college degree or certifications at their desk? Who has an “entourage”? Who has pictures with other business leaders in plain sight?
When you observe these little nuances you will begin to see what motivates people. If you can help someone achieve or obtain what they desire, they will become an ally and help you on your path.
By now have been provided with enough information to land a six figure job within two to three years. Yes, this requires a lot of work, discipline and self study, but it is possible. I’ve seen far too many people sit at a helpdesk position for 10+ years and complain that nothing better exists. That’s just an excuse to stop pushing yourself. Excuses do not equal six figures.
Until next time!
Don’t forget to sign up for our SIP course. The below link will give you a special discount.