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What’s the current telecom industry scenario in India? “Telecom industry is not as rosy as it should be,” answers Janardan Revuru, project manager, Hewlett Packard. He believes, “India has no dearth of technological and business innovation, but the telecom policies and scams have caused a negative impact on the sector, which has forced the service providers to rethink about their investments.”

In the wake of the famous 2G spectrum scam of 2011—considered as one of the biggest abuses of power—most of the companies were trimming their workforce back then. However, it was believed that job opportunities would surge again, once everything was stabilised. But the last few years have not been great for our engineering graduates.

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“We are still dependent on MNCs to outsource work to India for creating jobs here,” explains Revuru.

On a positive note, “There is immense potential and fierce competition.” That’s how Haziq Khan, vice-president, sales and marketing, Netxcell Limited, defnes the Indian telecommunications industry today. He adds, “In spite of all the challenges, the industry is bound to grow further in the time to come. We have already witnessed exponential growth in teledensity in urban areas and slow but steady growth have been seen in rural areas too.”

As on September 30, 2012, the total number of telecom subscribers was around 937 million, out of which 96.7 per cent are wireless subscribers and the remaining are wireline subscribers, according to a TRAI report.

Skills required – the telecom experts speak
“To start, the freshers should have foundational competency skills like proficiency in at least one programming language, basic understanding of embedded systems, operating system and software testing. When they start at Sasken, these all are the areas they are trained before starting any domain training/hands-on.”

—George Abraham, head-talent acquisition, Sasken Communication Technologies

“A good understanding of telecom fundamentals, networking basics and programming is essential for development jobs. For customer support or sales, a good understanding of telecom fundamentals and networking basics is essential. In addition, it is very important to have excellent soft skills such as communication (both verbal and written), inter-personnel skills, ability to work under pressure, multi-tasking and quick learning.”

—Venugopal Sharma, senior manager, software development, Cisco

“The skills should match a systems software engineer’s profile. For products which are on protocol stacks, C/C++ programming language is widely used. For manageability products, Java is the preferred language. Other skills include thorough knowledge of data structures, design patterns, systems analysis and design, problem solving and analytical abilities.”

—Janardan Revuru, project manager, Hewlett Packard

“Fundamentally, they should be strong in all the subjects they have studied during their graduation level. Apart from this, they should possess strong IQ, EQ, logical and analytical capabilities, understanding of the OOP’s concepts and basic database concepts, good communication skills, good aptitude and positive attitude. Also, they should be good at numeric abilities and should be a good team player.”

—Arshad Majeed, executive vice president, service delivery, Xavient

“The industry has seen humongous growth with voice services and now it is time to move further with data services. That’s what makes the industry prospects bright,” says Khan.

Telecom—a top sector
Telecom, being one of the fastest growing sectors, there is a great demand for skilled and qualifiedaspirants with a good technical know-how.

Broadly classifying the telecom sector into two categories of companies, Venugopal Sharma, senior manager, software development, Cisco, says, “Basically, there are companies that provide telecom services, such as carriers like Airtel and Reliance, and companies that develop products for the telecom sector, such as Cisco, Alcatel Lucent and Juniper to name a few.”

Sharma adds, “This industry has seen a significantgrowth in the recent years, primarily due to high penetration of mobile and hand-held devices and the services that run on them. The industry certainly has huge potential.”

In India, the telecommunication industry is poised for growth. With the advent of higher-bandwidth technology, there will be growth in applications that require that band-width and devices that can utilise that bandwidth.

Sridhar Parthasarathy, vice-president, telecom business unit, Maveric Systems, believes, “The industry is at an inflection point preceding an explsive growth. This would also enable carriers to offer differentiating higherend services and improve their average revenue per user.”

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Immense scope
The telecommunications industry comprises numerous areas and hence there are various kinds of jobs in the industry.

Arshad Majeed, executive vicepresident, service delivery, Xavient, says, “Many jobs are related to the development and maintenance of devices, lines, systems and networks used to facilitate communication. This offers a wide range of career prospects, and one can have a career in application/product development, application testing, ERP implementation/integration, system administration, network planning, data networking, mobile application development and value-added services.”

Telecom providers are tapping the potential of services that are rendered on mobile and connected devices (like TV and Internet).

Sharma says, “These companies require large capex and skilled manpower for their expansion to host and provide these services. With this growth, telecom product developers (that develop devices that are the building blocks of these networks) need to churn out newer products, with intelligent features and services.”

Talking about the telecom sector from the enterprise perspective, “There will always be migration of matured products to low-cost geographies (like India). And the expectation from Indian divisions to extract ‘innovation’ out of it will continue for the next decade,” says Revuru.

Talking about the consumer side, he says, “Indians will continue to be app-savvy and gadget freaks. With sustained buying power of consumers, more start-ups will emerge with innovative solutions. Watch out for a promising start-up and get your foot into the industry.”

Telecom—a complex field
Talking about telecom’s inherent complexity, Sridhar Parthasarathy says, “It takes an intricate ballet of the physical network, software, analytics, regulatory framework and value-added services to help you connect that call within microseconds of dialling the digits.”

“If you think about it, it is just so astounding that in that half second between hitting the call button, the software figuresout what ringtone the called party has set and plays it to you, even if she is at the other end of the world!”

This complexity requires multiple people with varied skills to come together and work. There is definitelyenough scope at all levels for the qualified and the challenge seekers.

 

Emerging Telecom Technologies
IMS: IP multimedia subsystem
HSDPA: High-speed downlink packet access
MVNO: Mobile virtual network operator
IPv6: Internet protocol version 6
4G: 4th generation mobile networks

High priority to computer, IT and electronics engineers
“Product companies largely look for engineering graduates (having computers, electronics or communications background) since most of the work involves research and development,” says Sharma.

However, he adds, “The overall solution typically involves several other related applications that help in provisioning, managing, billing or monitoring services.”

This application development and maintenance opens up an opportunity for application developers with strong programming skills in database, GUI development and so forth. Other aspects that complete the ecosystem are customer support and sales, which can be met with graduates having the right level of skill or training.

Telecom sector can also be broadly classified into enterprise (service providers) side and consumer side. Talking about the enterprise side of telecom, Revuru says, “Engineers with IT, computers and electronics background will have an edge in this domain due to their knowledge of computer architecture and systems design.”

Shifting focus towards the consumer side, he adds, “If one is to work on the development of VAS, the minimum qualifcation could just be any three- or four-year degree. If one is a teen developer, he could be an independent app developer and sell applications in app stores.”

Every industry requires people from all backgrounds to come together and work. “At Maveric, we believe that it certainly requires technical graduates with an aptitude for testing to shine in this industry. With experience we have found that we can absorb a percentage of non-technical graduates very effectively but the average person for the kind of work we do needs a technical background,” says Parthasarathy.

Opportunities for freshers
Freshers are always a major chunk of the recruiting plan in any industry. Telecom companies have been recruiting freshers over the years.

Sharma says, “Freshers are usually put through a mentoring system where they get help from a senior colleague to ramp-up quickly and to understand the nuances. In addition, they go through several orientation programmes to introduce them to the corporate environment and technical trainings to equip them with right skills and knowledge. In most cases, the freshers learn on-the-job with the help of a senior mentor.”

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Given the current growth rate and looking at the future prospects, there are abundant opportunities for freshers in this sector.

“If a fresher is being allocated to the development team, he would definitely be involved in coding, where it is essential to have knowledge about programming languages. But if he is allocated to testing team, he would be involved with testing of software to ensure that whatever is being developed is free of bugs and giving the desired results,” says Majeed.

There are various kinds of jobs available for those who install and maintain telecom hardware as well. Some of these jobs are lumped into the category of telecommunications technicians.

Talking about Maveric, Parthasarathy says, “We specialise in lifecycle assurance, which requires us to support clients across the IT adoption lifecycle. Therefore we expect all our associates to be well grounded in the testing processes and in the domain.”

 

Freshers are always a major chunk of the recruiting plan in the telecom industry. It certainly requires technical graduates with an aptitude for testing to shine in this industry

Adding to Maveric’s grooming process, he says, “We invest in our people and have a long-term perspective in our interaction with them. Grooming from a scratch is therefore important. A fresher would, after receiving the initial training, be associated with a mentor so that he/she can be guided on the domain, testing and people interaction skills gradually.”

Variety of job roles
Freshers can be absorbed across verticals depending on the business requirements. Talking about the entry-level roles, Khan says, “It can vary from a management trainee to an executive of any vertical existing today in the telecom sector. Freshers can join a business process outsourcing (BPO) unit, knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) unit, sales, marketing, HR, product development, R&D, relationship management, software and hardware engineering depending on their educational background and interests.”

Talking about his experience in the telecom sector, particularly managing enterprise products and customers for the last 16 years, Revuru says, “The biggest challenge I face with fresher engineers is while developing products for enterprise customers, which is an entirely different ball game from perceived ‘cool’ apps development.” He adds, “Though it takes four to six months for an engineer to start being productive, it takes one to two years to really appreciate the challenges and technology in the telecom domain.”

Pay package
Telecom engineers over the years can gain domain knowledge and continue to build their career. The entry barriers in the telecom domain (enterprise) are high.

“This ensures that the number of entrants in this domain is limited and one gets benefittedduring the increasing demand cycle,” says Revuru. “The typical pay package would be anywhere between Rs 500,000 and Rs 800,000 per annum in this domain of the telecom sector,” he adds.

Sharing the typical pay packages in the overall telecom domain, Sharma replies, “It could start from Rs 200,000 per annum to Rs 700,000 offered by premium MNCs for R&D jobs.”

Khan adds “For freshers, it normally starts from Rs 150,000 per annum and can vary widely as per the individual’s personality, caliber, academic and professional qualifictions and the institute’s reputation in the market.”

At Sasken, they offer a pay package of Rs 315,000 CTC including medical and superannuation benefits.George Abraham says, “Entry-level freshers will undergo foundational competency training (three months) and domain hands-on-training (six months). Then they will have opportunities to work on software development and testing in the telecom embedded system domain.”

Challenges faced by recruiters
It is an equally difficult task for recruiers to select and pick students as per their requirement. Most of the times, the volume of the candidates are over-whelming.

Sharma says, “Quality of engineering graduates is a big issue. We see that the success rate of recruitment from most institutions is low. Students lack exposure, technical depth, analytical and logical reasoning. This makes the hiring challenging in spite of a large number of graduates available.”

Parthasarathy says, “The main challenge that we face is getting people to understand that testing and assurance is a viable career and, in fact, some may be better suited to testing than development. Over the years, this problem has become a bit easier as people see success stories of testing stalwarts. We, however, need more stories and role models and better career counselling at college levels.”

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Advice from industry experts
“Attitude is the secret sauce of this model. Associates should be flexible and have an innate curiosity; this is a quality that we treasure and nurture.”

—Sridhar Parthasarathy, vice-president, telecom business unit, Maveric Systems

“Going through networking fundamentals, programming in ‘C’ and Java would help. Look for finishing schools that help with this. I think the most important aspect that engineers should remember is that corporate world is very different from the academic world. You are exposed to real-world problems and you need to face customers who complain about the issues they face with the products and solutions. Most freshers join with the expectation that they will get to work on cutting-edge technology every day. It may not always be the case. You need to develop newer products and solutions, and at the same time support them when the customers face issues.”

—Venugopal Sharma, senior manager, software development, Cisco

“Whilst engineering, it might just be enough to scratch the surface of any subject because you get introduced to dozens of new topics which you would have never read earlier. Take time on the subject you like the most and excel in that one subject. The Internet provides a lot of opportunities to get connected to your role models in that field. You are evaluated more on your performance than certificate. Be cautious of killing time in doing some certification courses. If you are not self-disciplined and need help, joining courses is a better option.”

—Janardan Revuru, project manager, Hewlett Packard

“If the freshers have undergone training in foundational competency programming language, embedded systems, operating system and software testing, we will be in a position to groom them faster.”

—George Abraham, head-talent acquisition, Sasken Communication Technologies

“No matter what sector are you targeting to make your career, you should always be aware and should always stay up to date on the latest happening in that particular sector. This will not only help you in understanding the latest dynamics for that particular sector but may also act as a positive point during the interviews. Emotional intelligence quotient (EQ), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterise soft skills are substantially important. These complement hard skills (part of a person’s IQ), which are the occupational requirements of a job. If one possesses good EQ along with a decent IQ, that makes the perfect mix.”

—Arshad Majeed, executive vice president, service delivery, Xavient

He adds, “At Maveric, we are trying to address this by conducting assessments and counselling sessions at select campuses all over the country.”

Some of the reasons for rejection of freshers are poor communication/lack of soft-skills, very less or negligible understanding about the basic programming and database concepts, and poor logical and analytical conceptual knowledge.

“So for the companies to hire a desired number of freshers who are employable means more investment in terms of time, money and resources,” says Majeed.

Short-term courses as an option?
There are several short-term courses for the telecom domain. But, again it depends on the vertical that you intend to join. For example, for the position of software programmer, some institutes offer special training in telecom signaling. For back-end customer care, a separate course on technical support is offered.

Moreover, every company has its own in-house training department and procedures to train the new entrants, but it is always better to sharpen communication skills and enhance one’s personality for future challenges. Companies focus on providing on-the-job training for about six to twelve months, where they are exposed to technology in a phased manner, which helps them understand and familiarise with the real-time scenarios. Focusing on practising and enhancing their logical, analytical, soft and interpersonal skills would take aspirants a long way in the telecom industry.


The author is a tech correspondent at EFY Bengaluru

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