The Importance of Product Education

brainI learned something new this afternoon. While other users of this product were already aware of it, I was not. This is something that is specific to the Wi-Fi community, but there is a larger point affecting all practitioners of technology that I will attempt to illustrate in this post.

The Problem

I have been doing a lot of wireless surveys lately. These particular surveys have been large enough to require two engineers to be on site. We’ll divide up the location by floors or sections in order to get the job done in less time. These particular surveys are in place assessments, so we aren’t putting survey AP’s up on poles and measuring signal strength, determining attenuation of walls, etc. We’re simply measuring the signal of all AP’s in place and making recommendations based on the requirements of the business(e.g. moving to support voice at 5GHz or location based services). In addition to using a survey tool, which in our case is Ekahau’s Site Survey, we are also doing spectrum analysis at various points within the given facility with Metageek’s Wi-Spy DBx hardware and Chanalyzer software.

The spectrum analysis portion is where my problem resided. I happen to have a pair of Wi-Spy DBx devices that Metageek was kind enough to give me when I attended a few Wireless Field Day events put on by the folks at Tech Field Day. Not too long ago, the capability of capturing 2.4GHz and 5GHz simultaneously with multiple Wi-Spy DBx adapters was added. This meant that if you had 2 of their Wi-Spy DBx adapters, you could capture spectrum on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands at the same time. If you only had one adapter, you could only capture on a single band at a given time. This meant that when you wanted to capture spectrum in one location, you had to run a capture on 2.4GHz, and then run another capture on 5GHz. If you are doing 5 minute captures, your total time in that spot was 10 minutes, because both bands needed to be observed.

For the past several months that I have been on the road doing surveys, I was able to capture spectrum in half the time of any of my colleagues because I used both of my Wi-Spy DBx adapters at once, where the standard survey kits we were using only had one. Considering the time savings involved while doing spectrum(a decent sized facility might require spectrum analysis in well over a dozen locations) with multiple adapters, we looked into purchasing more Wi-Spy devices for our survey kits. Metageek has a Wi-Spy device that is only 2.4GHz. Since the Wi-Spy DBx can do both bands, we could just purchase the 2.4GHz model and save a little money. As luck would have it, Metageek doesn’t list the price of the 2.4GHz model on their website and asks you to contact them for pricing. I reached out to them this afternoon and received a quick response back.

As of Chanalyzer version 5, you can now record simultaneously in both bands with a single Wi-Spy DBx device. Granted, with a single adapter, it is alternating between 2.4GHz and 5GHz, so it isn’t as granular as it would be if you were using dual Wi-Spy adapters, but still, that is a great feature. If there is persistent interference, that isn’t a problem, but if the interesting spectrum traffic is brief, perhaps it could be missed, or less accurate than if you were using 2 adapters.

I ended up telling the Metageek person who responded to me that we wouldn’t need to buy additional adapters based on this newfound knowledge. While that is a lost sale for them, we did just buy another survey kit that included another Wi-Spy DBx and Chanalyzer license, so they got some additional business from us. 🙂 I should also point out that the person I was communicating with at Metageek didn’t try to push the sale anyway. They were just happy that my “problem” was resolved and made sure to tell me that Metageek made awesome products, with which I happen to agree!

I Don’t Use Metageek’s Products. Why do I care?

The larger point I want to bring up is that of vendor education. Or, to put it another way, ensuring that we as practitioners are up to date on all the features that a given product supports.

Think about the products you use in your daily job. How knowledgeable are you on what the latest software or hardware revisions improve or add? If it is a large list of products, I am willing to bet there are a fair amount of things you could be doing with those products that you aren’t. Some of those things might save you a lot of time and/or money. How valuable is your time? I can’t help you with the endless meetings you may have to endure. I can’t reduce your commute time. I can’t get you more money in your paycheck. What I CAN say is that as your proficiency increases in a given product, you will become more effective in your job, and that is rarely a bad thing for you or the company you work for.

How Do We Keep Up To Date?

Simply put, you have to schedule product update research into your routine. This is especially crucial in any sort of implementation team, be it corporate or VAR. I fully expect the vendors are going to be up to speed on all the latest features of their products, unless you happen to work for a very large vendor like Cisco where a field sales engineer has to be able to sell for the full product portfolio.

This is much easier when you have a team of engineers/admins/architects as opposed to being the sole person responsible for your area of technology. Make a list of the products you have to use in your day to day job and divide that list up among the team. Task them with going over release notes, product data sheets, vendor blog posts, etc. Once they have combed through those things, get the team together and update each other on those products. Some things can be as simple as an e-mail sent out to the team. Other things are better presented in person so that everyone on the team can talk about them and how it affects the operation or implementation of that particular product.

Closing Thoughts

It is easy for me to say that every team should get together and discuss the latest and greatest regarding all of the products they support or implement. It is a LOT harder to make that happen. In this particular case with Metageek’s spectrum analysis platform, our problem was solved quickly, and without additional expense to the company. However, I have experienced the opposite several times in my career.

There are so many different people and projects that eat up portions of your days and weeks. We tend to put professional development to the side in most environments because it isn’t “billable”, or doesn’t appear to make the company any more money. I would argue the opposite. Being able to perform at a high level in your day to day job and not make mistakes out of ignorance ends up benefiting the company immensely in the long run. For many of you, this happens after hours when you are “off the clock” so to speak. There are plenty of things I try to stay current on, but I have to admit that those things don’t encompass all the things I do in my day job on a regular basis.

What do you think? Is it possible to stay current on all the things you do in your job on a day to day basis?

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3 Responses to The Importance of Product Education

  1. Matt says:

    Hi Matt!

    Great post! I’m not sure I have an answer on the possibility of staying current on all things you do in your job at this time. I’m thinking more about it every day and working to make/engineer the time in my direct reports day/week to take this task on. The key is really simple, I believe, because I am a ‘simpleton’. I think we just have to make the time for it and prioritize this time just as we would any other taks. There is a caveat, however, and that is not having enough human resources to accomplish this task. Of course, then it would be a different issue or set of issues kind of like I have at the moment. I’d like to see you do an evaluation on business processes and refining them specifically based around the IT working world. I’d let you take my team and my tasks on as a challenge to this 🙂 Cheers!

    • Matt,

      All we need is more time and more bodies. I’m not sure you want me evaluating business processes for you. I’m the kind of guy who would balance his checkbook based off of ATM receipts. Glad I married a good woman who is more organized than I am. Hope things are going well for you! 🙂

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