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Ryan Tupper: My Day as an Install/Repair Tech

In an effort to further understand just what goes on in all aspects of a communications company using our products and hopefully learn something, I volunteered my time to Alliance Communications, one of our customers, to be an I/R Tech for a day and experience the real world.  I would be lying if I didn’t say that I also wanted to improve my “street cred” with the I/R guys.

Ryan and Jeff ready forthe Day!After some brief communication, the day was set.  It sounded simple enough; just show up at 8:00 a.m. and go out on a couple of installs.  I brought Dave, one of our IPTV support staff, along to be an installer for a day with me. Now at this point I wasn’t exactly sure what we would be doing, and I was beginning to think maybe I should have been a little clearer on what both our expectations were.  As we were driving to meet up with our I/R crew, I was wondering, would we be following around some guys with our notebooks and laptops meticulously taking notes, or would we actually be in the thick of things on these installs.  After we arrived we quickly figured out the answer as we were given our orders for the day – two installs where we are cutting over DSL to FTTH.  This means we are doing Phone, Internet, and TV cutovers.  They gave us some tools, and we were off!  After our host I/R tech (Jeff) sized us up, I am sure there were some significant doubts in our capabilities to accomplish our assigned duties for the day.  With our help, our customer was going to get four homes done today instead of just two.  Our crew consisted of three and the other crew was two of the normal I/R techs.  Each crew would have two homes to complete.

We arrived at install #1 and begin to size up the task in front of us.  It was a modern home that was mostly finished.  As the homeowner showed us the TV locations, I began to get a little concerned based on the look on Jeff’s face and his comment, “This could be a challenge.”  Next, we found the termination point in the home and Jeff says, “I think we just got very lucky”.   I see what he is referring to - CAT 5 WIRING!  It turns out that all of the phone jacks where wired up with CAT 5 and there are phone jacks at every TV location.  We got started with the install and struggled a while with exactly where to start. Jeff was outside working on the ONT and getting the needed wires routed into the house. 

Dave going to work!Dave, being an IR guy in a former life, had a little more of a clue than I did but we stumbled around each other to mount the UPS, power strip, Ethernet  Switch, Termination Block, and re-terminate all the cables.   Now I do have quite a bit of experience terminating CAT 5 cables, but I clearly am a bit rusty and so is my memory.  Trying to sound like I know what I am talking about, I ask Jeff, “So do you use the A or B wiring scheme?” Ok now I have to admit my lack of memory - what exactly is the color order of the B scheme?  To make sure I don’t have to ask again, I write it down and start terminating cables.  The cables from the ONT are now in and Dave begins to find his groove on the Phone termination block.  That is until it is discovered that I incorrectly informed Dave that that cable with the black tape on it was the incoming phone line.  Nope sorry, turns out that was the internet cable.  Now I venture out to the TV locations and, after a quick tutorial of how to terminate the jacks, I am off and running.  One jack down and STB is booting up!  Then off to the next location; then back to the first one to pick-up the tools I left behind; then back to get some more ends; then out to the truck….my 24-hour deodorant is now worn off and it is only 10:00 A.M.!  At 10:30, Jeff assesses the situation and much to all our surprise, he declares we are in pretty good shape.  With a growing sense of pride and confidence I declare “heck we might get 3 houses done today”!

I am sure many of you reading this knows what happens next…the unexpected.  We find that the CAT 5 running to the computer was split and being used for both the DSL connection and fax line.  The TV in the living room has a surround sound system and a DVD/VCR combo that has to be reconnected.  The TV in the bedroom is a TV/VCR combo that we can’t find the correct IR codes for.  Then, the customer decides it would be nice to have a CAT 5 connection in another part of the house in case they want to move a TV there in the future…so finally at 1:00 we are done and have to let the next install know we were going to be a little late.

Jeff graciously gives us a lunch break and tells us to meet him at the next site when we are done as he is going there to get started.  Dave and I discuss on the way to lunch that Jeff may have felt sorry for us for not getting to eat or that he wanted to get us out of the way for a bit.  On our way to lunch, we met the other crew apparently headed to their next install after a “normal” lunch break.  Not wanting to let Jeff down, we throw down our lunch as fast as we can and fortunately, or unfortunately for Jeff, we arrive at install #2 not long after he does.

Install #2 presents some different challenges.  It is a very old home with what I won’t call a basement, but also cannot call a crawl space either… more like “crouched over space”.  I have to walk down the stairs backwards to avoid hitting my head and to be able to fit.  The good news is we can just mount a new board and easily run cables as all the TV locations and computer are on the first floor.  The bad news is I cannot stand up straight to do any of it. 

Based on our now vast install experience, we quickly fall into our tasks on this install. I even feel confident enough that I secure a tool belt around my waist which seemed to amuse Dave a bit.  But I must have looked important because the customer was now asking me questions to which I politely replied that they needed to speak with Jeff. I got everything attached to the board and mounted up.  By this time, Jeff and Dave had the cables coming over and I start terminating.  Jeff mentions more than once that the cable with the black tape on it is the INTERNET cable.  As I am terminating, Jeff and Dave are bringing more cables over from the first floor.  Dave takes the phone block again and I head up to get the STB’s going.  About this time, the other install crew shows up.  I wonder to myself, did Jeff call in reinforcements or were they just lucky and had an “easy” install this afternoon.  I am sure it was the latter.  We did not have much left but the crew of now five strong quickly finished up and we completed the install.

I apologized for the tools l likely left in the subscriber’s houses and the mess we made of the ones we used, and then thanked Jeff for putting up with us for the day. Like old veteran installers, we trade some install “stories” from the day and Jeff queried about what time we would be back the next day.  I responded, “Well, Dave could be back at 8:00 a.m. again but I have duties that just will not let me be gone another day!”  I would suspect there is some sort of *asterisk assigned to these two customers now that any future trouble calls will be blamed on the rookie installers.

At the end of the day, I learned of some ways we could improve our products to help these guys out, and I have a reconfirmed respect for the I/R tech.  They are part Handyman, Electrician, Phone guy, TV guy, Computer guy, Marketing person, CSR, and personal assistant!  I think the daily activity of an I/R tech would make some good reality TV!