The educated broadcast engineer

With the rapid change of technologies in BOCs, continuing education is required of engineering staffs
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Engineering personnel must pursue cross discipline education simultaneously with the transition to digital broadcasting. Increased system complexity requires continued education by all technical personnel. Education must be part of the company’s technology strategy. What skills will be needed in the future? Should personnel be trained or new employees hired with the desired skills?

If you are employed as a broadcast technologist, what do you need to learn to augment your skills for the transition to digital? If you are planning on a career in broadcasting, what type of engineering/computer science curriculum is best?

Strategic talent management

Technical staff members will have varying degrees of expertise in particular technical disciplines. Management has the responsibility to identify what the company’s technical expertise needs are in its digital future, identify personnel who are eager to develop the required expertise and then develop an individualized training plan. Each employee’s skill set must be carefully integrated into the organization's technical capabilities and needs, both for the present and the future.

Strategic talent management ensures through education and training that a technical staff has the necessary skills to achieve the company’s goals. Is it best to train current employees or, if the need is critically pressing, hire personnel with the required skills? Let's consider some options.

Up through the ranks

Many broadcast engineers have come up from the technician ranks. The journey often begins as a child tinkering with home entertainment systems, and moves on to working in the school AV department. However, the experiential path is becoming increasingly difficult as BOC systems grow more complex and integrate a wider variety of technologies.

Not everyone must be an engineer. When the shuttle is sitting on the launch pad, countdown on hold, how often do you hear about a software engineer redesigning code? Technicians resolve the issue and ready the vehicle for launch. Similarly, broadcast technicians often have the title of support engineer, and possess the valuable skills necessary to deploy, test and maintain broadcast systems.

Certifications and workshops

As broadcast engineering and IT meld, studying and acquiring various industry certifications can cultivate the necessary cross-discipline expertise. The SBE offers several broadcast-related certifications as well as one for network technologists. The SCTE offers certifications relevant to the converged infrastructure. Networking A+ is an IT industry standard certification. A+ is platform-oriented, and has certifications available. For security specialists, the CSSIP is an industry standard.

Many colleges and universities offer broadcast-related certifications. In New York City, Pace University has certificate programs that address IT disciplines. New York University has media business and graphics programs.

SBE runs the ENNES workshop at NAB and at local chapters every year. SCTE, IEEE and other professional societies sponsor seminars both locally and nationally. For industry professionals, these events offer an opportunity to stay abreast of current technologies.

At home

In-house training programs are also worthwhile. Presentations by various departments about infrastructure systems that are in design, being deployed or have been commissioned can help personnel better prepare and help implement these changes.

Some U.S. broadcasters have in-depth new employee technology training programs that may last for more than a month. In the United Kingdom, apprenticeship programs are common.

Vendor training, either on-site or off, can get personnel up to speed on new equipment and installation specifics. Some vendors, such as Cisco and Microsoft, have gone so far as to offer certification programs on their own systems.

For the seasoned vet

For those whose daily responsibilities preclude a return to school, concentrated seminars or vendor training can be very helpful. A comprehensive, organized approach covering all aspects of the new broadcast engineer can be gained by reading “Broadcast Engineer’s Reference Book,” by E. P. J. Tozer. It is available in the SBE bookstore and major bookstores.

Entry level

For those planning a broadcast career, the first decision is to determine an ultimate target position: technician, engineer, manager or executive. Your choice of an educational strategy will heavily influence your chances of achieving your goal.

Where would you like to work? The most glamorous place to be is working in a broadcast facility. You’re in show biz! But be prepared to first pay your dues by working nights and weekends.

A position at a systems integrator also provides a first-hand view of BOC design and deployment. The challenge of an engineering career designing broadcast equipment has satisfied many who have had the desire to be in broadcasting. With luck and a PhD you could even reach the promised land of R & D.

Technician or engineer? Systems or specialty?

You must decide if you will attend a four-year school, or complete a two-year AS degree and then look for work. Once employed, your employer may offer assistance in any further education.

Military service is another option. It’s a great place to get satellite and dish technology knowledge and experience. You’ll also learn the meaning of words and phrases such as: mission critical, robust, resilient and reliable. This will be a great aid during a career in broadcast technology.

Four-layer core curriculum

Colleges offer degrees in electrical engineering or computer science. MIT and others offer a combined EE/CS degree. However, few have addressed the educational needs of the modern BOC media systems engineer.

A core curriculum for a Bachelor’s degree that introduces the student to the fundamentals of the physical, media network, application and security layers of a media infrastructure might include:

  • First semester: Composition I, Chemistry I, Calc 1, Intro to Eng. Analysis, Eng. Drawing and CAD
  • Second semester: Composition II, Physics I, Calc II, Programming in C/C++ I, AC and DC Circuits
  • Third semester: Physics II, Calc III, Digital Electronics, Programming in C/C++ II, Computer OS and Architecture
  • Fourth semester: Differential Equations, Networks (NOS and SAN), Data Structures, Security Fundamentals, Broadcast System Technology

An internship with a broadcaster is imperative. With the convergence of broadcast and IT, a stint in an IT department can be equally beneficial.

After completing the first two years, a decision must be made as to a specialty. This should be selected with an eye to a particular area of the infrastructure, essence, media network, application or security.

A familiarity with the operational, creative and business aspects of broadcasting is essential. In addition to degree specialty, course work should include, the media business, broadcast facility infrastructure and production processes.

It is imperative to develop analytic and critical thinking. Humanities such as logic and philosophy can help get you there.

Numbers can be made to support just about anything. Statistical analysis and accounting will be time well spent and useful knowledge to decipher what the numbers really mean.

Business process and management knowledge is a must. Project management, economics, finance and studying the media business model will get you started.

Unless you intend to hide in your office or behind a rack of equipment all day, efficient communication skills must be developed. Presentation skills/public speaking and technical writing courses are essential.

The SBE has developed guidelines for Associate and Baccalaureate curriculums that address the contemporary skills needed for a career in broadcasting. They are available by contacting Linda Baun at lbaun@sbe.org.

Constant change

Change can be difficult. Technology changes so fast that it becomes obsolete after a few years. Every few years, you need to evaluate your skills and make the appropriate additions. Continuing education is key to contemporary competence.

There are three character traits of a successful broadcast engineer: talent, technique and tenacity. An engineer has the innate talent to crash a system that others say works perfectly. Technique is acquired by school and augmented by continuing education and experience. As the complexity of BOC infrastructures increase, the pressure of maintaining on-air systems will become increasingly stressful. Tenacity will enable you to persevere.

Engineering is a philosophic state of mind. It is the natural desire to know how things work. It is the ability to find practical solutions using a methodical approach while documenting the solution.

The complexity of integrated broadcast infrastructures requires the highest engineering competency and skills. A combination of education and experience is necessary. Don’t forget, a new engineering discipline is being born.

References and additional reading

The Broadcast Education Association Web site offers information in many broadcast-related areas.
Visit the site at www.beaweb.org.

Seminars for A+, Network A+ certifications and other training:

For examples of representative media business and project planning certificate programs explore:

Information about MIT’s combined electrical engineering and computer science degree program:

For a discussion about training personnel or hiring by expertise, read

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