Broadcast engineers in the IP World: A Must Have

Cover image of the Broadcast Engineers in the IP World article

In an industry that is changing at a tremendous speed, professional profiles most demanded have also changed and will continue to do so. This does not mean that other profiles previously in demand will no longer be required in this new era; on the contrary, they are essential.

By Yeray Alfageme, Business Technology Manager Olympic Channel

Fast-paced implementation of OTT services and of production environments over IP may lead us to think that the future of traditional broadcast engineers is at risk as knowledge on networks and IT environments more in the line of IT or telecom engineers is now in high demand. However, these skills added to those possessed by a broadcast engineer make the value of such profile soar. But of course, there is the need to reinvent oneself and keep learning.

For an IT or a telecom engineer, equipment used in the AV industry such as rasterizers, waveforms and CCUs, for example, may sound strange. The learning curve for these specific systems may become an access barrier that many professionals could view as forbidding. Although the initial effort –due to the fact that these are systems having very specific uses and applications- can be significant, once the essential knowledge is gained, going more in depth gets easier. Which is more or less the opposite with network and IT systems.

Everyone has a computer, a router or even a switch at home to which their devices are connected to form a small network, used just to connect to the Internet or to share information between those devices.  A switch does not sound as something as odd as a rasterizer; or a router as strange as a CCU to us the vast majority of mortals.  Does this mean that anyone could set up a corporate network, a multimedia work environment or a large-scale distribution network? Of course not. As opposed to specific broadcast equipment, IT devices are much better known to the general public. You may find routers, switches and NAS systems at any department store, but not a waveform monitor or an Intercom panel, this is clear.

The access barrier –the prior knowledge required- for getting acquainted with such equipment is nearly inexistent nowadays. However, the learning curve for getting to know in depth the relevant techniques and configurations for these professional environments  is much steeper. Graphically, it can be pictured in Fig 1 and 2.

Figure 1 and 2

In Fig 1 you can see how, at the beginning, little time is required for acquiring basic skills. That is, said skills are accessible, both from a literal point of view –as these are resources that are readily available- and based on complexity. This causes them to be easily democratized. Nevertheless, reaching a high degree of skill demands much dedication.  Eventually becoming an expert in this field is neither easy nor accessible to everyone.

In Fig 2: On the other hand, as Broadcast skills are neither so accessible nor so intuitive, they normally require more time in order to gain a necessary base of essential knowledge. However, as this is a limited field, increased dedication over time allows reaching a very advanced level of skill. Although it may appear counter-intuitive, accessing this field is not as complex and a lesser time investment allows acquiring a very high level of specialization.

Times are changing

In the current situation –in which finding combined professional profiles boasting a high degree of skill in both fields is hard- it is necessary that professionals from both fields come closer. Facing the task of acquiring new skills outside their own professional fields, most especially for professionals nearing the end of their careers, no doubt requires an extraordinary effort.

From Broadcast to IT

As a general rule, professionals from the Broadcast world have very high levels of knowledge and specialization in their field. This is due to several factors:

  • Limited field of knowledge.
  • Highly-demanding labour market.
  • Specific, close equipment and manufacturers.
  • Relatively low technological development.
  • Closed professional environment.

As the equipment is very specific and manufacturers are mostly dedicated to this area and not to general equipment, relationships between manufacturers and professionals tend to be close in this industry. Support and training are carried out on a one-on-one basis and it is rare that an appropriate contact to sort out issues is missing.

For this reason, going from the Broadcast world to IT may be confusing for professionals and they may see this as a very complex move, for they lack direct contact, normally, with manufacturers because this is a much wider field.

From IT to Broadcast

The IT World may be just the opposite. Manufacturers of IT equipment operate in a vast array of fields and their product portfolios may be much more extensive as compared to Broadcast manufacturers.

Additionally, equipment is not sold directly but most usually through distributors, which act as a front desk for customers and clarify doubts while offering a first line of support. This causes IT professionals to need a high level of training and specialization for the equipment they operate. This is not due to poor support but rather to the fact that deeper knowledge in this field -a much broader one- provides great added value.

However, when getting into the Broadcast world from IT all concepts are quite different and mostly specific to this new world. This leads to initial reluctance and to an added difficulty which, as the first steps are being taken, gradually fades because of the fact that this field is much narrower and specific.

Ethernet cables - IP

Conclusions

As it is evident, both kinds of professionals may swing and adapt to the needs to the new existing labour market. The difficulties both backgrounds may initially encounter quickly disappear as soon as they dive into the other field in some depth.

Broadcast engineers have a lot of information and training on IT at easy reach. As this is a field so incidental to all industries and markets, there are countless courses and such a vast amount of information available. The immensity of this field should not scare one away from getting involved and learning.

IT engineers, who have the opportunity of taking on so many fields, will surely find broadcast a highly exciting environment. As they come from a widely known field with so much information available everywhere, they may find broadcast as something more hermetic and awkward.

However, as it is a narrower field and manufacturers are so close, they just need to break thin ice to find that everything is much easier and affordable. Last, for those who are still undergoing training and do not have yet a well-shaped background, cultivating multiple disciplines is doubtless a piece of advice to take dearly into account. Based on solid IT foundations, choosing broadcast as field for specialization surely will be a great thing to do. All this from the standpoint of a broadcast engineer, so it is a completely subjective opinion.

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