Learning the Art of Surveying

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
― Socrates

That quote couldn’t apply more meaningfully to anyone than those of us that have chosen a career in the technical field. Learning is of paramount importance if you’re to survive a lifetime in IT. Some learn best from books, others from hands-on experience but either way, you simply can’t ever stop; the technology moves way too fast. Especially Wi-Fi. From minor protocol efficiency increases to major standards updates, it never, ever stops. With each of these releases come the challenge of learning new hardware and software to run the networks, learning updated and new tools as they also adapt and add features, and learning new techniques (as well as sometimes forgetting old ones) to build and maintain wireless networks.

I was ecstatic when I heard a few months ago that my company would be hosting an Ekahau Certified Survey Engineer training event at our offices. Recently my team began the move over to Ekahau’s Site Survey (ESS) software to handle all of our predictive modeling and on-site surveys and, similar to the rest of my team, my experience using the product at scale and in various environments was limited. I had used it in a past life as an operations manager in higher-ed which meant I had a grasp of the basics but in my role now I need to be able to make it work anywhere and at any time. As with any software, knowing the finer details like why it’s doing certain things that way, where any weaknesses may be, or how it may react differently to different scenarios are what make an expert. I’m the first to admit when I don’t know and in this case I didn’t; I knew there was plenty to be learned. Additionally, the instructor would be none other than the great Keith Parsons, Wi-Fi guru extraordinaire.

Keith is a bit of a heavy-weight in the industry and has contributed back more than his fair share of content through podcasts, blog posts, white papers, Wireless Field Day participation, and even launching a conference specifically targeted at wireless professionals. Any time I read a post, listen to a podcast, or sit in the same room as Keith I end up learning something new. Whether he likes it or not, he’s a bit of a mentor to me and many others. Needless to say, you can probably tell I’m a bit of a fan. Learning isn’t always easy; not all content is created equal and not all teachers can teach. When you have the opportunity to gain real knowledge from someone that didn’t just learn what they’re teaching in order to stand in a lecture hall and read a script, you jump at it. No matter what the topic is, having the ability to take what a seasoned veteran knows and incorporate their years of experience into your notebook in a matter of just a few days is invaluable.

The ECSE isn’t just about using their software, it’s about understanding the hows and whys of proper Wi-Fi design. The list of content covered in Ekahau’s Training Data sheet gives you an idea of what you’ll learn throughout the course of the 3-day session. It’s a nice balance of lecture, conversation, and hands-on work that engages the student to participate and ask questions. The whole experience starts off with a rapid-fire deep-dive into the RF and protocols surrounding Wi-Fi emphasizing the importance of understanding the limitations and behaviors of the medium. From there it quickly advances through the software, survey types, when and where to use each one, and how to adjust modeled computer data to match the real world.

Keith’s training technique is highly interactive, requiring participation from the students, as well as incredibly hands-on – a method I’m sure has been tailored from his experience molding Wi-Fi professionals over the years. Combined with the goals of the ECSE and the great software that Ekahau is producing, the class is a sure fire way to harden your skills as a surveyor. Overall it was a great experience that I’d highly recommend to anyone, from up-and-comer to seasoned professional, in the field.