Conversation with a Telecoms Engineer

September 29, 2009 / Daily Life, Technology / 3 Comments

Had the fortune to manage a part of the Singapore Grand Prix again this year. Highlights included walking pass Nicole Scherzinger and Michelle Yeoh, and also having the Senior Minister of Singapore check out my week-long workplace. Ironically, the only highlight that will stay etched in my memory was a conversation with one of my colleagues in field engineering.

It was 2am on the final race night. I was scraping for whatever energy I left to stay awake, when the field engineers walked in asking if everything was okay. Usually the conversation would end there, as there just isn’t enough in common between a 20-something corporate communications professional, who primarily speaks English and 50-something engineer, who primarily speaks Chinese peppered with a few English technical terms.

But I attempted to continue the conversation anyway.

I learned that he spent almost 40 years in the company. It was his first job – and would likely be his last. He shared how life as a telecoms engineer in the 1970s was like. Back then, land lines were an absolutely rarity. It took many months to get for a phone line because that’s how long it’ll take for the engineers to lay the cables to a particular village or a town. And the day the engineers would arrive at the customer’s house, they would be welcomed like Athenian warriors coming home from a victorious battle. They were treated to a feast, adorn with praises and gifts.

Fast forward to the present. Today, field engineers are usually greeted with frustration, anger and impatience, since their presence almost always means that something is broken.

Fix my goddamn internet now!
Why isn’t my phone working?
What do you mean it’ll take 2 hours to fix?! Hurry the ^&%$ up!

Never would I have imagined that these emotional sandbangs we easily hurl our words of frustration at were once perceived as heroes.

I don’t think people have become any ruder or angrier over the decades. It’s just that we are spoiled by the convenience of modern technology that even a 30-second divorce from YouTube or Facebook seems like permanent one. And we become so bitter that we often forget to appreciate the people who made communication available in the first place.

So thank you, Engineer for not only putting up the networks, but also putting up with our callow, anger-laden remarks.

  • I’m glad this telecommunications engineer left an impression on you through your conversation. It takes a figure of seniority to remind us how far we have reached in the technological world.

  • Like Athenian warriors. Wow, things must have been so different back then. A friend of friend who works in the telco field also tells me that whenever he gets a call, it’s usually a customer barking over the phone, screaming over why her modem lights aren’t on, why his phone can’t dial or why is she overcharged for the month’s phone bill (so much so for not reading fine prints, buddy).

    Same here. While I still believe in how we haven’t got much ruder since the 1970s, life as been so easy and convenient on many of us such that we forgot how to appreciate that we actually can ring someone up almost instantly – without the need to walk 10 minutes and then queue up for another 30 for a common phone in the village 😛

  • I think ‘spoilt’ is the word to describe most of us … now that we are so used to having things run so quickly and smoothly. In the past, we had to go out and find our own entertainment and perhaps, content ourselves with whatever is on the television. Now, everything is right at our fingertips with techy gadgets, Youtube, Facebook and whatnot. As such, imagine the frustration when things break down because to the person, it is like taking a huge step backwards to say, 10 years ago.

    Kudos to engineers like him. And unfortunately, I’ve been one of those folks who has lost my cool at one of those species before.