When it comes to positions in the WLAN field, there are many to choose from, and a lot of overlap. There are individuals who make a living out of WiFi design and survey work, while others also install what they design. Large vendors and integrators have dedicated WLAN sales staff, whereas smaller VARs might rely on installers who can also pitch product.
It’s a big WLAN world with lots of room for professional nuance, but the most successful wireless engineers in any role know the value of training and staying current in a technology environment that can change fast.
Training & Certification
For those just getting started in WiFi, there are basic classes and certifications that can launch you forward. CompTIA’s Mobility+ does a decent job of reflecting the complexities of the modern enterprise and covers networking, WiFi, security, and mobile systems at a vendor-neutral foundational level.
For more WLAN-specific depth at the entry level, the Certified Wireless Technology Specialist (CWTS) from the Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWNP) is a great fit for everyone from sales types to those supporting WiFi in any role. CWNP also has a number of other certifications that are highly regarded in the wireless realm. The coursework for these certificates is updated as technology evolves, and even the most experienced among us do well by keeping our certs up to date.
Every major WLAN vendor also has its own training and certifications available, and some carry a lot of weight. Cisco’s CCIE Wireless is one of the more prestigious certs, and Aruba Networks has a well-respected training series that mirrors Cisco’s certification programs. Whether you’re getting into WiFi, point-to-point bridging or in-building cellular, using a manufacturer’s training is a must for those new to the profession or learning a new product line.
Whether you are working on getting hired for the first time or already have a WLAN-oriented job, it’s worth getting to know the support communities for all wireless vendors. It doesn’t matter if you install Xirrus; following the Ubiquiti and Aruba forums will teach you a lot. Though every vendor has a unique approach, the client devices and overall operational goals of WiFi tend to be the same for each vendor.
Support forums tend to be where real customers tell of real-world challenges, bugs, triumphs, and horror stories. This is where you get the raw, unsterilized read on what’s going on that you can’t find anywhere else. Sometimes it helps to look at the online forums for Vendor B to get ideas on how to solve a challenge on Vendor A’s gear. Not getting locked into a single vendor’s mindset will also help keep your overall wireless knowledge and perspective more well-rounded.
Create a Learning Lab
It can be really pricey to buy your own name-brand WLAN tools and enterprise-class gear. At the same time, you really want to have something on hand to keep your WiFi skills sharp. Even consumer-grade gear, Wireshark, and some free WLAN apps will help you to develop a basic WiFi acumen for things like channels, power, and basic packet structure.
Alternatively, vendors sometimes give away enterprise-class gear in exchange for participating in webinars or training sessions. And there are plenty of time-limited evaluation products available for many of the more popular analysis tools on the market.
One of the best ways for wireless engineers to stay current on the latest developments in WLAN is to hit the occasional conference. Among the leading national events for WiFi pros are Interop, the WLAN Professionals Conference, and Aruba Airheads Conference. There are also regional trade shows, and webinars. If you do your homework, you can find events for every budget.
Finally, one of the best resources for budding and seasoned professionals alike is the blogger community. There are dozens of excellent blogs to follow, by WiFi practitioners that also like to share their knowledge, including Revolution Wi-Fi, My802.11, WLAN Pros and Wirednot. There are plenty more, but these will get you started with everything from detailed how-to guidance to general commentary on the WLAN industry.