Tell us about your background and your training in medicine.
I come from a humble background and from the Kuria community, one of the minorities in Kenya, which borders Tanzania.
I am the first born in a family of nine children and my family was rich in happiness, values and discipline, but money might as well have been a Greek word as none of our parents was in gainful employment. I studied at a nearby public primary school and most of us at the school couldn’t afford paraffin at home for evening studies so we would contribute and buy five liters of paraffin per month for evening studies at school between 7pm-9pm, which meant that we would go back home at night. I wasn’t even sure I would join secondary school due to financial constraints, but through God’s grace, I joined a local school where I was a day scholar for most of the four years of secondary school and became a boarder in the last days of secondary school. I managed to meet the university cut-off points, which was a relief as I was now eligible for a loan from the Higher Education Loans Board and joined Maseno University for a degree in Biomedical Science and Technology (specializing in Lab medicine).
How did you end up at the Network Operations Centre?
After graduating, I worked as a medical representative in a pharmaceutical company, a job I enjoyed, but it wasn’t challenging enough and was quite repetitive. Unless there was a new drug or a change to an existing drug, there would not be much excitement. I thus decided to look beyond this, and I found myself working at Safaricom Customer Care (line 100). After two months training in Safaricom products, services and systems, I started working as a customer care executive. During training, I found the GSM module very interesting and challenging as it explained how people make calls, SMS and connect to the internet. I started reading more to understand to enable me serve customers well on data queries. After two years taking calls on 100, I competitively applied for a role in line 2222/400 which was a first line support for internet solutions, Wimax services, mobile data connections and other enterprise solutions. This was the turning point in my career as the role needed deep knowledge in technology. Through Safaricom’s support, I started my career in networking where I enrolled in Cisco courses CCNA, CCNP and got certified, started CCIE but I’m yet to be certified. When there was a role for NOC Engineer, I applied and was successful and here we are.
How does your work now compare to what you were initially trained to do?
Obviously, what I studied for at the university and my current role are worlds apart as part of my studies entailed the study of biology and medicine with a bias in research on the health of both animals and humans but here I am working on network elements and management systems, ensuring service availability always. While both study systems, their subject matter differs.
How did your family, friends, schoolmates react to your decision to switch careers?
I didn’t tell people about my intent to change career until I’d made it. They came to learn after I had already switched. None of them doubted my capabilities but they thought it was a complete 180-degrees turn. To date I haven’t regretted making that decision.
What’s your typical day like?
Network Operation Center being the eye of the company, it is manned 24/7, 365 days a year thus we work in shifts of 6am-6pm or 6pm -6am and the job is one of the most unpredictable I have been involved in. One minute it is calm and the next second it is stormy as we are facing a crisis and every engineer is putting in their best to manage and resolve the incident/crisis and passing information to relevant teams.
My day usually starts at 5am or 5pm depending on whether I am working on the morning or night shift. When it is not stormy, I am mostly at the transmission desk proactively combing through the alarms, identifying and sorting through faults that are risky to services to avert loss of service. Transmission is the backbone of all Safaricom’s business as all services ride on it and it enables customers to access our services wherever they are.
We work in collaboration with other desks within the Network Operations Center because all the services they monitor interface with transmission in one way or another.
What’s the biggest career risk you have taken?
I have encountered several risks along my career path, some minor and some major. I have failed in some and succeed in some but the biggest risk I took was when I decided to join first-line support for enterprise solutions and mobile data. I wasn’t sure that I would manage to handle issues which were completely out of my initial areas of study and this changed my perspectives on my career completely.
What’s the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?
The biggest challenge I encountered was when I moved to the transmission desk and at the same time, Safaricom was massively deploying its own fiber in the country. This being a new change, there was a lot of instability, network was growing faster and onboarding new services like Fibre To the Building, Fibre To The Home, IP Radio Access Network. Through training, increasing the number of staff and experience, we now have one of the best and stable networks. I have learned that challenges remind you that you’re stronger and more capable than you give yourself credit for, or humble you and sharpen your skills.
What do you like the least, and the most, of your profession?
Supporting multiple technical teams in 24/7 operational environments with high uptime requirements is very exciting but what I like most in my profession is being dynamic. Technology keeps on changing and every day is an opportunity to learn. Due to emerging new technologies there is a lot of training both local, international and on job learning
Sometimes it doesn’t feel okay watching customers desperately waiting for critical services during outages and you are aware of underlying circumstances which could take hours to resolve. Due to the nature of NOC’s reporting schedule, there is very little physical interaction with our colleagues outside our immediate workmates though there is a lot of calls and emails exchange.
What is the one thing that has been a constant in your career?
Throughout my career, there is only one thing that is constant, and this is change. It comes in different forms, ranging from new roles, responsibilities, organization changes etc. Although scary, it can be exciting if approached correctly and with the right mindset. It is also good to realize that learning is not limited to the confines of university or school but is a continuous process and it helps to adapt to change.
What do you do to relax, when you are not monitoring networks and getting out of crises?
When I am not monitoring the network, I chat with friends and catch up on what is new. I also read and go for walks. As a family person, there is nothing more fulfilling than being with my family.