Jerry Steinhauer has over 20 years of IT industry experience, joining Singlewire from Berbee/CDW, where he was a thought leader and developer in the Unified Communications engineering group. Steinhauer joined Berbee in 1995 and began working with Cisco voice on CallManager 2.4 in 1999. He was part of the team that first constructed InformaCast and contributed architectural advice for other Singlewire applications. He used his unique mix of technical and development skills to help build and support CDW’s UC engineering group across the Midwest. In 2008, Steinhauer was awarded the CDW Crystal Award, given to the company’s top 10 performers.
Steinhauer holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science with an emphasis in systems programming from University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has also been Cisco Voice CCIE #12504 since 2003.
Intense School’s Security Research Engineer Chris Liu spoke with Mr. Steinhauer to discuss his personal entry into the Cisco Voice field, his predictions for Voice trends over the next five years, and his advice for potential Voice Engineers.
Intense School: What attracted you to become Voice focused rather than routing/switching/etc.?
Jerry Steinhauer: I enjoy working in a layered architecture, using what I learn to isolate and solve problems, and voice impressed me as a tall set of layers, a set of hard problems. Voice impressed me because it was hard to get right. And, it depended on the route/switch being done right as well.
IS: How did you get into the field?
JS: I started out in servers in the early 90’s with NetWare, routing and later switching in the late 90’s. My first exposure to voice work was managing our office phone switch, a Nortel Norstar. I happened to be in the office the day it got installed, we were a small company, and so I became the phone administrator. As the company grew, I wanted to be able to expand the phone switch without involving the vendor experts (they were surly and expensive). So, when we added locations, we added Norstars and networked them using Cisco MC3810’s over our existing data T1’s. This was my first exposure to Cisco voice. When Cisco bought Selsius Systems and released CallManager 2.3, I saw an incredible integration opportunity. With CallManager, Cisco combined voice, telephony gateways (running in dedicated boxes and “power sucking aliens” as we called them at the time) with Microsoft server technology (SQL Server) and a web UI (ASP-based). The first IP phones were not switched; they had hubs in them. We regularly had software developers doing big file transfers from their PC through the hubbed phone and to the network. When this happened, they would come and get me. We were very glad to get Ethernet switched phones, the first of which was the 7960. With CallManager 3.0, the whole environment got a lot more stable. It was at that point customers got really interested, and I got really busy.
IS: What was the hardest part about learning about Cisco phones?
JS: When I started out, gateways had not been incorporated into IOS yet. So, it was very difficult to get signaling issues right. We would have to do things like T1 debugs using just CUCM and nobody but TAC knew how to read the traces. These days, Cisco voice is much better defined than it was back then. But, now we have the problem of breadth. The product list is so much larger and the integrations are so much deeper. These days, the problem is one of focus: you might be an installation and integration engineer, but rely on other engineers to do call center work, because things have gotten so specialized that it’s really hard to know all parts of the stack in a customers environment well enough to work on it all alone.
IS: How valuable do you find the various Cisco Certifications?
JS: I just passed the 10 year anniversary of my CCIE. It was really hard for me to achieve, I failed before I got it. Before I was CCIE, I did CCNA and CCNP. If you approach the certs as ends of themselves (e.g. I’ll get this cert and X will happen), I think you might be disappointed. What you get out of going for your CCIE is an appreciation for how the different products work, how they inter-relate and operate. What this lets you do is to reason about them and predict their behavior. This property is incredibly useful. Once you understand the architecture of a product and can explain and apply it, you can do design, installation, troubleshooting, any kind of work. This knowledge and flexibility was much more valuable than the certification itself.
IS: Where do you see the Cisco Voice field in 5 years?
JS: Voice as a field is disappearing into Collaboration. The voice CCIE will merge with the new Collaboration CCIE. Collaboration includes voice, video, IM and unified messaging. Customers and Cisco partners don’t need as many solely voice focused engineers anymore for customer migrations. They’ve migrated much of the old TDM world onto voice already. Existing customers will have to keep their environments running, and will need to migrate off of legacy TDM trunking to SIP, so it’s not as though voice is dead, but I would advise anyone entering the field to also learn those complimentary technologies, especially video. I think that in 5 years, the traditional boundaries that we see today (inside vs outside a customer’s network) will have largely disappeared for users. They will demand always-on collaboration applications with consistent user experiences, regardless of location.
IS: What advice do you have for people who are considering entering the field?
JS: Learn enough about route/switch technology so that you understand what effect a routing protocol has on network performance and why switching is important to voice quality. Learn the legacy telco interfaces cold: FXS, FXO, PRI, CAS T1. It sounds strange, but spend time with the phone admin guides. They describe the user-level experience. Every voice engineer must understand how users can interact with the phone, and how to control this interaction through CUCM (e.g. how to do pickup groups, hunt groups, configure phones and DN’s). Once you have this level of knowledge, and can do user-level training on IP phones, you have a good start on learning and leveraging other parts of CUCM.
IS: What traits do you see in successful Voice Engineers?
JS: Successful voice engineers will:
* Communicate expectations to their customers. Customers used to their existing environments may be resistant to changing user process. A successful voice engineer will give the customer options for how to introduce and manage this change early, well before cutover.
* Plan their cutovers. The most successful cutovers are the ones where there’s a checklist of actions to perform, with individual’s names next to each, and everybody’s working off of the same checklist.
* Keep cool under pressure. Voice cutovers can be very stressful environments, sometimes involving tens or hundreds of people with strict deadlines.
* Document their work. A customer should have a written record of what their system does and how it should be expected to work. This can be a reference for months or years into the future.