Technical Communications in the Telecommunications Industry

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(Dr. Amy Heitzmann with her son Logan)


I was staring at my phone, because I knew right when the clock turned two, I was going to get an important phone call. Sure enough, like clockwork, I was getting a call from the great Dr. Amy Heitzmann. She is the reason many are able to read this blog, perhaps you too. She provides the service for her customers to utilize the internet and talk on the phone. I was very excited to get her thoughts and experience on technical communications in the telecommunications industry.

About Dr. Heitzmann


Dr. Amy Heitzmann is from Leo Indiana. She has three wonderful children Logan (20), Grace (13), and Olivia (9). She works full-time as a Senior Network Engineer for Frontier Communications (formerly Verison) in Fort Wayne Indiana. She has been employed with Frontier for nearly 18 years. She adjunct teach at one of the local colleges as needed. She likes having the opportunity to communicate and interact with the younger generation as they look to enter the work force.

The Path From Business to Engineering


She began her career with a Bachelor’s of Business from the University of Saint Francis and accepted a full-time internship with Frontier. They encouraged her to accept a position as an administrator in the engineer group, which opened the door for her to work her way up to now a Senior Network Engineer. Being able to speak face to face is an important part of her daily job.”I love being able to be in the field interacting with customers and fellow co-workers, while still balancing the office work required. This job offers me a variety of experiences each and every day,” stated Dr. Heitzmann.

 

The Importance of Written Communication


She writes a good amount on a daily basis ranging from emails, documents, and proposals required within her job. Being able to provide correct information to protect and secure the network from damages is very important to her work. She double checks her emails to make sure she has not included anything that customer/co-workers might misunderstand. “Being able to communication clearly and effectively can be the difference in a successful or struggling employee. There are some situations where it is critical that conversations are documented in writing,” explained Dr. Heitzmann.

Overcoming Challenges of Communication


The market place is extremely global, which can cause many different issues in communicating. Many different factors play a role in this challenge, ranging from time zone differences, language barriers, and differences in cultural. Whenever possible, she tries to meet with co-workers and customers face to face. If time zones are a problem, she adapt to their timeframe.

 

When she first started in her career, she was nervous to talk to people who had more authority than her or individuals of the opposite sex. “Someone is always going to have something to say about you, but if you are forthcoming and honest your best foot is usually ahead,” Dr. Heitzmann advised.

Dr. Heitzmann’s Communication Preference


“To this day, I believe being able to communicate face to face verbally is the best form because it relieves some of the challenges that can be associated with written communication, social media, and texting,” stated Dr. Heitzmann. She believes communicating face to face allows some of the misunderstandings that can occur with other means of communication to be eliminated. So much is lost in texting and emotions can be misunderstood completely.

Words of Wisdom


Dr. Heitzmann added at the end of the interview:

“I think all situations are different and you have to learn to adjust to a variety of settings in the work force.  It will not always be easy and sometimes you will be frustrated beyond means, but you have to learn to control your emotions and march forward.”

Arthessius Hampton, Guest Blogger

The Voice of Energy: Communication in Engineering

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Jonathan Vogel is a chemical engineer at Citgo Refining in Lake Charles, LA

About Jonathan

In 2016, Jonathan graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a degree in chemical engineering. He now works full time at Citgo, with whom he previously interned, as an engineer. Throughout his experience in the field, Jonathan has used his technical knowledge and communication skills acquired at Tech to work through several issues, such as safely recycling chemical waste streams and getting the plant back in operation after a lightning strike.

The field of engineering attracted Jonathan from a young age. Growing up, his taste for applied math and science was developed through television shows such as Mythbusters, and through his fascination with space and NASA, which consists mainly of a collective group of engineers working together to do incredible feats.

Different Forms of Workplace Communication

Jonathan’s job as an engineer is to facilitate in the production of energy from crude oil, a complicated and multi-stepped process. Jonathan only works on a single section of this process, but because the operation of every section depends on that of every other section, it is vital that there be effective communication between the different parts of the plant.

Email

A large part of Jonathan’s job is writing emails to other engineers outlining the changes he makes and observes. This allows for other parts of the plant to compensate for changes in the process without ruining product or endangering workers.

Presentations

Jonathan must also keep his bosses and managers informed on the status of his work so they can be well equipped to make executive decisions. For instance, when Jonathan analyzes system performances to see if maintenance needs to be done, he has to give presentations to management detailing the process, the total cost, and why it is necessary. This allows the managers to analyze the cost effectiveness and productivity of new designs.

Face-to-Face

Although the operation of the plant relies heavily on email, Jonathan says that the most important form of communication is the face-to-face interactions with the operators and engineers. Many of the operators have been working on the units for decades, so a lot can be learned by talking with them. Furthermore, he says “it’s important to have a comfortable relationship with the operators so when you ask them to do something they don’t understand, there’s no resistance.”

The Challenges of Communication

Jonathan explains that poor communication can hinder productivity in a plant, and even cause alarm. For instance, he says that “you have to be aware of your word choice, because using the word ‘leak’ instead of ‘drip’ implies a different connotation.” This ambiguity could send an inaccurate perception of the issue to the management.

It is also important to make sure your written documents are clear and accurate. Every email he writes and safety audit he fills out are kept on file, and if there are discrepancies later, his bosses can find them. The paper trail he leaves must be honest so that he can not only help avoid accidents, but also prove that he isn’t responsible in case of one.

The Role of Technology in Engineering Communication

The development of technology in the engineering field helps keep plants in better communication, thereby making them safer and more efficient. Jonathan describes a technology called EELS (Electronic Event Logbook System) that monitors the conditions and changes made to a process. This data can then be shared or printed to allow the engineers and operators to discuss the reactions to turning a valve or changing a temperature.

Jonathan’s Expectations and Realizations

Jonathan was well prepared for the technical aspect of his job, but was surprised by the amount of communication it required. He advised that young engineers entering the workplace “learn to communicate well,” because “communication skills are just as important as technical knowledge.”

Andrew Pousson, guest blogger

TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION: YEARS OF EXPERIENCE WITH DR. STEVEN JONES

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Biomedical Engineering Building, Louisiana Tech University

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Steve in his office

 

About Steven

Starting his journey, Steven Jones pursued his Bachelor’s degree in Bio Engineering from the University of California, San Diego. He further continued his education acquiring a Masters and PhD in the field as well. Having many years of experience teaching at several schools, I asked him how important he thinks communication is in the work field? Steve replied, “You can’t do anything without it. Everything is about collaborating with people when you want to get things done.”

 

The Importance of Communication

Communication has always been a vital factor and a key part in leading any successful work environment. In his career, Steve is constantly communicating with his faculty members and students through emails, proposals, reports, handouts and meetings. Steve communicates with students on a daily basis by grading senior design projects, writing handouts, writing emails, and giving hours of lectures. “Weekly faculty meetings to discuss critical issues and job related proposals is a must” Steve said. He also said, “You communicate orally minute by minute, and writing is permanent.”

 

Clarity in Communication is Critical

Communication whether in writing or face-to-face conversation is important, but can also be hectic. In almost all cases, if people misunderstood you they are going to ignore you. Also, if your writing isn’t clear, people may be confused and unsure what you are trying to communicate. Steve said, “Communication is very important, but being clear and to the point while communicating is even far more important”. We always have to find the right words at the right time when communicating with colleagues, co-workers, or our managers. Sometimes, people think they know what you are trying to say, however, they don’t fully understand . Steve said “Preconceived ideas about what you want to say is a big issue.” Most of us know that emails are the simplest and most frequent way of communication, but they also need to be written clearly and efficiently, especially when you are talking to a broad audience.

 

Traits That Help You Communicate Efficiently

Every one of us, whether in the workplace or at home with family is trying to communicate to the best of our abilities. Whether it is to finish work that has been left behind, or to have a decent conversation with family about various aspects of life, we all strive for the acceptance of others. We strive to be respected and treated with kindness. To gain this acceptance and respect, we must first be effective communicators. Steve said, “Being conscious about what you are trying to say, and your attitude toward the thing that is being communicated is the key to success in communication.” We often try and communicate, but sometimes fail because we are not simple and to the point. Steve mentioned, “When communicating, consciousness is key; but also, a sense of humor just enough to keep your attention is a wonderful thing” People seem to get bored sometimes when communicating with others, but being conscious with a little bit of humor keeps the conversation alive and to the point. Communication also must be prepared and planned so it doesn’t become a waste of time. Steve said “Organize, so it’s not a waste of time, plan carefully, and supplementary, so your material is carefully put together.” In the preparation period, Steve stated “Try always to achieve the maximum volume of information with the least amount of words.” I learned from Steve that communication is more about being precise and not being messy. Communication is about using structure to introduce a concept, and about using the right words to talk about the concept efficiently and effectively.

 

Summary

Without communication, things can become confusing, frustrating, and inefficient. Important work can be delayed or ignored. Communicate efficiently so you can get things done. Plan carefully and consciously to avoid wasting your time or the time of others. Communicate in a simple way that is easy for others to understand. Be precise, but humorous so communication doesn’t get boring. Be selective with your words and show respect and sincerity to your colleagues so that the work environment becomes effective and successful. Steve said, “Decent vocabulary, and using it in appropriate ways, along with expressing your care to the subject, will always lead to successful communication.”

 

 

Yousef Aledrisi, Guest Blogger

Communication in the Workplace: It Could Save Your Life

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A plant environment can be a very hazardous place to work. Scalding hot pipes, moving parts, high voltage wires, and falling hazards can make a power plant a very dangerous place to work without proper precautions. I was able to speak with William Bennett, who is an electrical engineer working in the power generation industry, about what role communication plays in plant operation and safety.

Gas fired plants, like the one pictured here and Union Power Plant, provide power to their customers while having lower emissions than coal fired plants.

About Will Bennet

Will is a Louisiana Tech alum and earned his Bachelor’s of Science in Electrical Engineering in 2010. He is a production technician that operates and maintains the Union Power Plant in El Dorado, Arkansas. This natural gas fired power plant is the largest combined cycle plant owned by Entergy. Will’s responsibilities include maintaining safe operation, maintaining compliance with regulation of various operating parameters, and maintaining effective communication with Controlling Authorities.

Communication’s Role in the Plant

Will describes technical communication in a plant environment as of the utmost importance. He has to communicate with multiple entities within the plant daily, such as Dispatching, Transmission/Distribution, Technical Support, Planning/Scheduling, Engineering Compliance Manager, Environmental, Safety, and Plant Manager. Will described one major form of communication used within the plant that ensures worker safety and increases the effectiveness of communications: the Three-way Communication Procedure. In three-way communication, the sender states the message to the receiver. Next, the receiver acknowledges the communication by repeating the message to the sender. The receiver must restate any critical information exactly as it was stated by the sender. If the receiver does not understand the sender’s message, they must ask for clarification. Finally, the sender acknowledges the receivers reply and verbally confirms to the receiver that the message is correct and properly understood. Then the receiver can perform whatever action is being requested. If the sender does not understand the receivers reply, the sender must verbally indicate the two do not understand each other, and then the repeat-back process must start back from the beginning.

Communication’s Effect on Safety

A power generation plant can be a very hazardous work environment. Will describes communication as “very” important to the safety of plant workers. He says, “The Three-way Communication procedure is used so that both parties have a clear understanding of the request/action being taken”. If a miscommunication were to occur, people could be injured or killed. Will says, “If there was a breakdown in communication it could possibly lead to a catastrophic event”.

Technological Advances in Communication

Will pointed to several ways that technology has improved communication in the work place. He mentioned radio, phones, email, logbooks, and documents for reporting (Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) as advances that have led to more efficient communication. When asked how technology has contributed to worker safety, Will said, “I think the two biggest contributions are speed of communication and the formalization of technology uses for a communication standard”. He went on to say that, “the increased speed of communication now allows for a response to a certain condition to be carried out to reduce the effects of or prevent incidents. As for the formalization, there have been tools and guidelines that have been put in place to ensure clear roles and standards will be upheld to minimize the potential for incidents to occur, such as the Three-way Communication Protocol”.

Effective technical communication plays an essential role in any workplace. A breakdown in communication might lead to the loss of a client, drop in sales, or the loss of your job. For Will, though, a breakdown in communication could lead to the loss of life or limb.

 

Jacob Hogue, guest blogger

Technical Communication to Rebuild the Big Easy

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USACE NOLAU.S. Army Corps of Engineers New Orleans District Headquarters

 

David Lovett is a professional engineer from New Orleans, Louisiana.  He works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans, LA.  As a Structural Engineer, Dave assures the safety and prosperity for the residents of New Orleans by providing a man-made barrier against the turbulent Mississippi River and its various flood stages.  He works with other engineers possessing various technical specialties to maintain a safe existence for the inhabitants of South Louisiana.

 

The Path to Engineering

 

Dave began pursuit of his career in Civil Engineering with a Bachelor’s of Science from Louisiana State University.  He always had a strong affinity for math and problem solving, so it seemed natural to pursue engineering.  He learned early on that through group projects and study sessions, communication is one of the most important skills to succeed as an engineer in the modern era of Civil Engineering.

 

The Skill of Conveying Ideas

 

Dave says that communication is key for succeeding in engineering.  “While technical skills are a must for a young engineer, communication skills are equally critical for success as a young engineer.”  Dave has found that an engineer who can convey ideas to fellow engineers throughout various government agencies efficiently, has a greater chance of having a collaboration of ideas go smoothly in a humongous project.  On a daily basis, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deals with projects that are essential to the commerce of the United States, and also makes sure that New Orleans continues to recover from Hurricane Katrina.

 

Written Communication

 

Written communications skills are integral to having projects come into fruition.  Since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a worldwide organization, many times the engineers involved in projects never get a chance to meet face to face.  As a result, technical writing whether through memos, reports and emails, is vital to the success and timely delivery of a project.  Dave says that when he started as a young engineer, he learned quickly that writing his technical responses to supervisors and co-workers “was instrumental in [his] technical development.”  Now as a Section Chief in the Structures Branch, being able to effectively communicate with his staff on administrative and technical expectations through email is important to ensure proper execution of various tasks and making deadlines for projects.

 

If Dave had a Time Machine

 

While covering the technical aspects of communication, Dave brought up an interesting caveat to our conversation.  If he had a time machine, he would have stressed even more that the art of communication would be the most essential tool in his development as a future leader, and compulsory to retaining the knowledge from experiences he would encounter as a young engineer.  Going into further detail, he said if he could have spoken to a younger Dave, he would have said to use the oral and written technical communication skills to “gain knowledge from the experienced supervisors.”  The organization has a wealth of knowledge, and by prosing various technical questions to superiors, he was able to stand above his peers in gaining valuable information that is not taught in a textbook.

 

Technical Communication is an Ongoing Learning Process

 

When asked about his progression within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Dave said that he is still learning how to be an even more efficient and capable leader, which he does everyday by using his technical communication skills.  In order to handle disputes on ideas and the strenuous work load, Dave says “the art of leadership cannot happen without the art of communication.  They go hand in hand.”

 

Umar Raja, Guest Blogger