Working in our Technical Assistance Center (TAC) has its challenges, but Sr. Professional Services Engineer Bob Prior is no stranger to them.
After being with iDirect Government for five years, he knows his way well around our network on both the remote and hub side. A U.S. Marine veteran, Prior also understands what it’s like to be an end user in the field and knows the stress they may be under.
We sat down with Prior to learn more about the ins and outs of working in the Technical Assistance Center (TAC), the challenges they face and how they overcome them together.
What does the TAC do?
The TAC is responsible for troubleshooting and maintaining deployed iDirect systems and installing new systems at customer sites, and we’re in charge of professional services like network health checks for customers. We also conduct the training for both end users and hub network operators. Sometimes we’ll go onsite for training, and sometimes the students will come to our facility here in Herndon, Virginia to get training.
We do everything from answering the phones to testing, replicating and absolving customer issues that arise. Basically, we’re on the back end of the business and keep equipment maintained for customers and make sure they’re happy with how it operates – and fixing it when it doesn’t. The bulk of our job is reactive rather than proactive, but it helps to be as proactive as possible so we can better react to problems that we see and anticipate.
TAC is the first line of defense. The customers can always count on us to answer the phones 24/7, 365 days a year. It’s a valuable resource for customers to have that lifeline – end users and hub network operators both. They can always count on somebody from the TAC answering the phone, and if we can’t find a way to resolve the issue or get a particular request taken care of, we can always get the ball rolling to make sure it gets resolved as soon as possible. It’s very high-tempo, but it’s what the job is.
What have you learned since being here?
I’ve learned how to troubleshoot, install and maintain iDirectGov hub and remote systems as well as Velocity systems. I’ve also learned a lot more about the satellite communications (SATCOM) industry in general.
What got you interested in the SATCOM field?
I kind of fell backwards into it; that’s what I did in the service, so I’ve been working with iDirect modems for about eight years now. A previous program manager of mine referred me to this job, so I applied and started working in the TAC.
How has your previous experience in the military helped you in the TAC?
It definitely gives me perspective for the remote users. I’ve been in their position before, and I know what it’s like when they can’t communicate due to extreme environmental pressures. They often find themselves in austere conditions and getting their systems up and running is critical.
From a hub network operator perspective, my previous experience helps me educate them so they can pass that information along to the remote users. It definitely helps me empathize with the end users and hub network operators because I’ve been in their shoes.
Have you learned anything new since being in the TAC?
I have learned more about the SATCOM industry in general, how the government contracting system works, what iDirectGov’s role is within the industry and the new technologies that have been released. It’s always a learning process with each new hardware or software release; there’s always something new to learn. We’ll have hands-on time to learn each product before it’s released, but the real learning comes when the issues start to appear in the field. That’s when you really learn each product and develop skills to help you solve those problems and communicate with the end user. When troubleshooting, you hone in on your communication techniques to help you get to the root cause of customer issues and develop technical skills to help them navigate the problem or answer their questions.
As for the SATCOM industry in general, you learn a lot about how different organizations within our customer base conduct business and what they do with our systems. No two customers are doing the same types of missions with our systems, so it’s always very interesting to me to learn when a customer is doing something unconventional with our equipment. It’s interesting to learn the way that they’re implementing our equipment and to get those different perspectives, so I like that part of the job too.
Speaking of different perspectives, do you also need to know how our partners’ equipment works to help troubleshoot customer problems?
It adds another layer of complexity to troubleshooting, so you do have to be familiar with the equipment that the vendors are integrating with our modems. For example, one partner’s system is a little different than another’s terminal, and sometimes organizations have custom-made "Frankenstein" terminals that are completely different from anything we’ve seen. You don’t need a detailed engineering level of how all the components work together, but you need to have a good high-level understanding of what the different components do, what they’re responsible for and how they all talk to each other.
We don’t necessarily need to be experts on the customer’s equipment, but we do need to be subject-matter experts on the modems. It doesn’t help the customer if we tell them, “Hey, it’s not our job.” That’s not something that we do. It helps to know what component of the whole system is not operating correctly because you may be able to tell them to call one of our partners and explain what’s happening.
What is a challenging aspect about your job?
The high tempo and doing more with less. Sometimes it can be very fast-paced; one moment you’re on the phone and the next a major issue pops up. Sometimes you have to do triage.
What’s a rewarding aspect of your job?
It’s very rewarding when you spend a good amount of time working with a customer to solve an issue and get it fixed so communications can happen. When you’re troubleshooting with an end user who can’t get their modem in the network and you help them – not only help them but also educate them on why it’s happening – the light bulb goes off and their system starts communicating back and forth, that sense of accomplishment never gets old. I know how it feels to be that person on the other side, so it’s rewarding to help them get the system up and running.
The same is true working with hub network operators. If they have problems with their system, a number of remotes are affected. If that happens and you solve that issue together, all of their remotes come in and start talking to each other. You can just hear that weight being lifted off of their shoulders.
It’s good from a business standpoint, but it’s also good from a personal standpoint. It’s really rewarding to work together with somebody, put your heads together for a few hours or days or weeks or months, but when it finally clicks, it’s a great feeling. It’s very rewarding to see a project through to completion and communications are established. It’s nice.
If you’d like to be part of our TAC team, please visit our careers page at careers.idirectgov.com.