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Why some Wi-Fi jobs are best for WLAN professionals to avoid

Some Wi-Fi jobs can become nearly impossible to complete. When engineers contend with inflated expectations or bad designs, it may be best to walk away.

The Wi-Fi business can get odd at times, especially when it comes to doing business-grade wireless LAN work. We're...

up against a number of factors that just don't generally apply to the wired side of networking, and that pushes us as WLAN professionals to be educators, diplomats, mediators and miracle workers at different times. And, sometimes, it all gets so odd that the best course of action is just to walk away.

Not all Wi-Fi jobs are worth the trouble that comes with them, and here we'll discuss when you might be better off simply saying, "No, thank you," and leaving someone else to deal with a particularly difficult situation.

I recently polled several dozen veteran enterprise Wi-Fi professionals from a range of verticals. Here are their aggregated opinions on when the potential paycheck just isn't worth the hassle when it comes to hiring  to do wireless work.

Marketing hype doesn't help

I'm a true believer that everyone's job is important, and we all have our roles in the greater networking realm. But when it comes to Wi-Fi and marketing, things can get pretty over the top. The 802.11 standards leave a lot of room for misinterpretation, wishful thinking and flat-out truth-stretching when it comes to wireless.

When you're faced with a customer or a request for proposal that requires impossible service-level agreements -- such as, "Every access point will support 200 users, each streaming HD video," or "Every client device will get 2 Gbps of WLAN throughput" -- based on what WLAN vendor advertising says, it should raise red flags. If you can, try to talk about real expectations and what the WLAN can legitimately do in a given situation with the customer representative that has the authority to change the service-level agreement. If they stick to impossible requirements, you probably want to pass on these Wi-Fi jobs.

Everyone with a Wi-Fi app is an expert

I recently was subcontracted to help diagnose a spotty WLAN environment. I found plenty wrong, using my fully licensed, professional-grade tools. After a day of gathering information and making recommendations, I found I was overruled by a customer-side executive who loved to make technical judgments about how a high-density WLAN would act based on what he saw on his iPhone, albeit when no other clients were around. It quickly became obvious that my recommendations were overruled.

Yet, in the end, I was still going to be held responsible for iPhone-Man's choices. Too often, this scenario plays out -- and we're reminded that a fool with a tool is still a fool. I billed for my time to that point, and walked.

No design, poor design, designing on the fly

Many of us walk into situations where we're supposed to fix WLAN networks that aren't behaving right, and we find the Wi-Fi design is anything but. Maybe access points ended up where they are out of convenience, as a result of the customer reading some distance-based spec, like "Each AP can cover 4,000 square feet," or from a philosophy like, "One AP per classroom."

Sometimes, there are way too many APs; sometimes, there are way too few. So, you have the talk about requirements and what it would take to fix the situation with technical legitimacy. If a solution can't be negotiated that satisfies the customer and you as the expert, you're asking for trouble by proceeding in the relationship with these types of Wi-Fi jobs. Move along folks. Nothing to see here.

Sometimes altruism bites you

Whether it's blasting out too much wireless power to be in regulatory compliance or taking part in an unethical business WLAN deal, we all have our own threshold for what smells too dirty to tolerate.

I know a number of extremely generous WLAN professionals, willing to give their time, expertise and sometimes even donated wireless hardware to organizations in need but with no budget. It's amazing how a little Wi-Fi can transform the operations of a church or volunteer group in need. But it's also amazing how demanding the recipients of your kindness can be.

Maybe someone opted to change some system settings, or to stream Netflix so much that the tiny internet service provider uplink was swamped, making the WLAN feel crappy for everyone else. When the calls start coming in, you can find that your good deeds really don't go unpunished. Sooner or later, you'll have to set clear ground rules about this relationship, or you'll have to walk away from it.

Ethics, legalities and the little voice in your head

Whether it's blasting out too much wireless power to be in regulatory compliance or taking part in an unethical business WLAN deal, we all have our own threshold for what smells too dirty to tolerate. Not so long ago, I had the chance to make some easy money on the side doing some fairly simple WLAN-related work. Unfortunately, a past boss was involved, and I know way too much about how utterly unethical this man can be. Even if this particular situation was on the up-and-up, I wanted nothing to do with this boss from a past life. Regardless of what the circumstances are, when the little voice in your head warns you of potential trouble, hear it out and don't be swayed by dollar signs.

This list goes on and on. Maybe a customer wants life-safety devices put on a WLAN environment that's already in bad shape, or expects you to do installation work in unsafe conditions without proper safety gear or practices. Perhaps a customer scoffs at your daily rate, or wants you to do huge amounts of overtime work with no extra compensation. While it's true we all need to work to feed our families, we also have to be mindful that certain situations can actually cost us in the end. Sometimes, it's OK to just say no, despite the siren song of the payday.

Next Steps

Why network engineers love cloud managed wireless

Using new tools to manage wireless networks

Deciding between cloud and on-premises WLAN

This was last published in August 2017

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