How to Tell a WLAN Pro from a WLAN Joe

How to Tell a WLAN Pro from a WLAN Joe

WiFi / wireless LAN networking has become complex enough that for a good size network (200+ access points, 5+ locations, 500+ clients) a full time WLAN Pro on staff or through a consulting firm is recommended.

Telling the difference between a WLAN Pro from a WLAN Joe is not easy, especially if you are not a WLAN Pro yourself. It is similar to hiring a good software developer if you aren’t a developer or a sales leader if you have never been a sales professional.

Below are several areas of experience and knowledge that should to be considered when determining if a candidate for hire is a WLAN Pro or a WLAN Joe.

This list can also be used to help guide your career if you want to become a WLAN Pro.

  1. RF Surveying: Ask how many square feet have they RF surveyed using professional grade software like AM, Ekahau, or TamoSoft? If they have never heard of AM, Ekahau or TamoSoft…..WLAN Joe!

    This is tough one…there are many WLAN Pros who have designed, secured and managed complex networks that have never RF surveyed, only surveyed a few thousand square feet or have only used predictive survey software.

    RF surveying is a skill that every WLAN Pro should have. At the minimum a WLAN Pro will know when a RF survey is needed and how to perform survey for different types of environments (warehouses, hospitals, old construction, outdoors, etc).

    If I had to give a number, I would say anyone that hasn’t RF surveyed more than 6 million indoor square feet in their lifetime is a WLAN Joe.

  2. Enterprise Equipment: This is one of the biggest tells. If they only have experience with SOHO gear (Linksys, Netgear, D-Link, etc.) they are a WLAN Joe.

    A few years ago getting access to enterprise gear was costly but as companies move to 802.11n, the cost of used and excess inventory of 802.11 a/b/g equipment has come down. In many cases you can find enterprise class WLAN controllers and access point kits for less than $250.

    There could be many valid reasons why a candidate doesn’t have hands on time with enterprise gear..but no grey area here…no enterprise gear experience, not a WLAN Pro.

  3. Direct Experience: Having 10 of years of experience in networking is not the same as even one year direct experience with 802.11. There are many rock star networking professionals out there but without direct experience implementing WLANs they are probably a WLAN Joe.

    Below are several experts in their field who are not automatically WLAN Pros.

    • CCIE R&S does not equal CCIE Wireless
    • 30 Years of radio engineering experience does not equal 802.11 expertise
    • A CISSP will help with understanding WiFi security issues but does not equal 802.11 expertise
  4. Relevant Experience: For this topic relevant means equal to in size and scope. WiFi networks come in many sizes and are implemented for different purposes. For example, a 5000 room hotel has different requirements than a 5 million square foot warehouse or a thousand 5000 square foot retail store chain. All will require access points and proper wifi coverage but the details of security, management, performance will vary. Confirm the candidate has the experience in terms of size and scope to your project requirements.
  5. 802.11 L1/L2 Knowledge: Expertise is not needed but solid foundation of 802.11 L1/L2 is the difference between a WLAN Pro and WLAN Joe.

    In home networks, clients just work even with SOHO gear. In an enterprise network there are so many possible issues that you really have to be confident that the RF is not the issue before starting to troubleshoot DHCP, DNS, client hardware, security settings, and the end user.

  6. Certifications: Vendor certifications or vendor neutral certifications (CWNP) don’t guarantee anything but do demonstrate that the candidate is serious enough about their profession to know what certifications exist and they made the effort to get certified.

    If the candidate has no WLAN focused certifications or has never heard of any wireless vendor certifications or the CWNP, they are a WLAN Joe.

If the candidate doesn’t meet any or some of the above items, I recommend they be considered for less WiFi focused portions of the project such as cabling, AP installation, racking/stacking equipment, configuration/staging, project management, and post install support.

From WLAN Joe to WLAN Pro

It doesn’t take 10 years to go from a WLAN Joe to a WLAN Pro. With the right type of WLAN project experience and dedication to learning about 802.11 someone with solid networking experience can become a WLAN Pro in about a year.

Anything missing from above list? If so, let me know via Twitter @WLANBook.

Note: There is nothing wrong with being a WLAN Joe, everybody has to start somewhere…based on criteria above…I’m a WLAN Joe!

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