Tour of Duty

While I’ve lived next door to a telephone exchange for nearly 8 years, I – like most people – have never seen the insides of one.

Since migrating continents over a decade ago, I’ve worked in the telecom industry. From knowing nothing about the mobile or fixed line network to having a reasonable high-level view of both, I have learnt almost everything I know about the engineering that goes into a network from my generous colleagues.

Today, I got a 1:1 tour of the exchange, and a slice of the network that aggregates all the traffic from the neighbourhood heading to and from the world wide web. Modern technology uses a strand of glass and incredible technology to connect us on the internet, to let me publish my random thoughts to the world. It’s magic, and yet a creation of human ingenuity.

What was even more fascinating was the stories SL told me; the people who needed to work full time in the noisy hot factory that housed the mechanical predecessor to modern software driven exchanges;  their ability to notice trouble merely from the sounds of the whirring equipment; of how thousands of these building lie around the country, graveyards to machinery and racks and cards, forgotten by everyone except the technicians who go in there every so often to fix some service; how the cables are kept airtight with the compressed air being pumped through them; and on and on and on..

As I reflect on the day’s learning, and the lucky opportunity I got today to do so, Richard Feynman’s words (I’m reading his book “What do you care what other people think?”) resonate strongly: “With more knowledge comes a deeper, more wonderful mystery, luring one on to penetrate deeper still. Never concerned taht the answer may prove disappointing, with pleasure and confidence we turn over each new stone to find unimagined strangeness leading on to more wonderful questions and mysteries – certainly a grand adventure!”

What an adventure it has been today. And to be grateful for the people who care enough to show me the ropes, the cables and conduits, and how far we’ve come to simply be connected to each other in so many different ways.