The SCTE IP Challenge has become an event that I look forward to each year. I have participated for 2 years now and plan to return for a third at this year’s Cable-Tec Expo in New Orleans. It’s a great opportunity to test your own skills, meet industry colleagues, and enjoy some friendly competition.
The SCTE Expo itself is a great show and always leaves me with a feeling of renewed enthusiasm. The show floor is a great place to identify new equipment or technologies that could have a meaningful impact on your system. However, for me, the technical workshops are the most important events. In these sessions you get to hear real world experiences from technical leaders in the field, learn from successful and less-than-successful technology deployments, and get a great sense of where the industry as a whole is headed for the coming year.
The IP Challenge itself begins several months before the SCTE Expo with two rounds of online qualifiers. The questions in the qualifying rounds can be difficult and often require some research. However, the challenge isn’t necessarily clearing the board, the toughest part is catching all the bonuses and tokens. By the end of a full week you can develop a Pavlovian response to any change in the all-important bonus box.
Although the questions at the finals are not as difficult as they are in the qualifying rounds, it is much more difficult to answer any question on that stage during the live Jeopardy. A question may be related to a task you perform every day but when the buzzer is in front of you can easily forget everything you’ve ever known about IP networks. The hands-on challenge is much more like a day in the real world for myself and many of the other competitors. You are provided with a CMTS, a terminal, some modems, and a problem that’s affecting your system or a task that must be completed. You need to quickly learn about your system and figure out which knobs and dials will solve the problem at hand. Since you never know if the other competitors are one keystroke away from a solution, you feel the pressure to quickly solve the imposed problem.
There is a great sense of camaraderie and support between competitors. When offstage, we root for each other and discuss the questions. One of the most enjoyable parts of the event is talking with the other network engineers, comparing the technical details of our systems, and laughing about some of the common experiences we’ve all had in our own networks. For me, some of the best moments at the IP Challenge occur offstage.
I would strongly recommend participation in the IP Challenge to any colleague or peer in the network engineering field. It’s a fun and exciting event and the networking opportunities are exceptional. I look forward to each year that I’m lucky enough to participate in the IP Challenge. As I have said to friends who have asked about the experience, “Where else in the world can you find DOCSIS and IP Jeopardy?”