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Home  > Article

Interested in an International Job in a War Zone?

By Bruce Wilson

I worked as a member of a small team of 20 technicians and supervisors providing a wide variety of IT and Communication support for the US Embassy facility in the International Zone in Baghdad, Iraq.

When not dodging bullets, our team provided second tier desktop support, installed network fiber optic cables, programmed routers, maintained satellite cable television systems, Internet cafes, VoIP and cellular phone equipment and related gear.

Working internationally is very interesting, but supporting the US activities in Baghdad is especially satisfying because my work builds morale and helps keep people alive. However it's not for everyone, turnover is very high because of the many unexpected surprises one can encounter.

How to get Hired

Getting hired was easy. A resume to the company recruiter quickly brought a phone call with an invitation to begin a two week orientation leading to deployment to Iraq. A jack-of-all-trades IT/Communications background and a warm personality were the only qualifications. Men and women from 18 to over 75 with backgrounds ranging from A+ techs to former CEO's are in demand. A diversified skill set is useful for technicians as they are always being asked to perform their magic in unexpected ways.

What You'll Do

We never knew what our 7am to 7pm work day would include. Providing second-tier support for customers in a war zone seven days a week is anything but typical. Our guiding rule was the customer's always right but when they are wrong, re-read rule number one. Good problem solving skills and a patient personality were very helpful when overcoming monumental difficulties such as getting supplies, information and satellite bandwidth for dependable communication. One is always on the go. Our activities kept the computers, phones and networks in the Embassy compound functioning, which helped to insure the safety and morale of thousands of people.

A knowledge of Windows XP and Microsoft office are the main software skills required with some knowledge of Citrix and SAP programs which must be installed and configured. New programs unique to this environment are always appearing, providing new learning experiences. Fixing a recalcitrant mouse, a broken login and spyware laden email are just a few of the tasks the support techs perform to put a smile on the face of disgruntled and frustrated users.

Laptop repair is a major function of the help desk crew. Installing and re-imaging hard drives leads to interesting tasks. On several occasions for example, damaged hard drives were opened and repaired just to recover a users' critical data. Techs configure network printers and clean desert sand from the computers' cooling system. Training users, especially after a software upgrade, rounds out the desktop support activity.

Our servers are located around the world and throughout Iraq. Server support is mainly performed remotely from network centers in other countries. Locally we add printers, directories and user permissions and we back up data on a daily basis.

In addition, we install fiber optic and wired network cables, install and configure routers and repair damaged equipment. Our techs install and maintain satellite television networks and Internet cafes which provide recreation to help boost morale for thousands of people.

Our biggest challenge is to provide consumable and repair parts in an environment where an order for such things as toner cartridges may take a month or two to arrive. Even more frustrating is the likelihood that the items will turn out to be counterfeit knockoffs which may look identical to the genuine item, but do not work at all. Items are ordered after a bidding process which further complicates the process. The lowest bid is not always the bargain it would appear to be. These little surprises result in some major distress for users which must be resolved quickly and courteously. An important general or staffer with the Department of State cannot be left without a printer for example.

The Rewards

Positions at international job sites are a good way to put aside money for a special need. Wages tend to be high, hours are long and the first eighty thousand of earned income is free of federal income tax. Tax free transportation to the work location, room and board are all provided. In many instances, an employee has no other expenses so they can save their entire paycheck. With careful investing, someone can become a millionaire in just a few years.

For anyone interested in pursuing a similar career my advice is to "expect the unexpected." You just won't believe what users will do to their systems, so you must be prepared for anything.

Copyright © 2008, Dice, Inc. Re-print permission granted by Dice, Inc.

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