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Kevin was hired to do accounting at a local Southwestern Bell office. Randall, who was in college, needed a bit more help. The brothers had different tastes. Kevin liked to be outside, and now, at 57 years old, he works in Norman, Oklahoma, fixing the decades-old copper lines that still connect to landline telephones in most homes as well as to modern Internet conduits like high-speed fiber optics.
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Randall liked numbers and stayed indoors, rising through the management ranks. Not that long ago it had to fight for business with other phone companies and cellular carriers.
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For the company to survive in this environment, Stephenson needs to retrain its , employees so they can improve their coding skills, or learn them, and make quick business decisions based on a fire hose of data coming into the company. In an ambitious corporate education program that started about two years ago, he is offering to pay for classes at least some of them to help employees modernize their skills.
To Stephenson, it should be an easy choice for most workers: Learn new skills or find your career choices are very limited. He talks about the changes with obvious affection for both his brother and his longtime employer. Even if it means, as Randall put it, obsolescence. Many have tried, and a handful have even succeeded.
Stephenson declined to project how many workers he might have by , when the cloud-based system is supposed to be fully in place.
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Long ago, a phone system created wire lines between callers, and operators moved plugs in their switchboards to connect people. Over time, that was automated to become something closer to a computer, with digital fibers and wireless towers. Stephenson has concentrated on things related to cloud computing, a technology setup that is more like the computer guts of Google or Amazon than the circuits and switches of a phone company. This cloud system will eventually touch ventures in landline phones, wireless, high-speed online services, cable TV and now satellite, thanks to the DirecTV purchase.
Analysts give him good marks but say he has a long way to go. Google, for example, is offering high-speed Internet access in some cities. Amazon is selling video entertainment, as well as hosting new kinds of phone systems in its cloud. In , Stephenson realized, much to his dismay, that his staff was woefully unschooled for the new technology. Vision , as the company calls it, is a program that combines online and classroom-based course work in subjects like digital networking and data science, as well as a look at old skills that can be transferred to new careers.
One service called Network on Demand, for example, allows customers to increase the size of their Internet pipes without calling a technician, something that used to take weeks. A possible answer showed up on a sweltering Dallas afternoon in when Sebastian Thrun arrived. Thrun, a Silicon Valley technologist and onetime Stanford professor, is known for his futuristic work on self-driving cars and Internet-based learning. He is also the founder of Udacity, an online education company.
Within five minutes, the two men were cross-legged on the floor, Stephenson eager to try a physics course. His first online learning began with an unexpected challenge: getting online.
Bell, who wants to work in software architecture and design, plans to keep taking courses. So far most of the people who have taken the new courses are managers, and seem interested in learning very technical skills. Among the most popular courses are web development, data analysis, introduction to programming and writing apps for the iPhone. Vision includes an internal website where employees can enter their job titles, see what types of careers might be available in a software-driven company, and what courses they need to take to get them.
Over time, their grades are logged, and depending on how they do on the schoolwork, different new courses are suggested. Eventually, performance reviews will include data on what people studied, how well they did and whether, like Bell, they are willing to keep learning. Eventually, the plan is that desire for learning will be taken into account when promotions are considered. While the electric distribution system in Ohio is typically safe and reliable, service interruptions can result from weather conditions such as thunderstorms, high winds, or snow storms.
The PUCO has some suggestions and answers to frequently asked questions if weather events should occur and cause a service interruption. Ask a question. File a complaint. Submit a comment.
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Vintage Skynet: AT&T's Abandoned "Long Lines" Microwave Tower Network - 99% Invisible
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