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Explaining OSP: 5 Levels of Experience

Since the 90s, our company has specialized in OSP design. We've looked at millions of poles since then, but still haven't figured out how to explain what we do to our families.

Over the past few years, we worked hard to develop a training and certification program to help new customers learn and demonstrate expertise in the mechanics of our software

As we continue to provide this service, we're also developing a curriculum for OSP design so that someone completely new to the industry could "graduate" from our course with a great baseline knowledge of aerial OSP design and NESC make ready rules. The goal is that staff and customers can offer maximum value to their teams from day one.

In the meantime, we wanted to do a deep dive with our team to see how their understanding of what we do is shaped and colored by how long they've been doing the work. We talked with five different teammates with varying degrees of experience:

  • 1 month

  • 3 months

  • 2 years

  • 9 years

  • 18 years

Check out their thoughts below!

Level 1: Jeremiah Hopkins (1 Month)

Jeremiah H- OSP Designer

Defining OSP:

OSP (outside plant) refers to power and cable structures that are built outside of a power plant, as opposed to ISP (inside plant). OSP includes utility poles, which is what we focus on.

How he has been learning OSP:

Focused mostly on what we call extraction - figuring out what is up on a pole and annotating those photos in our software. 

Went through our OSP Design bootcamp as the first beta tester - a lot of good info!

What he would do differently if starting over again:

It would have been easier to learn with more availability from an experienced trainer and with more of a chance to get reps in with teammates.

The most challenging part about being an OSP Designer:

Understanding what pole attachers really want and reading between the lines of their application info and maps. 

Impact of his work:

Helping attachers better understand how the application process works, and bringing reliable utilities to the communities where they attach. We're the Lorax of utility poles—we speak for the poles!

Level 2: Stephen Spuler (3 Months)

Stephen S- OSP Designer

Defining OSP:

The definition of OSP Designer is Outside Plant Designer. This means we work outside of the communication/power facilities that we service. Essentially, we are subcontracted by power and/or communication companies.

In this capacity, we are responsible for engineering existing and new attachments on both power- and communication-owned poles, in order to ensure existing and new attachments are installed within code requirements. If violations do exist or occur due to new attachments, we call for remediation measures.

Once this step is complete, we are also responsible for verifying that existing attachments and any new attachments do not fail a pole's loading capabilities.

How he has been learning OSP:

Lots of repetitions, making mistakes, just jumping in and starting to solve the problems.

Having someone else review your work to point out mistakes.

What he would do differently if starting over again:

Take better notes, pay attention to repeated mistakes.

Be willing to start before having all the answers.

Make mistakes and ask questions.

The most challenging part about being an OSP Designer:

The sheer volume of information at every step of the process.

Learning software and trying to identify everything that is up on a pole.

Impact of his work:

Helping to design new communication attachments for people who haven't had access to high-speed internet.

Ensuring that what is already built and what will be built will function as it should.

Level 3: Nathaniel Fuhrman (2 Years)

Nathanial F- OSP Designer

Defining OSP:

What we do as pole designers to ensure safe and quick communications attachment.

How he learned OSP:

Started by working with snapshots of projects, not the full job.

Lots of handholding and having someone sit with me for a lot of the time.

What he would do differently if starting over again:

Understand the "why" of something - doing it "just because" can keep it from sticking.

Make sure you have an expert nearby who can answer the "why" questions - not just the "what."

Do it on your own, but have somebody close to answer questions.

The most challenging part about being an OSP Designer:

Keeping up with the demands of incoming work while also helping new staff learn. 

Digging up new solutions to edge-case problems when standard solutions no longer work.

Impact of his work:

Making sure our poles are safe, and communication service gets built!

Level 4: Andrew Mueller (9 Years)

Andrew M- OSP Designer

Defining OSP:

When fiber or other telecommunications want to attach, we do the engineering design so they have the space to attach without making the pole fall over.

How he learned OSP:

Full-stack - started in the field, then processed photos, associated photos, extracted heights from photos, then make ready and pole loading. Now we do power engineering design and construction package entry, too.

What he would do differently:

Do it the same way!

We should continue to train people full-stack—starting from square one helps new staff see the full picture and understand each step better.

The most challenging part about being an OSP Designer:

Gaining the experience to even know what you're looking at on a pole - this takes time and repetition.

Make ready has a lot of grey areas and opportunities for interpretation/opinion.

Hard to focus on a screen for 8hr/day trying to solve complicated problems. One bad job or day can affect the rest of the week.

Impact of his work:

Without it, communication attachments can't get built on poles.

Work in underserved communities is far more meaningful and makes the world a better place. Working in overserved areas is harder AND has less of an impact.

Level 5: Andrew Bryden, P.E. (18 Years)

Drew B- P.E.

Defining OSP:

Outside plant—all utilities that are outdoors/outside of facilities/plants. It probably technically encompasses more than just power and communications, but that's what our focus has been.

How he learned OSP:

Started with a really shallow understanding and got deeper, layer by layer, over the years. Hindsight makes me really question some of what I was doing back in the day.

It started as just trying to fulfill requirements—but it slowly morphed into making sure we're building things that actually work and are reliable long term.

What he would do differently if starting over:

Start by teaching designers how to capture the right data in the field. Document the existing conditions and build out a database of that information.

Then teach analysis and engineering, starting with Simple make ready and building up to Complex make ready situations.

The most challenging part about being an OSP Designer:

There are very few places to actually be taught OSP design from an academic perspective. It's almost all practical, hands-on learning.

It can be cutting-edge—what used to be true isn't true now.

There are deceptively difficult topics at play. The math behind catenary curves and pole loading physics is subtle and extremely difficult—we tend to think we understand it better than we actually do.

We're dealing with uncontrolled environments at scale and have to make sure a freak storm doesn't take down the whole grid. 

Impact of his work:

OSP design is synonymous with "reliable utilities for people." They're the same thing!

Do you have any insights from your experience in OSP? Please comment below—we'd love to hear your thoughts.

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