I Build the Internet—This Network Engineer & Her Team Keep the Internet Running During the Pandemic

Sponsored by Frontier Communications

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April 14, 2024 at 2:25AM UTC

Ask April Strobel what she does for a living, and you’ll get a definitive answer. “My team builds the Internet for Frontier.” That one sentence belies the massive responsibility behind the work her team performs for one of the nation’s leading internet providers.

During her five years as a Manager of Network Engineering, April has seen internet technology evolve to meet the massive shifts in consumer consumption. She says that, “the content we are providing has dynamically changed. Now everything is video. Previously, it was social media. Now it’s streaming video content. It’s changed how we’ve had to build our network and increase capacity for our customers.” 

Her role is dynamic and demanding during any time, and the global pandemic added challenges no one could foresee. Like millions of others, April and her team of eight engineers have been working remotely since March 2020. The rapid shift to remote work and school was possible because of people like April and her team. 

April says, “At the beginning of the pandemic, we started seeing internet traffic increases in states that were going into shutdown. We started seeing a large spike in bandwidth, and we needed to address that shift.  There’s no network modeling you can do saying what you do during a pandemic when everyone is working remote or going to school online. We had to adapt very quickly. We had to react in a way we never have before.”

Providing all the extra bandwidth remote work and school suddenly required was complex and risky. “Turning up bandwidth to customers and augmenting the network at a rapid pace is very time-consuming. You need to test everything, or you risk breaking the connectivity every customer in our network relies on. We had to do everything very surgically and methodically. It was definitely challenging, and our team did a great job in adapting,” April says.

April and her team will now focus on increasing network automation for Frontier This project allows the company to upgrade its capacity planning and visualize what happens to the network if a failure occurs. Internet routing at the service provider level is incredibly complex. Network management automation and visualization creates greater sophistication for planning and capacity augmentation. By improving network automation, Frontier will become more reliable and responsive to its customer’s needs. 

When asked about the journey towards her current role, April credits an early mentor with supporting her to success. After her previous company was acquired by Frontier, she had the opportunity to either leave the business or interview for a new role. She applied for two positions at Frontier and had interviews for both. She ultimately chose a role with the Network Operations Center (NOC), because it had a supportive female director. April says, “It was a panel interview, and I was seated in front of her and four other managers. I was terrified. One of the managers started grilling me on stuff I didn’t know. The Director immediately shut him down. She said ‘I told you, she doesn’t know this. That’s not what we are going to hire her for.’ I was shocked. She fought for me to get into the group. That put me on the path to where I am.”

 April has been a mentor herself, particularly with people who want to go into engineering. She still works closely with the NOC, which is often a jumping-off point for those wanting to go into engineering. She says, “I’ve done interviews and maybe they didn’t have the skills, but I took the time to tell them what they needed to know and do to get where they wanted to go.” April was previously part of a Tier 2 group, which does the monitoring and surveillance of network elements and are considered the first responders on the network. While there, she seized the opportunity to learn as much as she could, and now she’s moved on up into engineering, which provides Tier 3 support. As she says, “If someone is calling me, then it’s really broken. It’s scary when customers are down, and you are responsible for getting them back up in the network.”

While remote work has its challenges, April has found it less stressful with less distractions. She says, “If you are having a particularly stressful day, you can take a break, spend time with your dogs, de-stress a bit and come back with a focus.” April got a puppy at the start of the pandemic, figuring she would be working from home for a few weeks and would have time to train him. Now he’s 62 pounds and a year old. But she’s also found working longer hours is a bigger temptation, and it’s hard to find where to disconnect and say you are done for the day. She misses her colleagues but finds setting a schedule for herself and team helps both with workflow and work-life integration. April says, “When they are offline, I don’t have a lot of interaction. It’s a signal to me that I can wait until tomorrow usually.” She also ensures her team has what they need and is flexible when someone needs to help their kids with school or shift to another priority. 

When April is not figuring out new ways to keep us all connected, April spends her time cooking and baking. This includes “making cookies and new foods, and more complicated dinner recipes because we are home.” She’s also spends time with her dogs, but like many of us, she misses going out to dinner, movies, and shopping. April, in reflecting on her career with Frontier, says, “Everyone I’ve worked with at Frontier has been great. I’ve had rewarding opportunities and gotten to move around a lot. It’s been really interesting!” 

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