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A day in the shoes of... the engineer with the super heights and inhuman views

A day in the shoes of... the engineer with the super heights and inhuman views

Wind, rain, snow, sunshine - no matter the weather, when there's a problem with the connection, he's one of the people who has a duty to fix it.

A backhoe has pulled him out of a swamp, he's gassed in knee-deep mud, he knows what it's like to have the wind blowing you 40 metres off the ground at -10 degrees outside, and off-roading is sort of his second nature job. But he's also seen some of the most gorgeous scenery in Bulgaria.

This is Valentin Krastev - one of the longest-serving employees in Bulgaria of CETIN, a technology company dedicated to building telecommunications infrastructure and information security solutions.

Valyo's job title is Senior Network and Telecommunications Infrastructure Support Engineer. When there is a problem in the field, he and his colleagues - about 30 across the country - are the ones expected to fix it.

He's the kind of engineer who doesn't work in an office.

"Our profession is specific. We work at great heights. The sweetest job is when the mobile cell is on a building. But we also have 'masts' - pylons 40-50 metres high," he tells me when we meet.

They work like policemen - always two, always with a partner.

"We always work with a colleague because we are obliged to - we work under pressure and at great heights. With a partner, in a car and on the road," explains the engineer.

He graduated from the Technical University of Varna and has been involved in telecommunications throughout his career. In January, he will celebrate 20 years at CETIN. He started at the company's branch in Pleven and moved to Sofia about eight years ago.

"Years ago, a two-person team had to look after 60 stations in his region. Now the number is over a thousand. The equipment has become much more reliable, but it is still not failsafe. No matter how reliable it is, nature has its say and there can be problems with the power supply, power surges, burnt equipment. The panels are exposed to constant sun, wind, rain."

Despite the challenges, he says he enjoys the work, and the good team the company has picked has kept him in the same place for so long.
He is sure that no matter how technology advances, people like him and his colleagues will always be needed.

"Technology is ahead of what I can imagine. But whatever the future holds, we can't do without support. Support will always be needed for anything."

And with maintenance comes interesting stories. They happen in the field when the site is far from a settlement and there is a problem on the 40-50 meter "masts" already mentioned. There is no paved road to them. Engineers travel off-road and rely only on the "map" they have built in their head. There is no GPS for off-road.
"There's a saying in our profession: 'The more off-road the car, the further the tractor gets you'. Our cars can handle a lot of obstacles, but they're not ATVs. Mud, bogs, moors, near vertical heights - it's all part of our route. It doesn't bother me now, but in the beginning even just driving on dirt roads was a challenge."

And Valio is no exception. Years ago, he and his colleague had to call a man with an excavator from a nearby village to pull them out of a similar quagmire.

There's nothing better than combining work with your hobby. In his everyday life, Valentine has the chance to combine two of the things he loves most - telecommunications and being out in nature.

"Even though I'm outside all the time, I like to walk in nature in my free time. I also love to ride my bike. It's a bit harder in Sofia, but I do it whenever I get the chance."

She is a fan of the quieter and more secluded places, however few of those are left.

"My favourite places are the Krushun Falls, the Devetashka Cave, the Bridge of God. We have unique places that we don't advertise enough. Outsiders exploit their sights to the max, while we have unique nature, but, unfortunately, we do nothing," the engineer thinks.

But before the beautiful sights comes the fear. At the beginning of his career, and regularly now, Valentin and his colleagues underwent high-altitude training. On their first such training, the leader - Petko Totev, a Bulgarian mountaineer who conquered Everest, made them rappel down a rope from a 10-storey building. This proved to be a challenge for each of the "recruits".

"On our masts it's easy, there's always somewhere to grab hold, but on the smooth facade there isn't. Relying on just one rope, descending from 30 metres, was a challenge for me and the other colleagues. When you're looking 30 meters below you, it's scary. Still, we made it in the end," Valentin recalls.

20 years later, he is still climbing and fixing problems. And he remains certain that no matter how much technology develops, there will always be a need for human support.

And he's happy to provide it.