Asians coming from the Pacific Rim and the Indian subcontinent, as well as those born here, are making great strides in technology. Electrical engineering, a favored discipline, carries its practitioners to success in a wide variety of exciting fields. The Asian EEs we interviewed are making their mark in areas as varied as telecom, energy, defense, document processing and auto-making.
Dr Philip Lin: an EE in networks at Draper Lab
At Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc (Cambridge, MA), Dr Philip Lin, an EE, works to solve the tricky problems of military field communications. Draper is an independent, not-for-profit R&D; lab. Its programs include work in strategic, space and tactical systems, special ops and land robotics, and biomechanical engineering. Lin works in the lab's distributed information networks group.
"In regular telecom, everybody is interested in keeping the system going. But in the military you have an adversary who is trying to destroy it," Lin says. "Much of my work deals with making communication networks easy to set up and yet able to survive a large number of faults."
One of Lin's current projects aims to protect field communications against adversaries through mobile ad-hoc networks, or MANets, which eliminate the need for vulnerable cellular towers.
"Instead, the handsets help each other relay the information to the desired destination using multi-hop. So each handset not only sends and receives messages, but also relays messages originated from and destined for other nodes," Lin explains.
"This is useful for the battlefield because often there is no existing communication infrastructure, or the infrastructure has been destroyed. It's also a lot more robust because the network is still in operation even if some of the handsets no longer operate. Compare that with a cellular network, where the adversary only has to destroy one cell tower or the communication hub on a Humvee to isolate an entire area."
Lin was only eleven years old when his family came to the U.S. from Taipei, Taiwan. At school, his first big job was to get comfortable with the English language. It took him three years.
But as he was getting up to speed in English, he was blazing ahead in math. His rapid progress in that universal subject helped steer him toward his career in engineering.
In high school Lin attended two summer programs at the California Institute of Technology. After graduation he was admitted to the school where he earned a BS in engineering and applied science.
In grad school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lin concentrated on optical communication. He got his MS in 1991 and PhD in 1996. Then he went to work for Tellabs (Naperville, IL), helping to create a research center in Cambridge, MA. When the telecom bubble burst and the research center closed in 2003, Lin discovered that Draper Lab, housed just next door, could use his skills.
Outside of work, Lin is active in his church, which is basically Chinese but growing ever more multicultural, he says. That's great, he thinks. "You want to combat racism and prejudice, but not by ignoring the differences. A diverse culture can be a lot more successful than a homogenous culture, where everyone fits a cookie-cutter mold."
Revathy Ramadoss is a systems engineering manager at Nortel
As a manager of systems engineering at Nortel (Toronto, ON, Canada), the telecom giant, Revathy Ramadoss specializes in wireless operation, administration and management (OAM) and billing services. These are software solutions that other wireless providers buy from Nortel.
Her team is responsible for product performance of Nortel's OAM solutions. She draws on strong analytical skills and technical knowledge.
"We get involved from product inception to field deployment," Ramadoss says. "In the early phases of design we develop models to project capacity. We validate these models during the development cycle.
"If we identify capacity issues, then we work with the design to optimize the performance. At the end, we develop a detailed capacity report for customer network engineering."
Ramadoss manages a diverse group of nine people. "When I joined the company in 1994, I was sent to a training course called 'managing distance and diversity,' to help me work effectively with people across the globe," Ramadoss says. "I'm still benefiting from the diversity training I received then. It helps me make the best use of the collective knowledge within my team."
Growing up in Arakkonam, India, Ramadoss was the only girl among five brothers. "Once you grow up with five brothers, dealing with the rest of the world is a piece of cake," she notes with a smile.
Her oldest brother decided to become an EE, and Ramadoss decided she'd try it, too. "My parents encouraged me to study as much as I wished," she says.
Ramadoss enrolled in Anna University (Madras, India), where she earned a bachelors and masters in engineering. She traveled to Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada) for another masters in systems and computer engineering. She graduated in 1994 and went to work in the Ottawa office of Nortel.
"It's a multinational company with excellent core values," Ramadoss says. "People are recognized for their good work regardless of their ethnic or cultural backgrounds.
"Being a minority and a woman is challenging, especially in the engineering field," Ramadoss says. "Occasionally I do come across people who have a problem dealing with minority women.
"I accept them as they are and just deal with them. We are not going to change everything but we are going to get the job done professionally."
Michael Cruz builds networks at U.S. CellularMichael Cruz, who has a Filipino father and a Chinese mother, first met U.S. Cellular (Chicago, IL) during a college internship. He was majoring in EE at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
He liked the work and the company and hoped to get a permanent job there when he graduated in 1999. But U.S. Cellular didn't have a good job open, so he went to work for PrimeCo, a cellular service provider in the Midwest and South.
Unpredictable shuffling in the cell services market led to the breakup of PrimeCo. In 2004 U.S. Cellular bought the company and Cruz wound up where he'd wanted to be from the start, working with his internship mentors.
Today, he designs and implements new networks, deciding when and where to build new cell towers to most effectively serve customers. He's responsible for twenty to fifty new sites each year, and finds the work highly gratifying.
"I'll get a report of an area where customers aren't happy. It may take twelve months to make all the arrangements but we get the new tower up and give those customers service they didn't have before."
After Cruz decides where to put up a cell tower and designs the tower itself, the rest of the team springs into action. A construction crew builds the tower. The performance team optimizes the tower based on consumer usage. Then the maintenance and operations team ensures that everything is working properly and fixes problems if they occur.
Cruz is part of the process before, during and after. He's typically on the road one day each week, scoping out new sites before design, double-checking them after design, and triple-checking after construction.
"Customers may not say 'good job' or even know I'm involved," he says. "But you can see how many more calls they're making and how long they're talking. It's great because you know you did something that benefited the community."
Cruz has been interested in telecom since he was a kid. His father worked in the industry, and "He'd bring equipment home with him," Cruz says. "Those handsets in the 80s and early 90s looked like large bricks and weighed that much, too," he recalls.
"'I went into EE not knowing what I was getting myself into," Cruz says with a smile. "It all started because my father brought his work home and I was interested in it."
Peter Hsiung is an associate ops engineer at National GridPeter Hsiung earned his BSEE and MSEE at Polytechnic University (Brooklyn, NY). When he completed his MS in 2004 he went to work for London-based National Grid as an associate ops engineer in Westborough, MA.
National Grid delivers electricity and natural gas to millions of customers in the Northeast and is one of the country's ten largest utilities.
Hsiung's job is to design overhead and underground electric distribution systems, including utility poles, transformers, cables and switchgear.
He thought he'd probably be sitting in front of a computer all day, but the reality is quite different. "The job is very people-oriented. You meet customers a lot to talk about what they want," Hsiung says. "Sometimes it isn't easy because the customer's requirements can't always be met." In those cases, Hsiung has to find mutually agreeable compromises.
His communication skills were put to the test when he relocated from New York City to National Grid's New England HQ. That transition, he says, was as much of a culture shock as the move from Taiwan to New York.
"The culture in New England is so different it might as well be a foreign country," Hsiung says. "I think it took me longer to adapt because, as an engineer, communication skills are always my weakness."
When Hsiung was seventeen years old, his parents sent him from his native Taiwan to visit an aunt in New York. He didn't know that they intended him to stay in the U.S. and go to college there.
"As a Taiwanese teenager you take no part in your future," says Hsiung. "At the beginning it was pretty lonely. I didn't speak the language, and American high school students can be very cruel. But you start to pick up the language and culture, and you adapt."
The non-engineering side of his job has also inspired Hsiung. He is working toward an MBA as well as a PE license.
Both geographically and professionally, Hsiung is in a place he never anticipated. But it's all worked out. "After I went through college I was happy," he says. "I was lucky."
Sukhjinder Singh designs networks At T-MobileWorking for his MSEE at the University of Colorado, Sukhjinder Singh specialized in telecom. So when he was offered a job at T-Mobile (Bellevue, WA) he jumped at the chance. Today he designs IP and wireless networks to support T-Mobile's customers.
The job involves writing design documents, testing and validating new concepts and technology. His team deploys systems to support T-Mobile's HotSpot networks and ensure that they're scalable and reliable enough to handle customer growth. The work, he notes, requires continual learning.
"The wireless networking field is fast-paced and dynamic," Singh says. "You need to be aware of many different technologies as you design networks like this. The more you can expose yourself to different areas, the better off you'll be."
Singh comes from India, where competition for college is fierce. He qualified for the electronics and communication program at Regional Engineering College (Jalandhar, India), and received his BS in 1997. He worked for two years at a cellular service provider in Punjab and one year in Bangalore, India's IT hub, for Infosys.
Then, in 2000, he took his first-ever airplane ride. He was on his way to Boulder, CO to study telecom at the University of Colorado.
"The U.S. is always on the cutting edge of technology," Singh says. "There are more opportunities for professional growth here. Since companies here invest significantly in research, there are more opportunities to work on more advanced technologies.
"My plan was to go here and get some experience and then see how things worked out." That's what he's doing now.
Jeng Lee designs hardware at XeroxAs a hardware design engineer in the El Segundo, CA office of Xerox (Stamford, CT), Jeng Lee supports thirty-five configurations of transaction printers. These, he explains, may be used for advertising, phone bills, credit card statements and other print-on-demand jobs.
As the printers are designed and created, Lee is involved every step of the way. But his main job, designing printed circuit boards and FPGAs, is his favorite part of the work.
Because he interacts with so many aspects of printer controller design and manufacturing startup, Lee draws on a variety of skills: both device driver and application software expertise, knowledge about different operating systems and server platforms, and good communication skills.
Lee lived in Taipei, Taiwan until he was twelve, when the family moved to Hawai'i. There, he and his techie friends made regular trips to Radio Shack for the batteries, capacitors, circuit boards and switches they used to build their own electronic devices.
He remembers that they created a robot car that ran on solar cells. "We loved to hear success stories about Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, but it was really unclear how we could get to that stage," Lee says with a smile.
He began to see the way as an EE student at the University of Southern California. "We learned about VLSI and how to build electronics from silicon wafers, and then I took semiconductor classes." USC, he notes proudly, is one of just a few colleges with clean rooms where students can do such hands-on work.
Lee got his BSEE in 2001 and an MSEE in 2002, and moved into his design job at Xerox. He enjoys his work because he can see designs becoming reality.
"Our professors told us to be very precise about what we wanted to do, because each job you hold influences the next one."
At Toyota, Kevin Le audits electrical componentsEE Kevin Le enjoys his work in the new-model QA group of the quality division of Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America (Erlanger, KY). During pre-production, he audits electrical components for radios and amplifiers, and feeds his test results back to the design and manufacturing team for improvements.
His first project when he started at Toyota five years ago was the Toyota Camry. Now he's quality project lead for the next-generation Corolla.
In 1981, when his family left Vietnam to come to the U.S., Le was only four years old. The family lived with relatives in Lexington, KY, where Le's father, a school superintendent in Vietnam, enrolled in the University of Kentucky. But before he could get a degree he had to drop out to support the family.
"He wasn't able to finish," Le says. "That was more motivation for me to complete school." Inspired by an uncle and two cousins who are EEs, Le got his BSEE at the University of Kentucky.
When he graduated he accepted a position at Toyota's Erlanger, KY, location, the company's HQ for manufacturing in North America. Erlanger is not too far from his family's home in Lexington.
"My father is really proud of me and my sister for finishing school and having good careers," he notes. "He says he doesn't have to worry about us any more."
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