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Tech update
OPPORTUNITIES WITH COMMUNICATIONS SERVICE PROVIDERS

Communications service providers: the field is wide open

Some techies grow along with their original employers, others move from firm to firm to seize widening opportunities in the technical and/or business arena

"There's always plenty to do, because wireless is still in its infancy."
- Derek Walker, BellSouth

Resume Drop Box
 

At Cingular, Floyd Alcorn's 200-person IT team supports the business markets group.

Derek Walker is deep into strategy and planning for IT at BellSouth..

Wireless technology is fueling career opportunities in the world of communication service providers, and it will continue to do so.

The field is wide open for diverse techies. Recruiters, HR people and the technical folks themselves agree that as wireless options expand, the need for bright minds in technical, management and business positions can only grow.

The common threads in the industry are a shared love for the fast-paced environment of communications today, and a boundless confidence in the wonders tomorrow will bring.

Floyd Alcorn II, exec director at Cingular Wireless
Floyd Alcorn II is executive director of business markets group (BMG) systems at Cingular Wireless (Atlanta, GA). He heads a 200-person organization. BMG focuses on the business-to-business segment, providing wireless sales and services to other businesses rather than consumers. "My team works within the Cingular IT organization, doing application development and providing support services exclusively for BMG," he says.

Alcorn's 1980 BS in physics is from Principia College (Elsah, IL). His first job after college was with Dow Chemical, where he worked as a designer in the IS department. In 1983 he joined the U.S. Navy and served as a naval flight officer until 1994.

The work took him into electronic warfare and high-tech communications. "I became very interested in wireless communications," Alcorn says. While in the Navy he honed his technical skills, and earned a 1989 MS in strategic management at Georgia State University.

The military experience also gave him an important management perspective. "I was exposed to very good leaders, and you hope to take something from them as you formulate your own leadership style," he says.

When he left the Navy, Alcorn joined MCI (Atlanta, GA), servicing networks for corporate accounts and leading a group of automation project managers.

In 1997 he joined Airtouch Cellular as IT manager for the Atlanta market. He moved to the Seattle, WA office as director of billing customer care, responsible for a team of sixty techies.

In 1999 Vodafone acquired Airtouch, and the next year it became Verizon Wireless. Alcorn returned to Atlanta as executive director at Cingular in 2001.

Today Alcorn considers himself a strong manager and developer of people rather than a technologist. "The key thing for technical people to remember is that the technology is there to support business," he says.

On the other hand, the hundreds of flights he's made off the pitching decks of aircraft carriers lets him put corporate life in reasonable perspective. "In the military you get somewhat used to being in harm's way. You don't face too many life-threatening situations in the corporate world," he says with a smile.

Carla Wheeler, tech director at AT&T

Carla Wheeler.

Carla Wheeler, a technical director at AT&T, works on Project Lightspeed, a high-visibility program to integrate AT&T's phone and wireless offerings with cable and Internet. She oversees the work of more than a dozen project managers.

Wheeler says she's always been a techie at heart, but her 1986 degree from Cornell College (Mount Vernon, IA) is in economics and business. After graduation she went to work in account management for Xerox and other companies.

But she was interested in the burgeoning field of telecom, and wanted to do it for a big company where she'd have opportunity for growth. With that in mind she took a job at Illinois Bell (now part of AT&T) as a service rep in the call center.

Within the year she moved up to special assignments staff, monitoring calls and looking at a mechanized system to handle them. In 1992 she became manager of customer care and service center calls, responsible for 160 service reps.

The next year Wheeler moved to financial analyst, and was also involved in billing large clients like AT&T. She went on to senior analyst in application development, creating forecasting systems that included data and maps using GIS software and data warehousing. In 1999 she was made team lead for onshore and offshore application development in thirteen states, and had oversight of a large staff in India.

In 2004 she became lead senior business manager for a major project, then moved to senior tech team lead on Project Lightspeed. Now she's tech director.

Wheeler's flexibility has helped her in her career. "You have to be agile and willing to adapt to new philosophies," she says. "Go for anything in the wireless arena."

Lamont Orange is VP of enterprise security for Charter Communications

Lamont Orange.

Charter Communications (St. Louis, MO) has grown quickly over the past decade, expanding from its high-speed Internet beginnings to offer all the latest communications and entertainment technology. When Lamont Orange joined Charter in 2003 he had already worked for the company as a consultant with Ernst & Young.

"Charter was my client and I saw that the organization was going through growth in a fast-paced environment and needed assistance with IT," he says. Orange was hired as senior director of IT, and his first major initiative was developing a disaster recovery plan through the St. Louis data center.

In 2005 he was promoted to VP and began to build a team to scrutinize the company's focus and security and develop a more sophisticated business plan. In his first year he brought on thirty-three team members.

Orange earned his 1993 BSCS at the University of Missouri-Rolla, and went to work at ServiceMaster (Downers Grove, IL) as a systems integrator. He worked on environmental and plant ops systems, went on to training, and finally became IT manager.

In 1998 he joined Ernst & Young as a senior consultant. He specialized in advising customers on network risk mitigation and advanced to enterprise risk manager, then senior manager. "By this time I was more into the sales role, talking things through with clients," he says. He was security practice leader for the firm's central market, from Canada to Texas, and also spent time developing teams within the company.

Working for Charter is a significant shift from consulting work, Orange says. But he has an advantage when dealing with consultants because he's been one himself.

When hiring for his team, Orange looks for folks with drive. "I can teach you technology but I can't teach you demeanor," he says. And he points out that good ideas are not enough: you have to convince others to put the ideas to work.

Derek Walker, BellSouth director of IT strategy planning

Derek Walker.

Although he trained as an EE and spent ten years as a dedicated techie, Derek Walker is deep into strategy and planning now. His group at BellSouth (Atlanta, GA) is responsible for determining what's good for business, he says, and giving project managers a realistic look at their projects and help in bringing them to completion.

Walker received his BSEE from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992 and an MS in information networking from Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA) in 1993. His interest in technology had started long before that, however.

When he graduated from high school in Atlanta, GA in 1988, he was named one of the top twenty high school students that year by USA Today. His involvement in science projects on the local and national level had a lot to do with that, he says.

In college Walker interned with Bellcore (now Telcordia Technologies, Morristown, NJ). He developed software for various projects, including a prototype for a remote control for video-on-demand service. When he completed his MS he went back to Bellcore as a member of tech staff, doing research related to computer telephony integration (CTI) apps.

In 1995 Walker moved to BellSouth as a member of tech staff in the advanced data networking research group. He worked on a videoconferencing app for the state of North Carolina.

The next year BellSouth began to offer Internet services and Walker moved to the network and apps development group for BellSouth.net. He helped develop services like faster dial-up. He also looked into other apps BellSouth could offer, like security and finance services.

In 1997 Walker became a senior member of tech staff, leading a team doing early testing for DSL modems and investigating strategic possibilities for expanding BellSouth's network nationally.

In 2000 Walker moved up to a director slot. He was responsible for BellSouth's expansion of voicemail to unified messaging, leading a team of people that also researched areas like Internet-facing apps and third-party partnering.

In 2003 Walker moved into corporate strategy and planning, working with a team selected from many sectors of the company. "We were trying to bring it all into one group," he says. Last year he transitioned to IT strategy, helping the corporation shape its roadmap of product launches.

Despite his deeply technical background, Walker is happy to be working on the business side of the enterprise today. His skills let him "engage with other parts of the business in a thoughtful way."

There's always plenty to do, because "Wireless, particularly wireless data, is still in its infancy," he says.

Tania Mazza-Deblauwe directs product development at US Cellular

Tania Mazza-Deblauwe.

Last January Tania Mazza-Deblauwe joined US Cellular (Chicago, IL). She's a director of product development in the advanced technology and systems planning group, leading a network engineering team that develops and delivers wireless products and services for U.S. Cellular customers. "Our team is responsible for rolling out both new products and platform enhancements," she says proudly.

Although she got her first computer, a Commodore 64, in high school, and spent lots of time in the computer lab at college, Mazza-Deblauwe got a BA in English from Baylor University (Waco, TX). She joined the Peace Corps when she graduated, and went to Yemen. That was where she met her husband Francis, a Belgian archaeologist.

She found almost immediately that her aptitude for technology was needed even more than her English skills. The school where she taught was equipped with computers, but its electric supply wasn't clean and no one knew how to build the network needed to link the computers. So she helped build the LAN and get all the computers on line. That was her first foray into network architecture.

When her two-year stint was up she and Francis moved to the U.S. He pursued his PhD at University of California-Los Angeles and she continued teaching.

In 1991 the two moved to Belgium, where Mazza-Deblauwe finished her masters at Boston University in Brussels and taught for U Maryland's European division. "I started doing a lot of HTML and was designing Web pages for friends and for the university," she says. Her daughter Hanna was born in Belgium in 1992.

In 1994 she returned to the U.S. with her family and went to work at DeVry University (Kansas City, MO) teaching business communication, technical writing and Web design. "I was also doing freelance technical writing and Web design on the side," she notes, and took the opportunity to audit many IS and telecom courses at DeVry. Her second child, Anton, was born in 1995.

In 1997 she became a consultant for healthcare IT supplier Cerner Corp (Kansas City, MO) as a QA analyst, creating and implementing test certification guidelines for the product development team. She also consulted for Informix Corp (Lenexa, KS) as a QA test analyst, leading a team that developed and tested software for relational databases. A third child, Miranda, arrived in 1998.

The same year she started as QA software engineer in IT at Sprint PCS (Overland Park, KS), working on Y2K and software development processes. For the next three years she led the development of network apps for Sprint ION, an early integrated communications system.

Sprint dropped ION in 2001, and Mazza-Deblauwe went back to Sprint PCS, first as a principal engineer and then as a senior manager with Sprint's network service and product development teams. She led the design and deployment of multimedia, messaging and wireless Web data products, and received several patents in wireless network presence notification, identity protection and location.

Now she's at US Cellular, enjoying the company's commitment to quality and customer services. "Everything I've done has been a combination of business process and technical work. It's about being flexible and being able to learn, and women are good at that," says Mazza-Deblauwe.

The corporate viewpoint

Al Calalang.

As opportunities broaden in the expanding field of communications service, the demand for diverse engineers remains in high gear. "We take a lot of pride in selecting diverse candidates for our varied opportunities," says Al Calalang, associate director of management staffing at AT&T. "We want to mirror our customer base, and we find we get a lot of very good ideas and a variety of perspectives from a diverse staff."

At Verizon Wireless, Martha Delehanty, HR VP, says "We want to hire the very best candidates for the job, and diversity is part of that. Fifty percent of our new hires are women or minorities."

Heather Reynolds, senior recruiting generalist at Charter Communications, notes that the company has had some turnaround in its staff in recent years, and is taking the opportunity to increase diversity as its ranks change and grow. Charter likes people with strong telecom backgrounds who can operate in both the technical and the business management arenas.

D/C

Claire Swedberg is a freelance writer who lives in La Conner, WA.

OPPORTUNITIES WITH COMMUNICATIONS SERVICE PROVIDERS
Check the latest openings at these diversity-minded companies.

Company and location Business area
AOL
(Dulles, VA)
www.aol.com
Online services
AT&T;
(San Antonio, TX) www.att.com
Telecommunications
Bell South Corp
(Atlanta, GA)
www.bellsouth.com
Phone service, DSL and wireless
Charter Communications
(St. Louis, MO)
www.charter.com
DSL and cable high-speed Internet service
Cingular Wireless
(Atlanta, GA)
www.cingular.com
Mobile, voice and datacom services
DirecTV
(El Segundo, CA)
www.directv.com
Digital television services
NeuStar
(Sterling, VA) www.neustar.biz
Registry services for communications and Internet service providers
Sprint
(Overland Park, KS)
www.sprint.com
Voice, data and Internet services
T-Mobile
(Bellevue, WA)
www.t-mobile.com
Wireless phone service
U.S. Cellular
(Chicago, IL)
www.uscellular.com
Cellular service
Verizon Business
(Basking Ridge, NJ)
www.verizonbusiness.com/us/about/careers
Local-to-global IP broadband and voice networks
Verizon Wireless
(New York, NY)
www.verizonwireless.com
Cellular service
Virgin Mobile USA, LLC
(Warren, NJ)
www.virginmobileusa.hrdpt.com
Mobile virtual network operator (MVNO); wireless service and content

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