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Changing technologies

Tech pros can grow with the medical device industry

The expanding industry offers tremendous opportunity for engineers and scientists with the right skills

Techies in the industry feel excited and fulfilled by their work in advancing medical science

Celera Diagnostics' Dr Harrison Leong heads a software team that's combating HIV.

Celera Diagnostics' Dr Harrison Leong heads a software team that's combating HIV.

Jenny Wampler is helping Varian Medical Systems optimize SAP in Salt Lake City.

Jenny Wampler is helping Varian Medical Systems optimize SAP in Salt Lake City.

Medical devices range from lens implants to MRI equipment to software that analyzes genetic mutations in viruses. As medical technology advances, devices of many kinds play an increasingly important role in our everyday healthcare and promise a brighter future for millions.

Advances in imaging, for example, promise to reduce and sometimes eliminate the need for invasive procedures. Insights gained from genetic research like the Genome Project can help develop new drugs and customized medical treatment. These advances also provide tremendous opportunity for engineers and other techies with the right skills and an interest in helping the advancement of medical science.

Dr Harrison Leong manages software at Celera Diagnostics
Harrison Leong, PhD has been with Celera Diagnostics (Alameda, CA) since 1999. The company produces diagnostic products and targeted medicine.

As senior software engineering manager, Leong heads a team of nine engineers designing tail-end software that analyzes collected data, draws diagnostic conclusions and generates reports. The team also validates hardware and software instrument systems used with reagents and tail-end software.

Right now the team is designing software to perform HIV genotyping, hoping, as Leong puts it, "to protect the universe from drug-resistant strains of HIV." In the past they've worked on programs to detect mutations in cystic fibrosis, quantify and genotype hepatitis C virus and more. "We've also done software to look at human leukocyte antigens for tissue matching and bone marrow transplants," Leong says.

As manager, Leong works on issues that the project crews identify as blocking their progress, and on design control documents. He also works with requirements, prototypes, software and statistics. When he gets home at night he often calls a counterpart in India to discuss issues and talk about improving workflow and prioritizing work.

Leong has a 1980 degree in physics from Claremont McKenna College (Claremont, CA) and a PhD in bioinformation from Caltech. After the doctorate, Leong worked for NASA's Ames facility (Mountain View, CA) on neural networks.

In 1988 he joined Sam Technology (San Francisco, CA), a privately owned brain research company largely funded by government grants. He investigated working memory and attention and developed software to examine brain activity.

Leong's interest in brain function led him to the medical device industry. He's been involved in software development for much of his academic and working life. "My undergraduate thesis was computational in nature and so was my PhD work," he says. "At NASA and Sam I worked on a lot of computational software."

Some of the Sam software had to go through Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance, and this experience helped him get his job at Celera.

FDA regs figure into all aspects of product development within the medical device industry. Adaptive software development in an FDA-regulated environment can be a major challenge, but Leong is proud of his team's performance. "We've introduced six categories of product in five years," he says. "Even more if you count the upgrades to most of the products."

Bausch & Lomb values diversity
Bausch & Lomb (Rochester, NY) designs, manufactures and markets a range of ophthalmic medical devices. Among them are contact lenses, lens-care products, products used in cataract surgery and the equipment and software used in laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) eye surgery.

Diversity is an important part of the company's strategy. "Bausch & Lomb has a longstanding commitment to the recruitment, development and retention of a highly skilled, diverse workforce," says chairman and CEO Ronald L. Zarrella.

Sally Millick, manager of strategic staffing, notes that opportunities for minority and female engineers and scientists are still growing at Bausch & Lomb. "This year we will continue to expand our Rochester R&D; facility in scientific, clinical and pre-clinical areas. We have engineering opportunities ranging from microbiologist to QA across our U.S. sites," she says.

Karen L. Walker

Karen L. Walker

B&L;'s Karen L. Walker: optimizing the manufacturing process
As a principal engineer at Bausch & Lomb, Karen L. Walker leads the development and scale-up of intraocular lens implantable devices, and their technology transfer to manufacturing sites worldwide.

She also oversees experiments to optimize lathing and compression molding processes. She works with manufacturing sites to improve process yield and efficiencies and heads up key projects.

"This has been a great opportunity to get perspective on how our products influence people around the world," she says.

Walker received a BA in physics with a concentration in math from the State University of New York-Potsdam in 1986 and a BSME from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT, Rochester, NY) in 1993. Currently she's pursuing an MS in applied statistics with a specialty in industrial statistics at RIT.

RIT undergrads have to intern for five quarters. Walker did three of her stints in the new-product development group of Bausch & Lomb's sunglass business. She helped implement a database system for the tool room and helped develop tooling for new sunglasses.

Bausch & Lomb sold the sunglass business to focus on eye health products, but "The internships were invaluable in helping me decide the engineering path I wanted to pursue," Walker says. "This has been an exciting and challenging field, and I have no regrets."

Walker's entire career has been at Bausch & Lomb. After graduation she started at the company's optics center, working as an engineer in the contact lens business. For the last five years she's been involved with the surgical side of the business, mainly intraocular lenses.

Walker is currently pursuing her Six Sigma black belt, and would like to apply Six Sigma concepts to projects at the beginning of the development process. "It's important to get more robust products and processes transferred to the plants more effectively and efficiently," she concludes.

Charles Martin

Charles Martin

Smith & Nephew's Charles Martin is on the bioresorbable team
Smith & Nephew specializes in orthopedics, endoscopy, and advanced wound management products. Leigh Ann Stradford, VP of HR, notes that "Our definition of diversity is expansive. We recruit not only for typical qualifiers of diversity, but also for diversity of life experience such as age and previous work experience."

A diverse workforce, she adds, requires managers to focus on cultivating each individual for the greatest team contribution.

Charles Martin, research engineer 1, has a 1996 AA in applied science in ChE technology from Southwest Community College (Memphis, TN) and a 2004 BS in engineering technology/manufacturing engineering from the University of Memphis. He's a veteran of the Army reserve where he was a medical supply specialist from 1990 to 2002.

Martin started with Smith & Nephew as an intern in manufacturing in 2003. Now he works in trauma research on the six-member bioresorbable team. "We create polymer-based trauma products like screws and plates that are ultimately absorbed by the body, eliminating the need for a second surgery," he explains. "I create different prototypes, research and test materials. After a certain time we want the strength of the implant to diminish and the body to absorb the material."

Martin's job involves a lot of trial and error. "In research you fail most of the time, but when you get it right, it's time to celebrate. It's cutting-edge stuff that makes you want to come to work every day," he says.

Martin has a strong background in the lab. His first lab job was with Drexel Chemical Co (Tunica, MS) in 1994. A lab technician job with International Paper (Memphis, TN) followed in 1995 and then a job with Process Systems Inc. By 1997 he was lab and plant supervisor at Pollution Control Industry (Millington, TN), a waste management company.

From 1999 to 2003 Martin worked for a drywall manufacturing company, Temple Inland (West Memphis, AR), where he tested materials in the lab, worked on processes, and designed a new glue system. When he completed his BS he moved to Smith & Nephew.

Martin was raised on an Arkansas farm and was nearly in his teens before he saw a supermarket for the first time. "My grandfather sat me down and told me I needed to get an education because I was too dumb to be a farmer," he says with a fond laugh.

"But we didn't have the finances for me to go to school then, so I've had a job since ninth grade. Desert Storm was going on when I graduated high school and I felt I could do something for my country.

"My philosophy is the harder you work, the luckier you become."

Maria Benavides

Maria Benavides

Maria Benavides is a senior scientist at Medtronic Inc
Medtronic Inc (Minneapolis, MN) makes surgical and diagnostic products that cover a broad range of therapeutic areas, including cardiology, diabetology, urology, gastroenterology and neurology.

Maria Benavides is a senior scientist at Medtronic. She has a 1990 BS in biology and a 1997 MS in cell biology from John Carroll University (Cleveland, OH). At Medtronic she works in three areas: evaluating the biological safety of materials, conducting feasibility and efficacy studies of products, and providing tech support for physician training programs. Benavides began her career at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation (Cleveland, OH) in the department of biomedical engineering. She was research lab manager there from 1991 to 2001.

She directed personnel and activities relative to cardiovascular, orthopedic and biomedical research programs and did studies of her own. In 2002 she joined Medtronic as a senior scientist, and is now heading the pre-clinical departments in the physiological research labs. The labs serve the neurological, spinal, diabetes and cardiac surgery divisions of Medtronic.

Benavides came to the U.S. from Ecuador with her parents and grew up in Cleveland, OH. But she spent every summer with her grandparents in their small fishing village in Ecuador, because "My parents wanted us to learn the language, culture and history." That early experience helps her formulate approaches to diseases in various populations.

Benavides chairs the Medtronic Latin Cultures network, which has allowed her to meet and support most of the Hispanic community at Medtronic. "We host Hispanic heritage month, and last year we had two luncheons, one with Colombian cuisine and the other with Chilean," she says.

The group serves as a resource for support and promotion of employees and contributes to Medtronic's mission. Benavides has also worked as project manager for the Biomaterials Information Database (BID). And she's collaborated with Dr Michael Gonzalez-Campoy, medical director and CEO for the Minnesota Center for Obesity, Metabolism and Endocrinology, in bringing presentations on diabetes and obesity to Medtronic.

Benavides also finds time to volunteer in the community. "I'm part of a group in the city that provides mentors to high school and middle school kids. We bring them here to Medtronic to talk to people within the company," she says.

Bamidele Ali

Bamidele Ali

Bamidele Ali is a lead system designer at GE Healthcare
Bamidele Ali is a senior systems engineer at GE Healthcare (Waukesha, WI), a company involved in a broad array of medical devices, including diagnostic and imaging equipment.

Ali is a lead system designer and lead program integrator in the X-ray group. The lead system designer, he explains, is responsible for all aspects of the product, and the program integrator does scheduling, watches the interface between teams and keeps the program on track in terms of time and money.

In 1998 Ali completed two BS degrees, in EE and math, from the University of Kentucky. For two college summers he worked on software programming with IBM/ISSC Global Services (Lexington, KY), assisting with the Atlanta Olympics.

Ali enjoyed the sports aspect of the work because he's an athlete, too. He played college football and went on to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Canadian Football League. He even worked out for Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the NFL.

Although he no longer plays professional football, Ali still trains and participates in triathlons. He's up at five every morning to run or cycle before going to work.

Ali began with GE in productivity engineering, designing circuit boards. He became the global circuit board design leader, working on boards used in products throughout the organization. "It gave me broad experience with responsibility in multiple product areas," he says.

After five years in productivity, Ali moved into X-ray detectors as a senior systems engineer. "I like staying technically focused; that's a passion I have," he says. "The technology is always changing and I like challenging myself mentally."

Ali's father was from Lagos, Nigeria and his mother from South Carolina. His interest in engineering started in high school when he interned with two engineering firms. But he feels that his experience in football was just as valuable. "It helped me demand excellence of myself," he says.

"We're always auditing ourselves here," he notes. "Putting my signature on something and signing off on it has become a very personal issue."

Ali also spends time mentoring children through GE's African American forum, and he talks to at-risk kids through a church program and gives talks at schools. "The kids keep me grounded and questioning myself," he says.

Jenny Wampler

Jenny Wampler

Jenny Wampler heads up SAP at Varian's Salt Lake facility
Jenny Wampler's new job is managing inventory management systems at the Salt Lake City, UT facility of Varian Medical Systems (Palo Alto, CA). She'll be helping the group get the full potential out of its SAP software system.

Varian produces X-ray technology and radiation oncology treatment systems. Wampler has been a program manager for the past few years, developing a new mammography X-ray tube and bringing it to market. "Now we're just working out the little issues so we can have good yields when we hand it over to manufacturing," she says.

She's currently transitioning to her new job. "I'll be a key resource at the plant, a focal point to help use SAP to its best advantage. If they need better process control or want to reduce inventory they'll come to me. I'll be working with sales, marketing, manufacturing, materials and engineering to coordinate the use of SAP, and then I'll work with IT to create the actual programming."

Wampler knows a lot about both SAP software and manufacturing engineering. She has a 1996 BSME from Montana Tech, and SAP certification.

She started with Varian as a product manager in 2003. Before that she worked in the oil industry as a product and manufacturing engineer for Baker Hughes (Houston, TX), and with Jabil Circuit (St. Petersburg, FL) as a SAP specialist in the company's Boise, ID facility.

Like GE's Ali, Wampler has an athletic background. She played college basketball and did some coaching. She also interned as a field engineer with MidGard Energy (Amarillo, TX).

Wampler took on her job at Varian when her family relocated to Salt Lake City. "The job entails communicating with everyone, from the top managers to the engineers, plant operators and end users, and explaining what needs to be done and why we need to do it," she says. She feels that SAP will improve efficiency and inventory control, reduce cycle times and let materials be ordered as needed.

Bill Stokes, manager of human resources, says that much of Varian's success comes from its diverse workforce, and in "building on the strengths of its people to find meaningful solutions to the problems of healthcare and business."

Annu Singh

Annu Singh

Annu Singh does clinical research at Carl Zeiss Meditec
Carl Zeiss Meditec Inc (Dublin, CA) makes ophthalmologic medical devices: a wide range of products for screening, diagnosing and treating visual disorders. Annu Singh, a clinical research associate there, helps with product and design, coordinating with various departments to make sure the necessary clinical studies are done. She also makes sure that records are accurate and periodic reports go out.

"I'm responsible for supporting in-house testing of prototype instruments," she explains. "I work with R&D;, clinical affairs and marketing to support clinical studies, including study plans, protocols, guidelines, case report forms and final reports."

She also works with the senior clinical research scientists to plan and implement beta studies conducted with clinical investigators. She trains clinical investigators, supports external studies and conducts site audits as necessary.

Singh received a BS in biological science with a minor in chemistry from California State University-Hayward in 2003. She had interned at the Oakland, CA Children's Hospital, helping doctors in the emergency room and planning activities for the young patients. "I gained a lot of planning and organizational skills from the internship," she says.

Before taking her current job in 2004, Singh did a short stint at Clorox Technology Center (Pleasanton, CA) as a lab technician, and another few months as an optometric technician with For Eyes Optical Co (San Francisco, CA).

Her biggest challenge now, she says, is coordinating studies to meet deadlines. FDA regs are also a challenge. "As a representative of clinical and regulatory affairs on various project teams, I have to ensure compliance with FDA regulations," she notes.

Like many techies in this industry, Singh is involved in the community. She has volunteered at a hospital, mentored kids at a Boys and Girls Club and tutored children in math and English. She's also working toward an MBA in healthcare management.

Tandrian Riddering

Tandrian Riddering

Tandrian Riddering is a tech team lead at Kodak
Tandrian Riddering is a software engineer in the health group, part of the R&D; platform involved in healthcare imaging at Eastman Kodak Co (Rochester, NY). As tech team lead in digital radiography (DR) in a mainly Windows-based environment, "I have my own development goals," she says. They include design, implementation and testing. She's involved in the software/hardware interaction.

Riddering is a technical lead in a group of ten developers working on completing a specific DR product. "I report to the project manager; many of the tech changes and design changes go through me," she says.

Riddering has a 1996 BS in computer engineering from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayag¨ez. While there, she interned at the Areicibo Observatory, part of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center operated by Cornell University. Areicibo is her home town, and "I had wanted to work at the observatory since I was a small child," she says.

In the summer of 1995 she interned with Xerox, and after graduation she got a job there working with network printers. Four years later she moved to the Kodak health group to work on the first DR project as a software developer. "It's very interesting and rewarding, she says. "I like it that the product I'm working on is used in diagnosing disease."

Riddering grew up bilingual. While her father is Puerto Rican, her mother was born in Mexico to missionaries from the American Midwest. She can trace her interest in med tech to her mother, who was a nurse.

"When I'm at a hospital watching the technicians use our product I get a great feeling of accomplishment," she says. "It's a real thrill to see it at work."


Laurel McKee Ranger is a freelance business writer headquartered in Randolph, NJ.

Check the latest openings at these diversity-minded companies.

Company and location Business area
Bausch & Lomb Inc
(Rochester, NY)
Eye health products
Carl Zeiss Meditec
(Dublin, CA)
Ophthalmologic medical devices
Celera Diagnostics
(Alameda, CA)
Diagnostic products and targeted medicine
Eastman Kodak Co
(Rochester, NY)
Medical, dental and molecular imaging solutions
GE Healthcare
(Waukesha, WI)
Products and services for diagnosis and treatment of cancer and heart, neurological and other diseases
Johnson & Johnson
(New Brunswick, NJ)
Medical devices and diagnostics, consumer and pharmaceutical products
Medtronic Inc
(Minneapolis, MN)
Diagnostic equipment, implanted devices and other products for many therapeutic areas
Smith & Nephew Orthopaedics
(Memphis, TN)
Orthopedics, endoscopy, advanced wound management
Varian Medical Systems, Inc
(Palo Alto, CA)
Integrated cancer therapy systems; X-ray tubes and digital X-ray image detectors

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