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Article Archive

Tech update

Micro & RF: important waves of the future

Exploding commercial apps have joined space and military work in an exciting career field

Five of these six techies are exploring telecom-related aspects of the field, but one is sending his work to Mercury and Pluto via satellite

Resume Drop Box

At Verizon Wireless, RF engineer Roque Fial is building a microwave network, including design and site identification.

Dr Samir Tozin, with a BS in EE and a PhD in electromagnetics, is RF engineering manager for the wireless group of Anaren Microwave.

Microwave and RF engineers have been through an exciting decade, as their chosen field added commercial cellular to its former, mostly military applications. And as the market continues to broaden, opportunities continue to expand.

"We're not seeing the incredible growth of the 90s but we are seeing healthy growth and more variety," says microwave engineer Mike Golio, who is editor in chief of the IEEE's Microwave magazine.

While the work in the 90s concentrated on first-generation analog cell phones, today we have G++, WiFi and other emerging systems. "No one knows which ones will take off, so there's a need for lots of talent," Golio notes.

With today's microwave and RF products being turned out by the multi-millions as opposed to the hundreds and thousands of previous decades, he also sees a greater need for manufacturing engineers. In terms of job-hunting, "I would look at companies addressing systems that require more bandwidth and frequency," he advises. But all companies in the field "are going to need manufacturing, design and product engineers."

Dr Samir Tozin manages RF at Anaren Microwave
At Anaren Microwave (East Syracuse, NY), Samir Tozin, PhD is RF engineering manager for the wireless group. He's one of the engineers who joined the industry in the midst of its 1990s tumult.

Tozin's father is from Haiti; his mother is from Zanzibar. He grew up in Zaire where his parents are professors at the University of Kinshasa. He came to the U.S. for college, earned a 1995 BSEE at Seattle University (Seattle, WA), then went to Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY) to work on a PhD in electromagnetics.

Anaren Microwave had asked the university to recommend students with an interest in RF and microwave. In 1997 Tozin and another student became Anaren interns, spending twenty hours a week supporting researchers at the company.

Tozin was taking microwave courses at school, and he brought his own work experience back to the classroom. "The students were all climbing up the mountain, but I was a little ahead of them," he says.

Anaren Microwave is divided into a standard product "catalog" group and a custom design group, and Tozin was in the catalog group. He started out assisting with research on couplers and power dividers.

By the next year he was doing design work himself as well as running tests and measurements for other engineers. He worked closely with Anaren cofounder Carl Gerst, Jr on feed-forward amplifiers, filters and helical antennas.

In 2001 Tozin joined Anaren full time as a design engineer, continuing his PhD work at night. He designed and tested couplers, supported new projects like miniature couplers and mixers, and helped expand catalog offerings.

Tozin completed his PhD in 2004 and became an Anaren senior design engineer, increasing his interaction with customers. He also began teaching microwave measurement and transmission-line theory at Syracuse U.

Last year he moved into his current job of RF engineering manager for the wireless group. Now he supervises both the catalog and the custom groups and oversees three engineers and several Syracuse University interns.

He enjoys dealing with the theoretical side of microwave engineering in his teaching work and the practical side at Anaren. "If you have a passion for what you do it makes a big difference," he says.

Sprint's Julius Abraham directs engineering and ops

Julius Abraham

Julius Abraham directs the South Region planning and logistics engineering team for Sprint Nextel (Reston, VA). He oversees about eighty-five engineers and field ops technicians. "We provide operational support for frontline teams who design, build and maintain Sprint's network," he explains. "We provide technical subject matter expertise, along with program management and logistical support."

Abraham earned his BS in EE technology at Southern Polytechnic State University (Atlanta, GA) in 1990, working for BellSouth (Atlanta, GA) in landline facilities maintenance for his last two years in school. Later he worked on an MBA at Georgia State University, completing it in 2005.

When he met up with telecom work in college, he decided to jump right in. "Some schoolmates landed jobs with BellSouth International and told me exciting things about the wireless network design work they were doing," he says. So when Abraham received his BS he applied for a job as an RF engineer at BellSouth International.

There he was put to work on proposed networks for international wireless groups. The job involved business case development, capital costing, theoretical design and, in general, determining what it would take to set up a wireless network in a new market.

In 1991 he helped design and implement a wireless network for Optus Communications, an Australian company. He spent eight months in Australia, then returned to work on the job from his Atlanta office. He went on to wireless projects in Asia and Europe and was promoted to senior RF engineer.

In 1994 Abraham joined Nextel Communications (Atlanta, GA) as senior RF engineer. He was responsible for building the network, hiring engineers and working with consultants and Motorola, the vendor. They were building a wireless network using the new integrated dispatch enhanced network (iDEN) technology, and Abraham was one of two lead engineers for the Atlanta Nextel network.

The next year he became RF engineering manager, overseeing some two dozen engineers and responsible for the RF network design.

It was a challenging time, because Atlanta was preparing for the 1996 Summer Olympics and Nextel was a major wireless provider for many of the supporting organizations. It was also the first large-scale showcase for Nextel's new technology. "We couldn't consider anything but success," Abraham says. "We were working right up to the opening ceremonies and the system was even better than our expectations."

In 1997 Abraham was promoted to director of RF engineering for Nextel's southeast area: Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana. In 2001 he moved into his current job, directing the regional planning and logistics team.

Abraham believes that the most successful engineers have a positive attitude, are willing to take risks and try new things, and have a collaborative spirit. "If you want to excel in your career you have to stay on top of your technical skills and also work on the interpersonal skills," he advises.

Even the most dedicated techies, he reflects, do better if they have good presentation skills. "You need to be able to reach out to people you don't know, often people who are not technical, and communicate technical issues effectively to them."

Claudette Villanueva: senior engineer with T-Mobile

Claudette Villanueva

T-Mobile senior engineer Claudette Villanueva got her start at Mapua Institute of Technology (Manila, Philippines). She completed a degree in electronic and communications engineering in 1992, enjoying the microwave design courses and related data analysis and statistics.

When she graduated she joined Pilipino Telephone Corp (PilTel, Manila) as a cadet engineer for three months of training. Then she became a network engineer, responsible for network performance and traffic engineering. A wireless network was being built in Manila, and "They needed people to evaluate hardware and software. It was a great opportunity for me," she says.

Cellular technology courses are now part of the engineering curriculum at Mapua Tech, but at that time there simply weren't any such courses to take. Villanueva had to learn on the job.

In 1996 she moved to the Philippines' largest cellular company, Smart Communications Inc, which merged with PilTel. As senior engineer she assisted with a migration from TACS, a U.K. analog system, to GSM, the European digital standard. She helped the company identify Nokia as its GSM vendor.

While working for PilTel Villanueva focused specifically on network subsystem switches (NSS). At Smart she added base station subsystem (BSS) traffic performance monitoring. She also hired and trained new engineers.

Promoted to supervisor, she met with software, RF, ops and other groups within the company and coordinated wireless traffic performance.

In 1999 she made a major change, moving from the Philippines to Dallas, TX to work as a telecom consultant at Ericsson (Plano, TX). "It was a good chance to learn new things," she says. She coordinated with customers throughout the U.S., discussing their needs and the details of Ericcson hardware.

In 2001 she joined VoiceStream (Bellevue, WA), which became T-Mobile. She spent three years as senior engineer in the NSS group, working on capacity planning and traffic analysis with the core network, the subscriber database and the switching center.

She moved to T-Mobile's BSS group in 2004. Her focus here is the details of communication with the base station. She works on projects like sizing base station controllers, examining hardware dimensions and analyzing traffic. "I'm learning every day," she says. "There is always new information you need to absorb."

Hong Q. Li: senior softwarev engineer for Harris

Hong Q. Li

Hong Q. Li is a senior software engineer at the Rochester, NY office of Harris Corp (Melbourne, FL), a manufacturer of digital microwave radios. Li, born in China, earned his BSCS at the Geneseo, NY campus of the State University of New York in 1998.

He was interested in software development as a student, and at a campus interview Harris hired him to work with radio programming, application interfacing and setting configuration. He started out doing testing, then moved into development, working with four or five team members during the entire development cycle of a product.

After a year or so he shifted to his present work on wireless messaging terminals. Today he's responsible for design work in technology that delivers electronic messages by radio.

Next step will be lead engineer, he says. He's already tried that job on a temporary basis and liked it very well. "Technical background is necessary but not entirely sufficient," he says. "You also need good experience working with a group. I try to learn from co-workers and others who have been here longer."

Dipak Srinivasan is a senior staff engineer at APL

Dipak Srinivasan

Dipak Srinivasan is a senior professional staff engineer in the space department RF engineering group at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory (APL, Laurel, MD). He helped design the RF telecom system on the MESSENGER (Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging) spacecraft, which should reach the planet Mercury in 2011, and is working on the Pluto-bound New Horizons.

Srinivasan's family is from India but he was born and raised in the U.S. He went to Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), where he completed his BSEE in 1999 and his MSEE in 2000. In college he did three co-ops with chip manufacturer Intel (Folsom, CA).

His first-year co-op was basic engineering. The second stint was more specific, feeding off RF classes he'd taken.

"That was the black magic world," he says. "There weren't many people in it, and I loved the work." He especially liked RF circuit analysis, and did more of that in his third co-op.

With graduation near Srinivasan interviewed with APL, talking about work to be done on MESSENGER and other space-related projects. "The work I'd done with Intel was a great help toward a positive interview," he says. "They realized that I knew the working environment and how to crank out results."

APL brought him in as an associate professional staff engineer. The lab does both government and commercial work, and Srinivasan would be working on the civilian side. "This seemed exciting," he says.

And so it was. He started with RF circuit design for MESSENGER and later worked on integrating the RF system with the spacecraft. In 2003 he was promoted to lead engineer.

MESSENGER was launched in 2004, and "Now that it's launched I've transitioned," Srinivasan says. Although he's still keeping track of MESSENGER to be sure its RF system continues to operate properly, he's added work on the Pluto-bound New Horizons as a spacecraft systems engineer. Last year he became senior engineer for New Horizons and other space projects. "Once you're in this environment you rarely work on just one thing," he says.

Roque Fial is an RF Engineer at Verizon Wireless

Roque Fial

Roque Fial, an RF engineer at the Annapolis Junction, MD office of Verizon Wireless, has made a career of microwave as well as RF. His interest began at Mapua Tech in the Philippines where he completed a 1990 BSEE and another in electronic and communication engineering.

Fial learned about microwave technology from his professor, Andy Real, an RF engineer at Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co (PLDT, Manila). When he graduated, Fial stepped into Real's recently vacated job at PLDT.

The work involved designing microwave connections, studying antenna regulations and looking for suitable locations for new antennas. As he gained experience he spent more time improving microwave transmissions from island to island in the Philippines. PLDT gave him wonderful training, he says, including lengthy sessions with Nokia in Finland and Siemens in Germany.

Fial spent a great eight years with PLDT. But most of his family had moved to the U.S. and in 1998 he joined them, taking a job at Expert Wireless (Vienna, VA), a consulting company, as a senior RF engineer.

He worked for Lucent, Sprint and Teligent, identifying and designing cell sites and drive testing. The work took him to California, Michigan, Missouri and more, he recalls.

But, "The market was slowing down and I decided to look for another company that had a lot of work," he says. In 2003 Fial joined C-Squared Systems (Kingston, NH) as a senior RF engineer.

At first he mainly supplied consulting services for Sprint, but then he was sent to Verizon Wireless as a microwave engineer at the company's Westborough, MA site.

He liked the work there, and was impressed when the company sponsored him for advanced training, even though he was a consultant. So when Verizon Wireless offered him a permanent position in Westborough, he took it. He transferred to Annapolis Junction last year.

The job is excellent for Fial, allowing him to use both his microwave and his RF experience. While overseeing RF functions, he's also building a microwave network, including design and site identification based on coverage and traffic changes. He works with real estate and construction people and system performance specialists as the job proceeds.

Fial has always believed in "perseverance and dedication to the job," and he's especially dedicated to this one. "The work is fulfilling and the people are cooperative," he says.

Sprint Nextel seeks iDEN, CDMA and diversity
Sprint Nextel (Reston, VA and Overland Park, KS) is the result of a 2005 merger. Finding good engineers from diverse backgrounds is a cornerstone of the company's business strategy, says Kay Holmes, manager of sourcing strategies. The really pressing need is for engineers who know both iDEN, Nextel's network system technology, and CDMA, which Sprint uses.

The company's diverse hiring is currently around 40 percent in engineering. "Diversity of thought, culture and work style makes a much better workplace," Holmes says.

A major benefit of diversity, she says, is that it "challenges people to consider other perspectives and come up with better ways to meet customers' needs."


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

Check the latest openings at these diversity-minded companies.

Company and location Business area
Anaren Microwave, Inc
(East Syracuse, NY)
Microwave components and subassemblies
Applied Physics Lab, Johns Hopkins University
(Laurel, MD)
Nonprofit research and development
BellSouth Corp
(Atlanta, GA)
Wired and wireless telephone services
The CNA Corp
(Alexandria, VA)
Research and analysis
Cox Communications
(Atlanta, GA)
Digital cable TV
Communications & Power Industries
(CPI, Palo Alto, CA)
Communications technology
Harris Corp
(Melbourne, FL)
Digital microwave radios and other wireless technology
(Patuxent River, MD)
Support for naval aeronautical and related technology systems
Rockwell Collins, Inc
(Cedar Rapids, IA)
Communication and aviation electronics for commercial and government customers
SBC Communications
(Hoffman Estates, IL)
Long-distance telephone and DSL Internet
Sony Ericsson
(Raleigh, NC)
Sprint Nextel
(Overland Park, KS)
Voice, data and Internet
(Bellevue, WA)
Mobile phones and accessories
U.S. Cellular
(Chicago, IL)
Cellular services
Verizon Federal Network Systems
(FNS, Arlington, VA)
Telecom network infrastructure design,implementation and ops for federal government agencies
Verizon Wireless
(Bedminster, NJ)
Cellular services

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