Mirela Marku is an engineering
manager at General Dynamics IT
“The only way to manage is to trust and empower
the people who work for you,” she notes. “The more responsibility I give my team, the better the work gets!”
Mirela Marku is on the leading edge of the wireless technology revolution. She’s an engineering manager at General Dynamics Public Network Solutions, a sector of General Dynamics IT (Fairfax, VA). It’s her job to manage the radio frequency (RF) engineering department, shepherding wireless networks through all phases of their life cycles.
“In other words,” she says with a smile, “My team and I make all the cool new wireless technology work.”
“Wireless technology moves and changes really fast,” Marku explains. “One of the fastest parts is Class 10 technologies, which allow cool new toys like the iPhone to go fast and have a speedy download.”
At General Dynamics, she notes, “We see what’s coming before it gets to the equipment and handset vendors. It makes the job really interesting.”
Marku manages professional and technical services, which includes engineering operations and profit and loss revenues for engineering, a stand-alone department at General Dynamics. Her RF group works for commercial wireless services and occasionally the government. It also does contract work for the big tower carriers all over the U.S., like AT&T;, Verizon and Sprint Nextel.
Marku’s fifteen-person group works in labs in Louisiana, New Jersey and California, and also in the field, depending on the project. Either way, Marku enjoys the challenge.
Best of both worlds
“It’s the best of both worlds,” she says. “General Dynamics Information Technology gives us flexibility to go after different types of projects, and it’s a well-run, well-managed company.”
Technology challenges are nothing new to Marku. “I started with paging on wireless back in Albania, even before I came to the U.S.,” she says. “When I got here I worked on wireless technologies from pagers to iPhones: three or four generations. It’s not just the change, but the old and new technologies have to co-exist for a while, which makes the problem more complex.”
Many changes happen within the technology companies. “It’s tough to follow the path and the financial stories behind them,” Marku says. “One company acquires another company and it’s up to us to make the coverage seamless.”
Tough times improve in Albania
Marku’s entry into engineering and the world of high tech was anything but seamless. “Albania is one of those ex-Communist countries,” she says. “My family had a tough time. My uncle was in prison and a lot of my family suffered because of Communism.
“The government decided what you would do, and I was told I’d never go to university. But I was fascinated with mathematics, and when Communism broke in the early 1980s I had a chance to enter the university. My father had tears in his eyes; he told me he never thought he’d live to see the day I’d go to school.”
When Marku completed her BSEE at the Polytechnic University of Tirana (Tirana, Albania) in 1994 she was in the top one percent of her class. She followed it with an MSEE specializing in power systems in 1995.
When she got her BS Marku went to work at Albanian Telecom, focused on installation, design and maintenance of mobile wireless telephones.
In 1996 she started her own company, Alba Electric, an engineering and design firm. The firm designed wiring systems for power, telephone, cable TV and security operations, working in new office construction, apartment complexes and power distribution stations.
A job with the U.S.
When the U.S. Embassy in Albania reopened, it was looking for a chief EE. Marku applied and got the job, because, she thinks, “They wanted someone who could learn.
“The American electrical code was completely different and the project was fascinating,” she says. “I had no experience whatsoever and was amazed that they trusted me. I wanted to come to the United States from that moment!” she recalls. Marku’s aunt had gone to live in the U.S., so Marku followed her there.
Working at WPI
Marku got a job at the Worchester Polytechnic Institute (WPI, Worcester, MA). From September 1997 to early 1999 she was a research and teaching assistant at WPI’s center for wireless information network studies. She measured and analyzed indoor RF propagation and taught classes.
Next she spent a few months as a project manager at WPI, responsible for estimates, procurement and oversight of day-to-day ops of construction and renovation projects in one of its buildings.
On the cutting edge
Later in 1999 Marku left WPI to help start up a new company, Putnam RF Components. She led the technical engineering team, working on power amplifier components. It was pure engineering work, and nobody at the company had a very strong business background.
“It was fascinating,” she says. “The company had a fantastically fast rise. Unfortunately, it had an even faster fall!”
Needing a new job, Marku moved to Arch Wireless Inc (Westborough, MA) as engineering manager. She was working on wireless paging and the company’s efforts to implement a new protocol for paging.
And then, wanting to work closer to the cutting edge, she became a technical consultant for VoiceStream Wireless, now T-Mobile. She was responsible for all phases of cellular system design and implementation, and for determining RF coverage, capacity and interference designs.
A home with General Dynamics
While working on her 2007 MBA at MIT (Cambridge, MA) she found a home with General Dynamics Network Systems, now General Dynamics Information Technology.
The MBA focused on system dynamics and corporate strategy, and Marku was also an MIT Sloan Fellow in innovation and global leadership.
General Dynamics paid her tuition and gave her the flexibility she needed on the job. “This is a great company to work for,” she says. “It was not easy for them or for me but totally worth it.
“Before I worked on my MBA I thought I had to be involved in everything and I was a control freak,” she says with a laugh. “Finally I realized the only way to manage is to trust and empower the people who work for you. I have a fantastic team now, and I find the more responsibilities I give them, the better the work gets!”
Her three young children also help her keep balance in her life. “When you’re home, you have to be home; the kid doesn’t care about your problems,” she says. “You have to try to work a kid’s soccer schedule in with your schedule.”
Marku also makes time to mentor other women in her group. “We now have five women, not counting subcontractors,” she says. “Three of them are younger than me and one is just out of school.
“I try to mentor everybody on my team and teach them that training never ends in our field.”
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