Communications needs create challenging job opportunities
These dozen-plus diverse techies are into widely varying aspects of the communications field. They’re doing great things in exciting jobs
“On any given day I could be working on four or five different projects at different stages. You have to learn to switch gears, think ahead and manage your time well.” – Neha Khanna, General Dynamics SATCOM Technologies
By Dan Margherita
'The great thing about opportunities in the communications field is that they run the gamut,” says Vicki Hamilton, SVP in the technology, operations and strategy group of enterprise digital operations and performance at Turner Broadcasting System, Inc (Atlanta, GA). “If you’re interested in business, there are business opportunities. If you like to put things together and see how they work, there are jobs for developers and designers. If you’re interested in customer support, troubleshooting and the like, there are helpdesk types of responsibilities.”
As for diversity, she continues, “It goes beyond gender and ethnicity. Just as important are diversity of thought, experience, exposure and functional expertise.”
At Turner, Hamilton provides leadership and business insights in areas of technology, operational efficiencies and business prioritization. Some of these may be on as small a scale as installing a server. Others are huge, multidivisional initiatives that cross Turner’s principle business lines: entertainment, animation and news. Her responsibilities are similar in either case. She also works with Turner’s external customer-facing websites.
“We ask ourselves, ‘Why are we doing this? Are we getting the return on investment that we expected? Should we continue with it?’” she explains.
Hamilton calls herself an “Air Force brat who has lived all around the world.” Her parents, who were deeply involved in the Civil Rights movement and marched with Dr Martin Luther King, encouraged her in her education and career choices. She earned her 1985 BA in business admin from the University of Dayton (Dayton, OH) and an MBA from St. Louis University (St. Louis, MO) in 1994.
Today she’s active in the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Cable (NAMIC). She’s been president and VP of the Atlanta chapter and currently co-chairs its leadership development and creative committees. She’s also a board member of GlobalExecWomen, Women in Technology, and the National Urban League’s Black Executive Exchange program (BEEP). She’s involved in Women in Cable Telecommunications (WICT) and the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE), and she’s a Class X Fellow of the Betsy Magness Leadership Institute and works with 100 Black Men of North Metro as a volunteer mentor of single mothers whose sons are 100 Black Men mentees.
And Hamilton’s own journey continues. “I’ve always had to prove that I have a business mind. I’ve had to build relationships and trust and prove that I deserve to be at the table,” she says.
“The times are still changing. It’s no longer like a foreign language to say that an African American woman can succeed in this business!”
Elizabeth Mathew plans for deep space at L-3 Communications
“I think it’s important to stay technically fresh,” declares Elizabeth Mathew, a senior project engineer and product line manager at L-3 Communications Telemetry West (San Diego, CA). Mathew manages a small team and oversees the CXS-610 and CXS-810 telemetry, tracking and command (TT&C) space transponders.
Space transponders are the communications link between the spacecraft and terrestrial tracking stations that comprise NASA’s deep space network and the U.S. Air Force satellite control network. L-3’s product is being used in one of NASA’s latest space missions, the solar dynamics observatory (SDO). SDO is on a five-year mission to investigate the sun’s magnetic field.
“There’s a lot to worry about with a mission like this,” says Mathew. “It’s an odd environment to plan for.”
Mathew is L-3’s main customer interface for this project, and also manages the design engineers and product development process for new designs and the creation and review of documentation.
Both her parents are engineers. “I was constantly exposed to engineering,” she says. “I can remember being five or six years old and sitting with my dad in his lab on Saturdays.”
Mathew earned her BSEE at the University of California-San Diego in 2003. She interned at L-3 her senior year and joined the company in 2004.
She’s never had any problem with a male-dominated workforce. Her age is her biggest challenge. “Being a young woman in a position of responsibility means I must have confidence in what I have achieved. I’m here for a reason.”
L-3 supports the Society of Women Engineers and Mathew is involved with these efforts at a local university.
“This is a unique field and working at L-3 continues to challenge me,” Mathew says happily. “But going back to school is also at the top of my list. I want to stay technical but have more management background.”
Basil Etefia heads off trouble at the Aerospace Corporation
“Technical research is my end of the stick,” says Basil Etefia. Etefia is a member of technical staff in the network systems department of the Aerospace Corporation (El Segundo, CA). He’s currently supporting the U.S. Air Force by modeling future military satellite communications systems on his department’s Space Networking Testbed (SNTB), which supports large-scale emulations and experiments.
SNTB is an experimental LAN network consisting of PC nodes, routers, traffic generators and analyzers and other networking-related equipment. “My job is to reduce the risk associated with the development of these new systems,” Etefia explains. “I do troubleshooting, like looking at how outages and delays affect the communication capabilities between earth and a satellite payload, or between warfighters and their command center.”
“I was always interested in this kind of stuff but I was actually in college before I looked into engineering,” he remembers. He received his BSEE from Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles, CA) in 2005 and an MSEE with emphasis on computer networks from the University of Southern California in 2007. Then he joined Aerospace.
Besides his technical work, Etefia mentors students and sometimes returns to LMU to speak about his experiences. In fact, while he was still a student at USC he helped launch the Minority Engineering Graduate Association (MEGA), aimed at advancing minority engineers and scientists.
Lakeisha Davis: tech sales specialist at Textron Systems
“I try to be a good example to everyone, not just women and not just African Americans,” says Lakeisha Davis. She’s currently a tech sales specialist for Overwatch, an operating unit of Textron Systems (Sterling, VA).
Overwatch makes integrated intelligence software used by international defense and intelligence communities, including counterterrorism analysts and warfighters.
In her sales capacity Davis attends industry-related tradeshows and conferences, and meets with customers and prospects to demonstrate Overwatch software solutions. For example, the company’s RemoteView software is used by geospatial professionals for analyzing satellite imagery.
Before she joined Textron systems, Davis spent eight years with NIMA, the agency that became the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA, Bethesda, MD) as an imagery analyst on military and humanitarian issues.
“I didn’t want to abandon my imagery analyst background, so joining Textron Systems seemed like the next logical step in my career,” she explains.
Davis comes from Chesapeake, VA and went to Norfolk State University (Norfolk, VA) for her degree in political science. In her senior year she interned at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (Washington, DC). Her academic advisor encouraged her to apply for a job at NIMA and her work at NIMA led her to Textron.
“I’ve had a pretty interesting career path,” Davis says. “Although I’ve never been in the military and I don’t have a traditional engineering background, I am using my imagery analysis skills at Overwatch to make a difference.”
Neha Khanna: communication and control at General Dynamics SATCOM
“I was attracted to engineering because it’s always a challenge,” explains Neha Khanna. Khanna is product line manager in the transportable antenna control group at General Dynamics Satellite Communications (SATCOM) Technologies (San Antonio, TX), part of General Dynamics C4 Systems. The company has 11,000 employees worldwide, and does command and control, communications networking, computing and information assurance for defense, government and some commercial customers in the U.S. and abroad.
Khanna’s team designs and builds control products that interface with mobile antennas to support military and commercial communication systems. She’s currently working on the Global Broadcasting Service and Warfighter Information Network-Tactical programs that provide communication and network services to the Army in combat environments. “Both programs are deployed and operational in Iraq and Afghanistan,” she explains.
“Since most of our products are modified and customized to fit individual job requirements, my job also involves a lot of project management,” Khanna notes. “I’m involved in every process at every stage of the project lifecycle, from its inception to the final deliverable product.”
The job requires a lot of multitasking and “a fair balance of technical and interpersonal skills. On any given day I could be working on four or five different projects at different stages. You have to learn to switch gears, think ahead and manage your time well.”
Khanna was born in Bihar, India and came to the U.S. with her family when she was fifteen. “The cultural differences were difficult but I finally told myself, ‘It’s OK to be different.’”
She started college as a business major but didn’t quite fit the mold. “I always liked math and problem-solving, and my uncle encouraged me to try engineering even though there were no engineers in our family,” she says. “I’ve never been disappointed.”
She earned her 2004 BSEE at Oklahoma State University and moved to Texas to work for General Dynamics. “I was a little nervous about working in a male-dominated environment but soon I realized that everyone was extremely professional and good work was what really counted.”
Bernadette Phillips-Garcia, senior manager for global mobility and diversity programs at General Dynamics C4 Systems (Scottsdale, AZ), agrees that “We build our strategy around inclusion. We respect individual differences and focus on diversity of thought and thought processes while allowing all our employees equal opportunity.”
Robert Branch: security solutions at Raytheon
In his twenty years in the U.S. Air Force, Robert Branch met up with most of the major U.S. high-tech firms. Today he’s a senior systems engineer in information security in a command and control systems environment at the Fort Wayne, IN facility of Raytheon Network Centric Systems, and an information systems security officer (ISSO).
Branch is responsible for providing technical guidance, assistance and support for integrating and developing computer and software security solutions for Raytheon’s advanced field artillery tactical data system (AFATDS) and other program efforts. His primary customers are the U.S. Army and Marine Corps; AFATDS supports weapon systems like mortars, field artillery cannons, rockets, close air support, attack helicopters and naval surface fire support systems.
“Our systems use a lot of other systems to communicate,” Branch explains. “My job is to make sure security mechanisms are in place so nothing can intercept our system or interfere with it in any way.”
Branch grew up in Memphis, TN and joined the Air Force when he was seventeen. He got interested in engineering and received an associate of applied science degree in IS from the Community College of the Air Force. After he retired from the Air Force he enrolled in McKendree College (Lebanon, IL) and graduated in 1996 with a BS in CS/IS.
He joined Raytheon in 1999, attracted by the company’s global footprint. “I could go anywhere. It was like being back in the Air Force!” he says. The company’s diverse corporate culture also appealed to him; today he’s chair of Raytheon’s diversity council in Fort Wayne. “Diversity is automatic for me,” Branch says. “I learned to appreciate it from my mother and father.”
Besides his corporate responsibilities and activities, Branch volunteers with his church and with a United Way program called “Real Men Read,” a community effort to close the reading achievement gap. He’s a longtime member of NSBE, and has been president and VP of the Fort Wayne alumni chapter. He also works on Raytheon’s Engineers Week activities, bringing middle and high school students into the company to show them what engineers do and spark their interest in math and science.
Jane LeGrange is a distinguished staff member at LGS Innovations
Jane LeGrange is a distinguished member of technical staff (DMTS) at LGS Innovations (Florham Park, NJ). LGS, a subsidiary of Alcatel-Lucent, designs and delivers transformed communications and R&D-based technology solutions to the U.S. government. LeGrange’s DMTS status is a true distinction, given to only a few people each year.
LeGrange’s work is research, conducted in two main areas. One is experimental research in all-optical data routing for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). “We are looking for ways to route data using optical signals rather than electricity,” LeGrange explains. “That way we would be able to move larger quantities of data at speeds at or beyond 40 gigabytes per second.”
She also does computer modeling of laser-beam propagation, using lasers for imaging and computer simulation. “It’s like radar but using laser signals instead of radio signals,” she explains.
A long-timer at the company, she began back when it was Bell Labs and still part of AT&T. Later it became part of Lucent Technologies, but when Lucent was acquired by Alcatel, a French company, in 2006, Lucent Government Solutions (LGS) was created to keep its work for the U.S. government separate.
LeGrange says her mother, a statistician at AT&T in the 1940s, is her role model. In college LeGrange began with philosophy and moved to chemistry before the “theoretical elegance” of quantum mechanics steered her toward physics. She received a BS in physics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1975, followed by a 1976 MS and 1980 PhD in physics from the University of Illinois.
“I think it’s important for both boys and girls to develop an interest in science and not be afraid of it,” she says. “But they should be encouraged to look at lots of fields before making any choices.”
Vinay Patel: both sides of the business at Harris Corp
Vinay Patel is senior software engineering manager for Harris Information Services at Harris Corp (Melbourne, FL). Harris is an international communications and IT company serving government and commercial markets.
“About seventy-five percent of Harris is government work and the rest is for commercial customers,” Patel says. “The commercial work is our broadcast communications division that covers radio, television and Internet providers ‘soup to nuts.’”
The work his team does, he notes, “is fairly evenly divided between the two sides of the business. We are responsible for developing intranet- and Internet-facing applications for Harris, including revenue-generating ecommerce apps, customer service tools, employee productivity apps and secure collaboration tools. We also partner with business development and proposal teams to try to win new software development business for the company.”
Patel was born in San Francisco, CA but spent the first six years of his life in rural Gujarat, India. His 1995 BSEE is from Georgia Tech and his 1997 MSEE from Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA).
He joined Harris in 1998 and spent the early years of his career crisscrossing the country. “While I was at Stanford in California I interned with Harris here in Florida; then I took a job with TRW back in Los Angeles,” he recalls. “But I kept in touch with Harris because my family was in Florida, and when something opened up at Harris I came back here.”
Patel travels extensively and spends most of his free time with his family. They all enjoy the Indian Association of the Space Coast, organized by Asian Indians in 1991 for cultural and social activities in Brevard County, FL.
He likes his work. “My background makes me very comfortable at an international company like Harris,” he says. “I have the confidence to work in any multicultural or international setting.”
Richard Quach manages multifaceted communications services at Nokia
Richard Quach is director of product development at Nokia Corp (Mountain View, CA). “I manage a group of sixty engineers to research, design, implement and maintain Web services for Nokia,” he explains.
His team develops and maintains several service offerings under the “Ovi by Nokia” brand: remote access to personal content on a customer’s own computers from a phone or another computer.
“I was always good at math and science,” Quach says. “I thought I wanted to be an architect, but my father persuaded me that the world would be dominated by computers. Remember, this was back in 1981!” Today Quach is the only engineer in a family of entrepreneurs.
He took a world route to his job. He was born in Saigon, South Vietnam but his family moved to Singapore when he was eight. Then, “When Vietnam fell to the communists in 1975 we immigrated to France,” he says.
He entered the American University of Paris as an economics/business major but switched to computer science and completed his BS in 1985.
Quach went to work at the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development in Paris. After a couple of years he came to the U.S. for his 1989 MS in computer engineering and information science from the University of Pennsylvania.
After graduation he went to Silicon Valley to work for Oracle. He spent three years there, then worked for several startup companies and ended up as a VP of product development at AOL Time Warner. He left AOL in 2004 and joined Avvenu, a company with technology that let users access their PCs from their cell phones. When Avvenu was acquired by Nokia in 2007, Quach was happy to go along with the deal.
Philip Nutsugah meets customer expectations at Cox Communications
Philip Nutsugah is VP of voice strategy and product management at Cox Communications (Atlanta, GA). “Basically, our team ensures that our products meet the expectations of our customer base,” Nutsugah explains. “We are responsible for the entire life cycle of the product line, including operations and back office processes. And we make sure our financial objectives are met.”
Nutsugah’s team manages product lifecycles and oversees development and implementation of new applications to meet the needs of Cox customers. “We map out the strategic direction of Cox’s voice communications product line looking two, five and even ten years down the road. We have eighteen people on our team including contractors, some very technical people and also financial people and operational support personnel.”
Nutsugah worked at both GTE and Verizon before joining Cox in 2006. He led Verizon’s first fiber-to-the-home deployment in northern Virginia, and by the time he left he was in the company’s business solutions group, responsible for product management, marketing strategy and competitive intelligence for small and medium business customers.
Born in Ghana, Nutsugah came to the U.S. with his family in 1981. In 1988 he completed his BA in organizational communications from the University of South Florida.
Nutsugah participates in Cox Communications’ corporate mentoring program, which pairs young minority candidates with tenured execs for a yearlong rotation.
Diversity at Cox is “part of our DNA,” he says. Of some fifty corporate officers, about half are minorities and women.
Heather Ackenhusen: engineering director at U.S. Cellular Midwest
Heather Ackenhusen is director of engineering for the Midwest region of U.S. Cellular (Chicago, IL). She leads three teams within the organization.
First, there’s the cell site construction and project management group, responsible for building new sites or adding to U.S. Cellular’s cell site capacity. “They do everything from site acquisition to regulatory compliance and actual construction,” Ackenhusen explains.
Next there’s the mobile telephone switching office and cell site engineering group. Primarily equipment-related, it arranges for new software and technology to ensure switch capacity and performance and make sure all switching centers meet company standards.
Ackenhusen’s third team is network connectivity and traffic engineering, which makes sure there’s enough capacity to connect U.S. Cellular with other wire-line and wireless companies as well as connecting the cell sites to mobile switching office locations.
“Wireless phones make a difference in people’s lives,” says Ackenhusen. “We’re there when customers need us most.”
After she got her 1990 BS in computer engineering from the University of Michigan, Ackenhusen went on to a 1995 MS in telecom management from Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken, NJ). She also has a 1996 masters certificate in project management from George Washington University (Washington, DC).
“My dad is an engineer and he inspired me,” Ackenhusen says. She moved from EE to computer engineering because “There’s more problem solving, more troubleshooting and more logic required.” She has been active in the Society of Women Engineers since her college days and participates in its recruiting activities.
Ackenhusen is married with two children and admits that it’s sometimes difficult to strike a balance between work and home. But she has high praise for the corporate culture at U.S. Cellular, a “values-based organization focused on serving customers and doing the right thing.
“We believe that no one is successful unless everyone is successful. Working here has made me a better employee, a better mom and a better person,” she concludes.
Ezinne Udezue adds to T-Mobile’s business and financial portfolio
At T-Mobile (Bellevue, WA), Ezinne Udezue is senior manager of service innovation for the product development group. “I lead a team of product managers whose job is to come up with differentiated services and products that add value to T-mobile’s business and financial portfolio,” she explains. Much of her work is dedicated to the T-Mobile@Home offering of landline, cell phone and VoIP service.
A native of Nigeria, Udezue was sent to the U.S. when she was sixteen. She got interested in telecom as an evolving field that would call on her skills in math and science. “I wanted to be challenged,” she explains.
Udezue completed her BSEE at the University of Texas in 1999 and went to work for Motorola (Chicago, IL) as a senior systems engineer in the company’s Network Solutions sector. After three and a half years she went back to school for a 2004 MSEE from Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA). She wanted to move beyond systems engineering, and was attracted to the business side because she didn’t want to stay in “hard core” engineering.
While at Stanford, Udezue interned at T-Mobile. She joined the company in 2004, partly for its Seattle-area location. “In this area you’re working among the best and the brightest,” she says happily. “There’s Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo and other high-tech giants all together, plus T-Mobile.
“T-Mobile has an amazing culture, very accepting and open,” she says. It has let her use her engineering background and business skills as well.
“I’ve had the opportunity to be on some interesting projects,” Udezue says. “I can be a bridge between the technical/ engineering world and the business side.”
Her experiences as a minority in technology have been mixed. “In college, I remember having to retake a test because the professor didn’t believe that my study group could have done so well on his exam. There were four of us in the group: a Latino male, an Ethiopian male, a young Caucasian female and me.
“But I’ve found now that I’ve developed a track record I can get past the occasional prejudice faster.”
Udezue is a member of NSBE, where “I get the chance to meet other minority students and engineers. I’ve learned from those who went before me and have been successful in corporate America, and I’ve developed a good network of people to be mentored by and to mentor.”
Outside work, Udezue is involved in several church, civic and charitable activities including the Little Drops Orphanage Fund, a nonprofit organization that supports nineteen orphanages in Africa.
Allison Cole plays a tactical role at Verizon
“No one thinks there is anyone responsible for this until they need something,” says Allison Cole with a smile. Cole is director of network operations for the Basking Ridge, NJ Mid-Atlantic and Potomac Regional Network Centers of Verizon (New York, NY).
“Our team manages dispatch operations,” she explains. “We are responsible for installation and repair of wholesale and retail services, as well as plain old telephones.
“It’s a very tactical role,” Cole continues. “On any given day we have to see what our volumes are and where they are, and then determine how to use our workforce to meet critical customer needs.”
Cole’s region covers five states: Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia, plus Washington, DC; she spends more than half her time on the road.
Cole was born in Jamaica, West Indies, and came to the U.S. for college in 1994. She excelled in math and science in school and is the first in her family to go to college.
She has a 1998 BS in computer engineering and a 2000 MS in telecom from George Washington University (Washington, DC). She also completed an MBA from Georgetown University (Washington, DC) in 2007. As an undergrad she interned with Bell Atlantic in Washington, DC, doing network testing and validation work.
She chose engineering because it’s a profession that does well in the U.S. and is transferable to Jamaica if she ever decides to go back. There weren’t a lot of women in her engineering classes at George Washington but the university overall had a very diverse student population. “It was a very, very rich experience,” she says.
Cole has been with Verizon since 2000. She decided to go for the MBA because “I needed to understand the dollars and cents impact of every decision. I didn’t want to be purely technical,” she explains.
Verizon sponsored her MBA. “In ten years, I’ve had a multitude of wonderful sponsors, mentors and experiences at Verizon,” Cole says.
The diversity mindset: Sony and AT&T
“At Sony Electronics (world HQ: Tokyo, Japan) we are working to incorporate a diversity mindset into all aspects of the business, from the way we connect with our customers to the way we ensure maximum productivity of our employees,” says Monica Ross, director of diversity and inclusion. “By cultivating a culture that values differences and strives for inclusion of those differences, our company is positioned to compete more effectively and win in what has become a very competitive industry.”
At AT&T (Dallas, TX), Cindy Brinkley, senior VP of talent development and chief diversity officer, notes that “AT&T’s rich past and promising future is the story of a culture rooted in the belief that our differences make us better. At AT&T we’re way beyond talking about diversity and inclusion: we live it!”
DIVERSITY-MINDED COMPANIES ON THE LOOKOUT FOR COMMUNICATIONS PEOPLE
See websites for current openings.
|Company and location
|The Aerospace Corporation
(Los Angeles, CA) www.aero.org
|National security, civil and commercial space programs
|AT&T (Dallas, TX)
|Cox Communications (Atlanta, GA)
|Broadband communications and entertainment
|General Dynamics SATCOM
(San Antonio, TX)
|Satellite and wireless communications products and services for video, voice and data
|Harris Corp (Melbourne, FL)
|Communications and IT
|L-3 Communications (New York, NY)
|Command, control, communications, intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance systems
|LGS Innovations (Herndon, VA)
|Telecom and networking products and services
|Motorola (Schaumburg, IL)
|Enterprise, public safety, networks; home and mobile communications devices
|The Nielsen Co (New York, NY)
|Marketing and media information for
communications and other markets
|Nokia Corp (White Plains, NY)
|Mobile communication solutions
|Qualcomm (San Diego, CA)
|Wireless communications and technology
|Raytheon Company (Waltham, MA)
|Technology for defense, homeland security and other government markets
|Sony Electronics (San Diego, CA)
|Audio, video and information technology
products for consumer and professional markets
|Textron Systems Corp (Wilmington, MA)
|Aerospace and defense
|T-Mobile (Bellevue, WA)
|Wireless products and services
|Turner Broadcasting System
(Atlanta, GA) www.turner.com
|News, entertainment, sports and children’s
|U.S. Cellular (Chicago, IL)
|Wireless services and products
|U.S. Coast Guard (Washington, DC)
|Protects national waterways and coasts from pollution and illegal activity
|Verizon (Basking Ridge, NJ)
|Operates wireless voice and 3G network
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