Communication company techies are acing areas from software to network management
Recruiters see a demand for Cisco certifications like CCNA, CCNP and CCIE, along with certified product manager status
Specific degrees are less important than the ability and know-how to deliver on time and on budget, and much of that is learned on the job
By Jon Boroshok
With the economy improving, some industries are rebounding faster than others. Techies and engineers find the communications industry bouncing back very nicely, with pent-up demand putting discretionary improvements back into many budgets.
Ramping up for upgrades
Sean Ebner is regional VP of Technisource (Scottsdale, AZ), a tech-staffing provider. He says his firm sees staffing ramping up for hardware upgrades and enhancements. The telecom industry needs more people in wireless and VoIP, and engineers skilled in the networking space. Project managers are also needed.
Specific degrees are less important than the ability and know-how to deliver on time and on budget, says Ebner, and much of that is learned on the job after earning the degree. Learning about configuring routers, hubs and switches actually happens in the field.
Ebner sees a demand for Cisco certifications such as CCNA, CCNP and CCIE, along with Certified Product Manager status. He also notes a high demand for embedded software experience to support products like flight systems and mobile phones. "A few bugs may be OK in applications development, but flight, defense, power grids and so on must be perfect," Ebner insists. "There must be a Six Sigma level of quality!"
Agile Scrum needed
Gianna Scorsone is VP of sales ops for Bluewolf (New York, NY), a consulting firm and IT resourcing agency. She sees demand for experience with agile software development methodologies, particularly Scrum, and notes that some colleges are starting to understand, teach and use these methods. Bluewolf's recently released Annual IT Salary Guide shows demand driving up salaries as companies compete for pros with the new skill sets.
The communications industry wants workers with vertical expertise and industry experience, Scorsone notes. She sees demand for mobile apps, social media and Web expertise. And she advises older pros with legacy talents to brush up on what's out there in open source and e-commerce for retail.
Like Ebner, Scorsone sees a need for Cisco certifications, along with database and salesforce.com experience.
Ricardo Aguilar is a software lead at General Dynamics C4 Systems
Ricardo Aguilar grew up in Arizona on the Mexican border. In college he was torn between math and computers, and finally chose a broad math curriculum with "lots of algorithm development," he says. He earned a BS in computational math from Arizona State University in 1995.
He was active in the school's chapter of Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) as well as the Coalition to Increase Minority Degrees (CIMD) and SHPE. He even represented his school in a SHPE design competition involving an industrial computer project, and won!
In his last semester Aguilar worked for a couple of small companies. He particularly liked the work he did in networks and embedded software.
After graduation he worked as a software engineer at Engenuity Systems (Phoenix, AZ). He designed and implemented firmware and embedded drivers and got involved with real-time operating systems and hardware/software integration for distributed control apps.
A few years later he moved to Honeywell in Phoenix, AZ where he learned more about large software development environments in the aerospace industry. He worked on real-time embedded software for electronic flight instrumentation systems and was involved in all the software lifecycle phases associated with regulatory certifications.
Next he joined some colleagues at Philips Semiconductors (Tempe, AZ). He was a senior software engineer designing and developing low-level software drivers and board support packages for real-time convergent network devices. He also developed an embedded Web-based management tool.
Today Aguilar is a senior staff software engineer in the communications network division of General Dynamics C4 Systems (Scottsdale, AZ), which makes secure communication and information systems. He's software lead on design, development and integration of real-time embedded apps for software-definable radios, and he also designs, develops and adds features to real-time communication systems used for search and rescue.
He greatly enjoys traveling and interfacing with customers, and since he's fluent in Spanish he often gets to work with international customers. He's done customer training in Spanish and translated collateral material.
"Working as part of an innovative team on R&D is a dream job for me," says Aguilar. And being told by customers that his products have been used in saving lives is a real thrill.
GDC4: a performance-based environment
"General Dynamics C4 Systems is creating a performance-based work environment that supports inclusion, collaboration and accountability from point of hire throughout our employees' careers," says Bernadette Phillips-Garcia, senior manager of global mobility and inclusion for the company. "We start by finding and hiring the best people through extensive strategic sourcing with a broad diversity reach. We retain our talent by offering challenging work, competitive compensation and benefits, and an exceptional work environment."
Mirna Mekic: senior product line manager at JDSU
Mirna Mekic was born and raised in Yugoslavia. When she was eighteen her uncle sponsored the family to join him in Canada, but her father stayed behind in Sarajevo.
Mekic finished high school in Canada in 1993 and went on to the University of Toronto (Toronto, ON). She liked physics and math, and knew she wanted a technical profession, so she picked EE for her major.
At school she did an internship with Bell Mobility, researching and analyzing emerging wireless services and technologies.
She graduated in 1999 with a bachelor of applied science in EE. Then she went back to Sarajevo for a year, where she met her husband. She applied to companies in the U.S., and in 2000 began at the telecom field services division of communications test and monitoring equipment company Acterna (Germantown, MD) as a product marketing engineer. She supported local loop technologies, including analog signaling, and organized training seminars and presentations for customers and sales and system engineers.
She also went back to school at night, earning a 2003 MS in telecom from the University of Maryland. About that time JDS Uniphase Corp (JDSU, Milpitas, CA) bought out Acterna, and Mekic has been with them ever since. She rose from product line manager to director of the product line management team, responsible for more than $100 million in product portfolio. And since she's multilingual she was often asked to travel, educating customers and partners about technologies and measurement in their own languages.
Her career was skyrocketing, but Mekic wanted more time for her family. She's currently continuing with her strategic product work, but without the management and profit/loss responsibilities. She's now a senior product line manager, an individual contributor, and finds the company very supportive.
Diversity leads to more effective collaboration
Judy Kay, VP in executive operations and corporate strategy at JDSU, notes that the company "believes that diversity in our workforce leads to richer discussions and more effective collaboration as we tap into a wider range of perspectives that yield more, and more thoughtful, solutions. We are hosting leadership events for women in technology, ranging from guest speakers to full-day workshops, all with a focus on career development."
Junius Kim: state-of-the-art communications equipment for Harris
Junius Kim is an engineering project manager for Harris Corp in Mason, OH. Growing up in Rhode Island Kim always liked "techie things." The family placed a high value on education: Kim's mother had a math degree, rare for a South Korean female, and his father was a history professor.
Kim enjoyed applied sciences and preferred hands-on building and designing to theory. He has a 1985 BS in computer engineering from the University of Vermont and a 1987 MSEE from the University of Rhode Island.
His MS thesis was about blood pressure measurement, and he modeled the vascular system using computer simulation for research he presented at a conference of the IEEE's bioengineering group.
Kim went on to work at top pharmaceutical and medical companies: Pfizer, Abbott Labs and Zoll Medical. In 1996 he moved to a job as engineering project manager with Intraplex (Mason, OH), which was bought by Harris.
Today Kim is designing state-of-the-art communications equipment for TV and the broadcast industry at the Harris Broadcast Communications business. He's involved with network access, and much of his job is in digital design and embedded software.
"Each engineering product is a bit unique and offers a new challenge," says Kim. "There are always new things to learn." Kim finds himself taking on ever more complex projects. The tools are better, and "Things we can do now were not practical ten or twenty years ago," says Kim.
He finds the environment stimulating, and sees the organization evolving and the potential for his products expanding. He plans to keep working on network access products and also explore radio and TV areas.
Global inclusion: a core value
Christina Weaver, manager of global inclusion and compliance, stresses that global inclusion is a core value at Harris. "We believe our shared values are shaping the difference in our company, assuring our ongoing innovation and competitive advantage," she says.
"An environment founded on respect and inclusion gives us all the chance to do our best work. Global inclusion demonstrates what we value and how we operate our businesses."
Dr Linda Braun directs the photonics department at LGS Innovations
Linda Braun never had any doubt about going into engineering. Her father is a ChE and she was always interested in math and science. What type of engineer did she think she'd like to be? The question was answered when she took a materials science course.
She went on to a 1984 BS, 1987 MS and 1990 PhD in ceramic science and materials engineering from Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ). She had a full scholarship for grad school.
She went on to a post-doc assignment at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. NIST's mission is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology. Braun was based in Gaithersburg, MD and worked on the reliability of brittle materials. She became group leader and directed R&D on materials and component reliability.
By 1999 Braun made up her mind to move to a commercial company so her work could be used in actual products. She had contacts at Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs (now LGS Innovations, Herndon, VA), and joined the company's government area, working on optical systems for satellite communications. A year later she moved up to tech manager of the optical component reliability group.
Today Braun directs the photonics apps and development department. She leads a team of forty scientists and engineers working across broad disciplines. The team does R&D for commercial and government-owned fiber-optic networks and develops and executes strategic plans for innovation, helping to solve government communication problems.
Braun considers herself fortunate to work with world-class technology experts. "It's an exciting, innovative company to work for," she says. She enjoys the challenges and is proud of her two patents and thirty technical publications.
Diversity makes business sense
Lt General Ronald W. Iverson (USAF, Ret), CEO of LGS Innovations, notes that the company "Has enjoyed great success in growing a diverse workforce, and we continue to take every opportunity to bring very talented people from all walks of life into our organization.
"To me it makes great business sense to have a highly diverse workforce. It brings multiple perspectives and skills in this era of globalization, which not only support our company goals but also add new dimensions, innovation and creativity to all the things we do in support of our customers."
Joenel Johnson works on satellites at Space Systems/Loral
Joenel Johnson is a senior manufacturing engineer at Space Systems/Loral (Palo Alto, CA). He started out at Contra Costa Community College (San Pablo, CA), improved his math skills and won a National Science Foundation scholarship in 2000.
He completed his BS in aerospace engineering at San Diego State University (San Diego, CA) in 2002 and started grad school, but left to take an engineering job at U.S. Pipe, part of Mueller Water Products. He spent a year there, then moved to Goodrich Aerostructures (Riverside, CA), a global supplier of systems and services to the aerospace, defense and homeland security market.
At Goodrich he did engineering design review for hardware availability and configuration and made sure all assembly processes were in compliance with engineering drawing and spec changes.
About two years later he joined defense and aerospace contractor Northrop Grumman (San Diego, CA) as a manufacturing engineer. He worked on manufacturing processes, procedures and production layouts and designed ops sequences and procedures for fabrication of tools and equipment.
Last year Johnson's passion for developing new products and working on complex engineering problems took him back to the Bay Area to work as a senior manufacturing engineer for Space Systems/Loral (Palo Alto, CA). The company provides satellites and spacecraft systems for customers like DirecTV, Dish Network and SiriusXM Radio in the U.S. and others worldwide.
Johnson works on wiring harnesses for satellites. "Every satellite has miles of wiring harnesses in it," says Johnson. "That's its nervous system."
There was a steep learning curve in changing companies, but Johnson loves his new job. "It's great to know you had a hand in a satellite that people depend on every day," he says. And he notes that, while sometimes he's the only black person on a team, everybody on the job makes the new recruit feel that he belongs.
Recruiting the best
"Our focus at Space Systems/Loral is on recruiting the very best science and engineering talent available, says president John Celli. "We are pleased to see what a diverse population this brings us. Of course, located in the heart of Silicon Valley in California, we're in a very diverse environment to begin with."
Dr Jade Zhang directs data capture at Motorola Solutions
Jade Zhang grew up in China liking math, physics and chemistry. She went to Fudan University (Shanghai, China) where she earned a 1990 BS and a 1993 MS in applied and fluid mechanics. Then she worked for a medical equipment and a construction management company.
She came to the U.S. in 1995 to continue her education, looking for more application-oriented programs. She went to the University of Rochester (Rochester, NY) for a 1997 MSME and a 2000 PhD in ME, and did research in finite element modeling and biomedical engineering. She also had a summer internship at Xerox Corp (Rochester, NY) and worked as a teaching assistant and then a research assistant at her school.
When she completed the PhD Zhang joined scanning equipment maker Symbol Technologies, Inc (Holtsville, NY), which became part of Motorola Solutions, Inc. She worked in ME, specializing in opto-electromechanical systems for data capture devices.
In 2009 Zhang became director of ME for advanced data capture. Now she leads a group that designs a range of products, including barcode scanners and scan engines used in mobile computing devices.
She loves the challenges of new products, functionality and features. "We're designing laser- and imaging-based scanning devices that help people and businesses access the right information at the right moment," she notes. Working with many Asian suppliers, she often uses Mandarin and three other Chinese dialects.
Zhang feels that gender really doesn't matter: her company looks for techies with the right mindset, and a great deal of training is provided on the job.
A culture based on shared values
Michelle Aguilar Carlin, SVP of HR for Motorola Solutions, agrees heartily with Zhang's conclusion that gender doesn't matter at the company. "As an organization, we're committed to directing our energies toward building a culture based on our shared values," she says.
Lillian Yao heads up business messaging at Nokia
Lillian Yao's mother and uncle were architects, and she earned her BSCE at TongJi University (Shanghai, China). She set out to follow in her mother's footsteps, but soon realized she wanted something different.
Her uncle, a CE with a business in San Francisco, CA, got her a visa, and she worked for him for two years while taking computer classes through the University of California extension. Finally she returned to school full time, earning a 1998 MS in software engineering management from Santa Clara University (Santa Clara, CA).
When she graduated in 1998 she went to work for KLA-Tencor Corp (San Jose, CA) as a software engineer. She designed and developed software for custom yield-management systems for major semiconductor companies.
She moved to startup Visto Corp (Mountain View, CA) as a software engineer, and was soon promoted to engineering manager. She pioneered the software development of mobile communications applications on phones.
Interested in mobility and the Internet, she went on to Hewlett-Packard as an engineering development manager with a team that worked on large-scale e-commerce apps. She played a major role in structuring the engineering team, building an offshore organization and working with cross-functional teams and external vendors.
In 2004 she joined Yahoo, Inc (Sunnyvale, CA). As director of engineering, she managed a team developing Internet communications apps for Yahoo strategic partners, companies like AT&T, Verizon, British Telecom and Yahoo Japan and China.
In 2010 she moved to Nokia as head of business messaging. Now she's responsible for product strategy, planning, development and delivery for Nokia business messaging apps for mobile devices. "I used my talent in management and my Internet and mobile experience and built my team from the ground up," she says. "It's been very rewarding."
The team is diverse, with engineers from Russia, Turkey, China, India, Bulgaria, Mexico and the U.S. "Diversity brings different ideas, and I cherish that," says Yao.
Gender is a "key consumer lens"
Adam Travis, director of diversity and inclusion at Nokia, says that "Mobile and Internet services are transforming the workplace, making it possible for people to work at home and on the move.
"As a leading mobile solutions company, Nokia's understanding and response to our consumers' needs is critical. Gender is a key consumer lens that needs to be factored into our strategic business objectives and decision-making. Being gender inclusive will help us not only understand the expectations and requirements of our consumers, but also increase innovation and efficiency in our organization to deliver unmatched consumer experiences and create new markets."
Anesha McKinney supports business customers on the Sprint network
Anesha McKinney has been with telecom giant Sprint (Overland Park, KS) since 1998, her entire working career. Her technical education began with a full athletic scholarship for basketball at Park University (Parkville, MO), where she studied data programming, programming design, business management and accounting, and earned a 1998 BS in computer-based IS.
When she graduated she followed up on a newspaper ad and found a job working on customer tickets as a contractor for Sprint. Six months later Sprint hired her directly; she moved through a variety of assignments that led to four years in text messaging, a fast-paced, growing area for the company.
In 2008 she started her current job as a network support liaison for mobile virtual network ops (MVNO) business customers on the Sprint network. She builds rapport, troubleshoots and works to "keep everybody happy."
McKinney still plays basketball and coaches for her church league. Sports help build confidence, self-esteem and good teamwork, she observes. And just as on the job, she has always felt accepted as part of the team.
Gena Williams is the customer advocate for Sprint's wholesale partners
Gena Williams manages wholesale customer support in the network service management area of Sprint. She joined the company in 1999, and has moved up steadily ever since.
Williams has always loved fixing things. She also liked math and science, so an engineering career was a natural fit.
She earned her 1993 BS in construction engineering technology at Florida A&M University, then went to work for Black and Veatch (Overland Park, KS), the global engineering, consulting and construction company. She was responsible for developing materials requirements, labor costs and man-hours for major engineering, construction and procurement proposals.
She also started architectural engineering work at the University of Kansas and received her MS in 1999. She taught a course in construction estimating and bidding for a semester. Then she applied to Sprint and got a job as a supervisor for network engineering in transport planning.
She worked with a team of contractors and found the constant turnover challenging, so she convinced management to invest in a more permanent team, where she managed six employees. The team's success helped put her on the leadership track. In 2002 Williams became a senior network engineer for network space and property planning, responsible for long-range strategic planning for acquisition of space and property for Sprint network sites and future building expansions.
For the next few years Williams moved through various management jobs at Sprint. In 2007 she began her current job as manager of wholesale customer support in the network service management area. She and her team of eleven are customer advocates for Sprint's wholesale cable, MVNOs, affiliates and strategic roaming alliances, nearly eighty partners in all.
The team is the single point of contact for network ops, coordinates Sprint maintenance activities and provides 24/7 support.
"This is a great job," Williams says. It's taught her a lot about leadership and management, and she loves the customer-facing role. "We always try to make our customers happy, and that requires a lot of thinking outside the box," she explains. "We have to be smart and efficient."
Williams is a member of SWE and sometimes represents Sprint at NSBE meetings.
Commitment to inclusion
Ralph Reid, Sprint's VP of corporate social responsibility, says, "Sprint's commitment to diversity and inclusion can be seen through our community outreach, recruitment efforts, multicultural marketing and supplier diversity.
"Creating a culture of inclusion is just the way Sprint does business."
Tara Mooar is an exec director of network engineering at Verizon
Although Tara Mooar was good at math and science in school, she wasn't much interested in either one. But she was told that an engineering base could open the door to many varied careers, so she went on to a 1995 BSChE from Manhattan College (New York, NY). Then she worked for a year as a design engineer at Doyle and Ross Manufacturing (New York, NY).
She knew she wanted to be in management, and moved to regional Bell operating company Nynex (New York, NY), now Verizon, at its ops center in Manhattan. In 1998 the company sent her to Boston, MA as a specialist in the circuit provisioning center. Next she led a group in Marlboro, MA responsible for interoffice facility engineering for Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island. She also earned her 2000 MBA from Boston College.
Shortly after September 11, 2001 Mooar was asked to come back to New York, where her familiarity with the geography and operations in lower Manhattan would help the company rebuild. She became a member of the Manhattan Restoration Project team, assisting with network planning and recovery activities in lower Manhattan. She went on to manage the interoffice facility engineering team for Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island.
In 2003 she became director of the network creation group responsible for national deployment planning and scheduling support for Verizon's FTTP network.
In 2006 she moved to director of super head end (SHE) and new video hub office (VHO) ops, as well as managing video change, interactive video ops, video IP ops and conditional access ops. Two years later she became exec director in the network engineering services group, responsible for a range of support services for the wireline network.
By 2010 she was exec director of network engineering in the coast-to-coast region. Now she's responsible for planning, designing and provisioning Verizon's wireline network infrastructure. She helps design and build network capacity in the Potomac region, Florida, Texas and California.
Mooar loves the technical challenges of her job. "The people here are amazing. Together we've achieved great success," she says. She notes that Verizon values a variety of approaches and backgrounds, likes to develop its employees, and takes pride in providing opportunities for everyone.
DIVERSITY-MINDED COMPANIES IN COMMUNICATIONS
Check website for current listings.
|Company and location
|General Dynamics C4 Systems
|Secure communication and information systems integration
|Harris Corporation (Melbourne, FL)
|Communications and technology for government and commercial markets
|JDSU (Milpitas, CA)
|Test, measurement and technology systems for the communications industry
|LGS Innovations (Herndon, VA)
|Networking and communications solutions for the U.S. government
|Motorola Solutions (Schaumburg, IL)
|Mission-critical communication equipment for
government and enterprise
|Nokia (White Plains, NY)
|Advanced mobile technology
|Space Systems/Loral (SS/L, Palo Alto, CA)
|Sprint (Overland Park, KS)
|Wireless and wireline communications to
49.9 million consumer, business and
|U.S. Cellular (Chicago, IL)
|Wireless service provider
|Verizon Communications (New York, NY)
|Broadband and wireless services to consumers and businesses
|ViaSat Inc (Carlsbad, CA)
|Satellite and other digital network systems and services
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