I am a tinkerer who delights in understanding how things work and explaining it to others.
Radio and analog electronics engineering are a big part of my life. Ever since I was a kid I have been endlessly fascinated with the marvels of how we communicate without wires. Why is it that you can wiggle an electron in a wire on your cellphone and talk to almost anyone on the planet? Our world has become smaller because of continual improvements in communication technology and I am proud to be a contributor to this accomplishment of the human race.
I am a native of Raleigh, NC where I grew up playing with walkie-talkies, crystal radios, crude electronic games (Merlin and Pong), stereo equipment, remote control airplanes, plastic models, early personal computers and CB radios. In Wake County public high school I learned I had aptitude in electronics and that I could make a good living working with electronics. I went to Durham Technical Community College to earn an associate degree in Electronics Engineering Technology and I did found jobs in Raleigh working on vacuum tube power amplifiers for ham radio and then development of pagers. I also earned my Advanced Class amateur radio operator (HAM) license in order to learn more about radios. But I wanted to learn and do more and when I worked side-by-side with engineers I found out that I wanted to do what they do: design radio circuits! So, the path to being engineer lead me to NCSU to earn a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. Then I figured out that I could learn even more about radios, integrated circuits, and communication circuits and get better job opportunities if I continued to earn a Masters in Electrical Engineering, so that is what I did.
When I graduated with a M.S.E.E. at the end of 1995, I had the opportunity to move from NC to Southern California (big change) to work for Qualcomm Inc. designing radio frequency integrated circuits (RFIC) for cell phones (my dream come true). At Qualcomm I worked on three generations of radio integrated circuits for cellphones. The RF chips I helped design went into about 1 billion cellphones! So, when the man on TV said “Can you hear me now” it was because of the radio chips I and my colleagues designed. How cool is that? Along the way I learned that I could publish technical papers and other people were actually interested in knowing about the research ideas I was tinkering with. I also was awarded a few patents with my coworkers for some of the ideas we put into practice.
As satisfying as building RF integrated circuits was, I wanted to learn and do even more in the field. As a student at NCSU I learned that I had a natural desire to help others learn about the field I have dedicated my life to. I also desired a deeper understanding of certain aspects of my field that I could not obtain directly from my job. So, I worked on earning a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering at the University of California at San Diego part-time while I worked full-time at Qualcomm. I made progress on an important problem that fascinated me and kept my motivation up. However, life got busy with work and family, and I was starting to think I might not finish. But then an opportunity arose for me to possibly return to NCSU as a professor, teaching and conducting research in my beloved field. This was a career-changing opportunity that I couldn't refuse even though it meant leaving a very successful and fulfilling job at a great company. So, I quit work, finished my Ph.D. and moved back to Raleigh to be a professor!
Teaching circuits and leading research with bright graduate students was really satisfying work. I learned that I am a good teacher and that I can work on interesting problems that I would never have the opportunity to work on in industry. I helped publish over 70 papers and graduated six Ph.D. and four M.S.E.E. students at NCSU. In 2010, one of our papers earned the “Microwave Prize” as best journal paper published in the IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory and Techniques. However, at the university I also learned that a university research professor is more of technical manager with a major responsibility to bring in a steady flow of research funding to support the work. Unfortunately, the hunt for funding and extremely limited prospects for funding removed all the joy from the job and burned me out. So I returned to industry where I could happily continue developing innovative integrated wireless solutions, have more time for outreach work and continue doing research in my spare (ha ha) time.
Today I happily work for Analog Devices in Raleigh designing and developing specifications for RF integrated circuits. There are some real difficult challenges in developing integrated radios which I find interesting work. I also have the privilege to work with a few co-workers that I went to school with back at NCSU. I continue to do some research and review technical papers for technical journals. I mentor a high school intern at our office. And I have an ongoing crystal radio project, called project Überdyne, where my objective is to eventually optimize all parts of the radio to efficiently recover as much audio power as is possibly from the radio signal without using any external power source other than the radio wave energy.
As you can see, I have had an interesting journey in my career and life (and it is far from over), but the main point is that my opportunities, experiences (both good and bad), interests, and aptitude that developed in middle and high school lead me on my long and rewarding journey to today.
All I can hope for is to help others discover the joy of engineering as a career field and help guide them on their journey into the field.
There is something joyful about building something that works just from a little knowledge of how things work and what materials and resources are readily available. Engineering is not about knowing everything about something, it is about knowing enough about a lot of things to build something useful that works as its creator intended it. Each time we build something we learn something new in the process and learn even more from the unexpected issues that pop up along the way.
Engineers are problem solvers and problem creators. We have to clean up our messes as we go.