Undergrad: Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO - Engineering Physics
Internship: ESI (MKS)
Current Job Title: Sustaining Engineering Manager, Spectra Logic
What about the program intrigued you and why did you choose this path?
As an undergraduate physics student, I completed an REU and worked in a research lab on campus. Both of these experiences showed me that basic science research wasn't for me - I wanted to take part in applied work that could be used by customers right away. This led me to look at jobs in industry, rather than going the PhD route. The problem was that companies often didn’t know what to do with a physics major. The Oregon program piqued my interest because the internship seemed like a direct way to get my foot in the door in industry. I figured I would gain experience through the internship, which would grow my professional network to provide a springboard for future jobs – and it absolutely worked that way!
Where did you do your internship? What was your internship like? What were you responsible for? What was a typical day like?
My internship was at ESI in Portland as a Process Development Engineer. My department made laser machines used in manufacturing consumer electronics for things like drilling holes, cutting channels, or marking logos. I worked on a variety of problems with ESI, which kept the work interesting and was an opportunity to use creative problem solving.
As a Process Development Engineer, I would receive a request from a customer and then try to see if one of our machines could meet the request. For example, drilling holes in aluminum of a certain diameter. I would design experiments with different laser parameters such as wavelength, power, and pulse frequency, and then measure the results with microscopes. I would iterate to improve the result as much as possible. If a customer accepted a process, I would work with them to implement that process into their manufacturing line.
Occasionally, we had processes at a customer site that would break down. If the field server engineers couldn’t fix it, I would be flown to the location to get the machine running properly again. While there was a lot of pressure on site, it was also a great opportunity to see manufacturing lines up close and to learn about the needs of our customers. I enjoyed the opportunity to visit new places around the world and I learned to think on my feet.
Did you feel the program prepared you for the internship? In what ways?
The lab work in the program was very similar to the process development requests in my internship. We had a goal for each lab module, such as growing an oxide layer of a specified thickness, but it was up to us to use the tools available and determine how to achieve that goal. The program taught me how to use my resources and gave me the courage to get started and try something, even if I wasn’t sure it would work. I learned how to take those first steps on a problem with an unknown solution; to start with what I knew and build off it. I also learned how to manage limited time, which is often the case in industry.
How have you evolved in your career since you started?
My career has definitely evolved in some unexpected ways since completing the program! I was in the semiconductor track because I wanted to work with semiconductor materials. However, my internship offers were not in traditional semiconductor roles. I decided to take a chance on accepting an internship from ESI even though it was in optics.
At ESI, I used many of the problem-solving skills I had learned in the program, including design of experiments. At the end of my internship, ESI gave me an offer to stay full time, and I was there for a total of about two years.
Eventually, I wanted to move back to Colorado, where I grew up. The area I wanted to live didn’t have much available in either semiconductor or optics, so it was back to the drawing board again! However, both the master’s program and ESI helped me discover my interest in manufacturing, which was available in the area. I enjoy manufacturing because at the end of the day, we have to ship a product to a customer, and I find that tangible aspect to be very satisfying. I accepted a job at Spectra Logic as a Systems Engineer, which involved troubleshooting a wide range of electromechanical issues on the manufacturing line. I have since moved into a management role.
What is your current job like?
Spectra Logic creates data storage solutions for companies, including both tape libraries and servers, as well as the software needed to manage data storage devices. I manage the Sustaining Engineering group, which is an engineering team focused on supporting the manufacturing line. We troubleshoot problems, design build and test processes, create fixtures, and create automated test software. We also manage regulatory compliance and end-of-life issues. My day-to-day involves project management for engineering projects, people management (hiring, training, prioritizing work), and working on improving processes companywide (for example, how we release new hardware into manufacturing).
I’ve found that I enjoy improving all types of processes, whether that’s how we assemble the product or how we train a new person. In my management role, I have the ability to make changes at a higher level and improve the working environment for people! I don’t use semiconductor physics day-to-day, but the troubleshooting and problem-solving skills continue to serve me well. It’s important to have that technical foundation to be able to steer engineering projects and help folks develop in their careers.
What else would you like to share with students?
There's been some surprising benefits from this program. I couldn't have predicted the tight-knit group I would have with my fellow grad students. Even as we've moved to different states, we've stayed in touch professionally and personally. I reached out to classmates when I was looking for a new position, and I've referred classmates for their own opportunities. The network from the program has been wonderful.
Additionally, I would not have been able to predict the path my career has taken to different industries. I have worked in optics, manufacturing, and data storage fields at this point. Even though I didn’t end up in semiconductors, the track and program both served me well in terms of what I learned and the path that it opened up for me. It was a strong foundation on which to build my career.