Kristen Norton

Kristen Norton

Kristen Norton

Track: Optics
Undergrad: Willamette University, Salem, OR - Physics
Internship: ESI
Current Job Title: Technical Product Manager at Synrad

The UO program is a fantastic way to get your feet wet in industry, but it is also sets you up for success in your field of interest. The hardest part of landing a job in industry is getting your foot in the door—a PhD is potentially one way to do this, but this master’s program is structured to make sure you get an industrial internship before you complete your degree. Since my graduation and working in industry, I have found that further education is optional but not necessary for my success.

The professors in this program are approachable, inspiring, and helpful, both inside and outside of class. The curriculum was very focused and efficient. We started with the basics, and then went further into special topics relevant to the optics industry. Along with the professors, I also appreciated the sense of community within the program. I am still in touch with my UO classmates, who are now colleagues in my professional network.

Another strong part of this Master’s program is the focus on soft skills. The program helps you work through your resume and forces you to practice the toughest (yet realistic—I actually was asked some of them) interview questions. Such training distinguishes this program from other internship programs, and really does set you up for success.

I completed my internship at ESI, and was hired on as a Laser & Optics Engineer when my internship ended. As part of the laser and optics development team I got to work a wide range of laser systems, from low to high power, IR to UV wavelengths, and CW to femtosecond. These laser systems are used in the microtechnology industry, enabling precise engineering and testing of micron to submicron features in semiconductors, LEDs, multi-layer ceramic capacitors (MLCCs), printed circuit boards (PCBs), and flex circuits.

After a few years at ESI, I moved up to the Seattle area to work as an Optical Engineer for Zemax. I got to learn more about classical optical design, expanding my expertise in laser systems to include imaging and illumination systems. As an optical engineer at Zemax, I worked with our customers to design new optical systems, I helped the Zemax team create and test new features, and I taught courses on optical design with Zemax software. My last role at Zemax was as the Product Manager for OpticStudio, our flagship product. If you’re in undergrad now, you might not know what a product manager’s job entails. Well, to summarize it for you, I worked on business strategy in addition to physics problems. I utilized my technical background to make decisions about which features go into the product, which markets we need to pursue, and which optical design problems we want to tackle next.

I recently accepted a new product management position at Synrad. I’m a technical product manager, working with commercially available lasers and planning the development of new lasers. I’ve been traveling the world, visiting customers, and learning about new laser technologies. I love my job, and couldn’t be happier about the path I took to get here!