Sunday, October 18, 2009

Qualcomm

I started my new job at Qualcomm on March 17, 1998. This was the first time in my life working for a large company. Working for a big company is nothing like working for a small company. Oddly enough, the biggest change for me was working around a lot of women. Even stranger was working with women engineers. I had always had secretary's but they were such a minority I'd never given them much thought. At least half of Qualcomm was women and not just secretaries but in the business areas, HR, sales and engineering. The other big adjustment was the bureaucracy. In a small company if you wanted something done you just did it, in a big company if you did a job that was someone else's responsibility you could easily tread on someones toes. It didn't take me long to figure out who was possessive of their turf and who was glad to let someone else do their job. Once I knew that, I learned to play the game well. Coming from a back ground where you just did it yourself my work was seen as being proactive and I was quickly promoted up the ranks from Engineer to Senior Engineer to Senior Engineer/Manager to Staff Engineer to Staff Engineer/Manager. My supervisors liked the fact that I could get the job done.

The one thing about my job that I hadn't anticipated was the travelling. I was hired to solve a specific problem. Qualcomm had just experienced a major set back due to a connector that kept failing. It was my job to figure out why the connector was failing and to fix the problem. About a month after I started at Qualcomm I was sent to England (I'll bet you never knew they manufactured connectors in England) to the factory where the connector was made. Working with the manufacturer (Elco) we figured out what had gone wrong and resolved the problem. Right after we fixed the problem Qualcomm disqualified Elco as a manufacturer and we bought our connectors from a different manufacturer. That seemed odd to me for two reasons; 1) If we're just going to disqualify them then why waste the money fixing the problem? 2) Now that we fixed the problem wouldn't it make more sense to buy from a company who has their act together rather than take a risk on a new and unknown company? In any case, I really enjoyed the trip to England. The factory was near Cambridge University and I spent an entire day touring Cambridge and I got to see the lab where Madam Curie worked on radioactivity, Sir Isac Newtons office and a descendant from the tree where he saw the apple fall which inspired his theories on gravity. I'm not sure but I also think I saw the square where they had the foot race in the movie "Chariot's of Fire". They told me that even today if you took a Geiger counter into Madam Curries' lab it would have very high readings. They spent a lot of money cleaning the radioactive dust out of the floor boards etc. England was just the first of many trips all over the world.

In spite of the excitement I did miss working in the lab. All of my life I was the one performing the work and making presentations to other people about what I'd accomplished. Now I was the guy checking on other peoples work and they were making their presentations to me. It was very strange and in some ways kind of sad. The good thing however was that I got to see the work of dozens of companies and I was on the leading edge of the technology. It was just someone else's technology and not mine anymore.

It took a while for my talents to get matched up with Qualcomm's real need. Because of my materials background I was suitable for most "electro/mechanical" devices and over the course of the next few years I became responsible for all of Qualcomm's connectors, cables, keypads and circuit boards. Keep in mind that the company was making about a million phones a month so at one point in my career I was responsible for as many as four million parts a month. It was a lot of work trying to ensure that there was no problems with four million parts but I was rarely bored. Eventually there was a major personality conflict between the engineer responsible for batteries and the quality engineer responsible for batteries. I was asked if I thought I could work with this person and I was quite sure I would have no problems. That is when I was given the responsibility for Qualcomms battery manufacturers. Because of the seriousness of the battery which is one of the most expensive parts in a phone and the biggest single component in the phone all of my other responsibilities were given to other people and my only responsibility was the battery. It was the beginning of a new love affair. Thermoelectrics make electricity with semi-conducting materials and batteries make electricity electro-chemically. It was a good fit and much of my experience with thermoelectrics was useful in batteries. My new job suddenly became a lot more fun.

--------------------trivia--------------------
A mattress doubles it's weight every ten years due to the accumulation of dead skin cells the dust mites that eat our dead skin cells and their excrement.
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6 comments:

Marilyn said...

Hey, Fred, I think the statistic about the dust mites, etc. is a sort of urban legend. Check this:
http://74.125.155.132/search?q=cache:344CzpwWR9QJ:www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2545/does-a-mattress-double-its-weight-due-to-dust-mites-and-their-debris+mattress+weight+over+time&cd=3&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

Fred ... said...

Dr. Oz said it was true so it must be right? It sure sounded good anyway.

Trevor and Alycia Crowley said...

that was a fun blog to read, I swear I am so impressed with how smart you are. This kind of work just is too much for my brain to handle! haha we really are all created differently and uniquely aren't we? LOVE YOU.

Lynn said...

Oh GROSSSS!!!!! That Trivia just threw me for a loop!


Okay....back to your life history. Very cool info! WHo knew?! Not me. Now I do. Thanks! : D

Justin, Kira and Evan said...

I LOVE your stories about your life ... Dr. Oz is awesome! I think I need a new mattress ... that is just sick!

Lisa L said...

That episode of Dr. Oz totally grossed me out!! You did indeed have some amazing experiences traveling all over and you got your graduate degree from UCSD at the same time - amazing!!