How to Navigate Your Entry into Tech and More Memorable Career Advice From Two Qualcomm Engineers
Photo Credit: Qualcomm

How to Navigate Your Entry into Tech and More Memorable Career Advice From Two Qualcomm Engineers

Whether you’re newly graduated or looking for your next career refresh in the tech industry, seeking advice from those senior to you is always a plus. The AfroTech community is a space where this type of networking often takes place. Qualcomm engineers Ruth Tadesse and Dr. Michael Alston joined us to give profile their experience in the tech space at such an industry leading company. The two also dropped some gems on how to conduct your next tech job search, discovering your true passion(s) and adjusting to a new job once you receive it. 

Here’s what they had to say:

Ruth Tadesse

Senior Engineer, Qualcomm Technologies, Inc.

Qualcomm

What’s the most unique or interesting aspect of your job?

I am a software engineer as part of Qualcomm Technologies AI Software team. In collaboration with our AI research group, we develop efficient hardware, algorithmic advancements and software tools to enable AI our Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ chips. The most unique aspect of my job is an obvious one, which is the work itself. Being part of an AI project, and a rapidly growing innovative field in the industry, is quite exciting. Qualcomm is at the heart of this, delivering solutions. The work is challenging, and I have found myself continuously learning, which to me, is a key factor I look for in a job. I also consider the people I work with an equally unique aspect of my job; they are extremely talented, very humble, and open. There’s a good mix of senior, mid-level and junior engineers which contributes to a diverse sense of talent. This helps to provide a balance of autonomy and teamwork. In addition, it creates an open and collaborative environment. Overall, I feel proud to say I work with Qualcomm Technologies AI software. 

What did you know about Qualcomm before you started there? What should people know about Qualcomm?

I went to San Diego State University, so Qualcomm was always talked about by professors. In general, I knew Qualcomm made Snapdragon chips and worked on semiconductors. However, since I knew folks who worked at Qualcomm, I also knew Qualcomm was involved in computer vision, machine learning, AI and autonomous vehicles. Many people don’t know that about Qualcomm.

What interests you outside of work?

I always stand by being a well-rounded person. I come from a family with experiences in the sciences and entrepreneurial careers, and as such, my family has encouraged me to have more than just technical skills. To get a glimpse of business, I started a part-time MBA program. I really like listening to podcasts on how people have started their businesses. I also love fashion, interior design, and learning from YouTubers in these areas. Finally, shopping is a guilty pleasure!

What’s the one career move you’re most proud of?

During my first couple of years in college, I had a hard time finding an internship. I was a relatively top student, but it was confusing because I couldn’t find opportunities for internships and I knew companies wanted candidates with experience. After failed attempts, I decided to seek out research opportunities and went door-to-door to assess opportunity. One of my professors who taught computer science and led a bioinformatics lab wanted to develop an app for research done on coral reefs. After countless hours of YouTube sessions and trial & error, I learned and built the Android app in a month. I also gained experience at a startup team that was looking for an Android Developer over the semester which then led to a summer internship. What I learned from this is that proving yourself to others is hard and for good reason, people are skeptical at first. For anything new you want to accomplish you must persistently seek out all channels to gain your starting point and build your profile. Once you get a core foundation, it often ends in a ripple effect. 

What’s your best advice for Black students and new graduates who are conducting their own job search?

Now that I am working full-time and I started recruiting for my team, I understand that doing well in school doesn’t always make the best candidate. I’d suggest making use of your time as a student. People are more lenient if you’re a student. If you can’t find an internship, do research. Find projects online. Find something to show that you’re more than the curriculum. Take online classes. Create a GitHub. Explore Open Source. Show that you’re interested in the industry as well as your grades.

What’s the most memorable career advice you’ve received?

Dress for the position you want, not the position you have. Not just physically dressing, it also means thinking further. When you dress the part, you feel like you’re getting there, and others will see it. I would also echo Sheryl Sandberg’s advice from Lean In and apply the question, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Always ask yourself if you’re not doing something because of fear.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the AfroTech community?

It’s okay to have more than one interest. A lot of people look for that one passion, something you are born to do – I was in that boat. A lot of people get stuck on this. At one point or another you may have heard, “attitude comes before behavior,” but sometimes behavior can come before attitude. This applies to discovering your passion as well. Find an interest, always give it 100 percent and that can lead to the discovery of your passion(s). Remember, it’s okay to be passionate about more than one thing in life.

 

Dr. Michael Alston

Senior Staff Engineer

Qualcomm

Dr. Michael D. Alston, a Senior Staff Engineer at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., encourages prospective employees to “do their homework” in preparing for the interview process.  In addition to reviewing the fundamental knowledge of your sub-discipline, leverage the internet to learn as much as you can about a company’s products and services, its market, its competitors and its executive leadership.

What’s the most unique or interesting aspect of your job?

The most interesting aspect of my job is being a member of a team designing chips for fabrication in an advanced VLSI design process. With each new process technology node the design rules we receive from our foundry partners become more complex.  This presents new engineering challenges that we, as a company, methodically find an optimal way to meet. Qualcomm Technologies has teams of engineers in Design Centers on multiple continents who specialize in system architecture, logic design, design verification, circuit design, process technology, physical design, layout verification, and product testing.  Our company combines the domain knowledge and past experiences of literally thousands of engineers to consistently produce new products with better chip power, performance, area, and cost metrics.

What should people know about Qualcomm?

Qualcomm is the world’s leading wireless technology innovator, we develop breakthrough technologies, like 5G that will transform how the world connects, computes and communicates. 

What interests you outside of work?

I have a strong interest in raising awareness among middle and high school students about careers in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.  As Vice President of Qualcomm’s African and African-American Diversity group, I help organize and host tours of one of Qualcomm’s San Diego campuses for classes of local high school students.  I am also on the Board of Directors of two local nonprofits based in the community (University City) where I live.

Why did you decide to study engineering?

I was very fortunate to have attended one of the best high schools in the nation, the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.  At BPI we had two STEM classes during each of eight semesters (grades 9-12). Poly’s engineering prep curriculum draws college recruiters from out-of-state universities to our school each year. It was a Carnegie Mellon University recruiter who convinced several of us high-performing African-Americans to attend the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh.

What do you like most about Qualcomm?

I like the fact that, more than any other company in the world, Qualcomm, a wireless innovator has fueled rapid advancements.  Mobile is the largest technology platform in history, and with 5G in our future, its impact will go beyond the smartphone.

What’s your best advice for Blacks in technology who are conducting their own job search?

Stay ready.  Apply early. Your chances are better when you are one of the first to submit to a newly posted job opening, than when applying to stale job postings.  Apply broadly. Putting geographic limits on your job search limits the number of opportunities you may receive. Apply concurrently. Though the logistics of interviewing for multiple opportunities in rapid succession can be challenging, it is best to have job offers arrive within days of each other, rather than weeks or months apart.  If you are fortunate enough to land multiple offers, you’ll be in a better position to (carefully) negotiate salary, benefits, or relocation expenses. Then you can decide with confidence and pride which offer to take.

What’s the most memorable career advice you’ve received?

Three things:

1) Be a lifelong learner, especially when working in technology.  

2) When starting a new job, maintain a file with daily notes of the steps for any new procedures, processes and tasks you learned to perform that day.  The act of making these notes simultaneously bolsters your memory of the steps AND frees your main memory for thinking more deeply and strategically about bigger challenges at work.  

3) Beginning your first week, be proactive in making friends with others throughout the company.  Don’t eat lunch alone. Later when you have important technical, organizational, or career questions, you can gather input from a diverse set of trusted sources.  

Fact:  “Diversity of information sources leads to better decision making.”  This fact is leveraged by communication algorithms combining signals from multiple antennae within 5G devices.  This fact is also true when you have decisions to make based, in part, on conversations with multiple individuals.

Qualcomm Snapdragon is a product of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

This piece is brought to you in partnership with Qualcomm.