VIEW FROM THE TOP
Director of Operations, Marki Microwave
Q: The importance of sustaining and developing technology has reached a point where states and cities are more actively building relationships with universities and recruiting high-tech companies. Good examples are New York State’s “East Coast Silicon Valley” and several cities in Ohio. However, there continues to be a shortage of engineering graduates, especially those focusing on RF and microwave technology. What would your company do (or is doing) to help promote careers in microwave engineering?
A: For the past few years, we have been hosting a summer internship program for undergraduate students. During my own undergraduate career, I was fortunate enough to work at Lucent and Anritsu during my Summers and those experiences were instrumental in convincing me that microwave electronics was a great career choice.
I think that it is critical that RF/Microwave companies maintain close ties with University professors to help recruit top talent, and keep the curricula relevant. This is particularly important for hardware engineering because it is significantly more expensive to teach, and often not emphasized in the classroom due to a lack of resources. I sense that too many schools over-emphasize software design and rarely “close the loop” by having students actually build and test the designs. Not surprisingly, schools don’t have “RF Black Magic” courses because most of this knowledge is only possessed by industry veterans. Giving students a chance to experience a real hardware engineering group via Summer internships is critical to attracting top talent to the RF/Microwave ranks.
Q: For those of you serving the military market, what do you expect 2013 will bring in terms of opportunities in this sector?
A: Considering I am writing this piece 7 days before the election, the only thing I am certain about is uncertainty in the military market. On balance, our military customers are extremely nervous and the overwhelming feeling appears to be caution. I suspect this fear is oversold, but the coming election and “fiscal cliff” has clearly given customers pause.
As a general technology trend, I can see that budget tightening in DOD is causing military contractors to emphasize maximizing value for every dollar spent. I believe people often wrongly attribute budget tightening with “making things cheaper”. In fact, I am finding that tighter DOD budgets leads to a desire by our customers to maximize value by using high quality components that offer advantages in all areas including bandwidth, size, performance, software support, etc. Products like our T3 mixers, for example, which offer world record linearity performance and astounding broadband capabilities simplify systems, thus giving our customers a competitive technical advantage that also saves them time and money.
Technologies that offer such a multiplicity of advantages will be the clear winners as we careen towards an era of tighter budgets. Operational efficiency and nimble technology development will become the hallmarks of companies that prosper in this coming era.
Q: If your company serves the commercial markets, are you encouraged by any particular emerging application or technology?
A: Recently, much news has been made that the PC industry is declining while the mobile broadband industry is growing rapidly. With mobile data growing at a 90% clip annually, companies with RF expertise will have many opportunities to benefit from this consumer-centric trend.
At Marki, we have found that our broadband components are benefitting from the mobile data explosion. Although we do not participate in the cell phone market directly, we have many customers who use our products for the testing and measurement of mobile products. For example, customers use our broadband couplers and diplexers to simultaneously measure power amplifier return loss and harmonic power content to improve production throughput.
Another proud example is that iPhones are tested using systems that use our T3 mixers. There will always be a need for high performance analog hardware that is used to test cutting edge mobile devices. As long as we continue to innovate and design enabling technology for the RF industry, we believe additional opportunities will come from the mobile data revolution.
Q: Last year, we asked what impact the global economic crisis was having on the markets you serve and on how you run your business. What is your current perspective?
A: As it happens, I began working at Marki Microwave in the Fall of 2007, just as the mortgage bubble began to burst. In other words, I have never experienced a time while being a professional where someone would have claimed we were in a “good economy”. For me, “future uncertainty” is the norm, and peril is always one fiscal cliff away. For this reason, I have learned an important lesson in my first 5 years while working with my father: when times get tough, you must work harder and reinvest in your technology. This sounds cliché, but the results over the past 5 years are compelling.
As of 2013, half of Marki Microwave’s business will come from products we released since 2006. By 2015, I project that number will climb to 75%. In other words, in 6 years, we have been slowly and deliberately re-inventing ourselves, and our technology. The message is that when times are bad, one cannot rely on past success but must instead innovate beyond current capabilities. This relentless pursuit of innovation is ingrained in Marki’s culture and is our only immunity against poor market conditions. In some sense, companies must embrace a slow down; not by giving the engineers every other Friday off, but by challenging them to invent new products. How does this economic crisis impact Marki Microwave? It doesn’t. We are going to invent and innovate regardless of the economic climate…I look forward to a day when someone actually tells me the economy is “good”.
Q: What countries or regions do you believe will provide the greatest growth potential for the wireless industry in 2013?
A: We do not forecast growth based on regional location and industry sector at this time. ♦