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Quality Engineering

Quality Assurance and test engineers improve product excellence and implement quality assurance programs and make sure that the products a company creates are free of flaws and function as designed

By the editors of gecc

In general, engineers don’t design products for their kid brother. Instead they design products that are replicated millions of times and used by millions of people. But anyone who has ever baked dozens of Christmas cookies knows that the more cookies you bake, the more likely you are to have a few decapitated Santas or legless Rudolphs. Nevertheless, apart from a few teary-eyed kids (and sarcastic remarks from your cousin), no real harm is done.

However, that’s not the case with the products and systems that engineers design. A product failure rate of 1 in 100 or even 1 in 1,000 can cost a company thousands of dollars as well as valuable time. Enter the quality engineer, charged with improving product excellence and implementing quality assurance programs, they make sure that the products a company creates are free of flaws and function as designed.

Keeping failure rates low not only saves money in the short term, but also in the long run by ensuring customer satisfaction and loyalty. “If your failure [rate] is too high, you’ll have to absorb the very high price of replacing products,” says Babak Makooi, a quality engineer for Optisphere Networks, Inc., based in Boca Raton, Fla. “However, certain losses can never be recovered and that is the loss of your customer’s trust.”

Name: Stephen J. Gee

Title: Product Quality Assurance Engineer
Company: Avaya Systems, Milpigas, Calif.
Education: B.S. in Management Information Systems from Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, Calif. (2000)

Job Description: “At Avaya, we work on communication and applications for voice mail systems. I am responsible for testing Avaya messaging products and applications. One of my main jobs is to develop and execute tests utilizing industry standards, telephony, GUI and Web-based tools.

“I test programs and look for bugs to make sure that the basic functions work. For example, when you receive a voice-mail message that’s marked urgent, do you receive it first? If it’s marked private, you shouldn’t be able to forward it to anyone. Can you?

“Some days things get extremely hectic. On those days, I’m constantly in the lab conducting tests. On slow days, I spend a lot of time catching up on my reading, trying to stay up-to-date with new trends and technology. Currently, I’m trying to brush up on Visual Basic and working toward Microsoft certification as well.”

Why He Took the Job: “Location was definitely a factor. Working in Silicon Valley was very important to me. Computers were pretty much raised in the Valley, and I wanted to work in an area that was on the cutting edge. The second reason was that I wanted a company that was willing to teach me new skills and encouraged learning. This is one of Avaya’s strongest selling points. If you want to continue your education or even purchase books so you can learn on your own, all you need do is ask and they’ll get it for you.”

Current Project: “The project I’m starting on now is called Interchange. Basically, it’s a networking tool that allows different voice mail systems to communicate with each other. Currently, if someone is on voice mail system A, they usually aren’t able to leave a message for someone of system B by replying to a message. But this product lets that happen. It’s pretty useful, especially today with so many companies changing hands. A company using this tool won’t have to integrate a whole new voice mail system.”

Biggest Challenges: “One of the hardest things about working in a big corporation is making sure that your ideas are heard.

It can sometimes be difficult to get your point across because of all the steps one has to take.”

Non-Tech Skills Needed to Succeed: “I think that it is important for people to have business skills. Today, it seems that there are people who either know the business side really well or they know the technical side really well. But if you know a little of both, you can make the straight business and the straight technical sides communicate with each other—they can both get their points across—allowing each person to understand where the other is coming from.”

Advice to Future Quality Engineers: “Don’t get frustrated. You’ll find a job, but don’t always jump at the first offer you get because it might not be the right job for you. And always keep learning. If you stop learning, you’ll fall behind and before you know it, you’re a dinosaur.”

Name: Babak Makooi

Title: Senior Development Manager
Company: Optisphere Networks, Inc. (a subsidiary of Siemens Corp.), Boca Raton, Fla.
Education: B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (1981); M.S. in mechanical engineering from Northeastern University, Boston (1984)

Job Description: “I’m responsible for physical design and project management. Although these are two different operations, each of them is concerned with quality and quality initiatives and the implementation of those policies.

“Quality initiatives respond to market requirements, helping to meet customer needs and ensuring high quality and cost effective products. In the engineering world, these measures are referred to as DFX (Design For X). The latest and the greatest buzzword is 1-In-10K, which stands for one failure for every 10,000 units manufactured. To help us reach that goal, I need to understand the [market] requirements and how to account for variations so that we have the least amount of failures during manufacturing.”

Current Projects: “We’re in the optical networking business, and our claim-to-fame is our DWDM (Dense Wavelength Division Multiplex) and UWDM (U for Ultra Dense). So we’re talking about rates of transmission at the 3.2 terabit per second range—very, very fast high-capacity transmissions rates.

“Currently, we’re working on a system that’s roughly about 21 or so inches wide, 40 inches tall and dissipates in the vicinity of 1,100 watts. It has 20 circuit pack assemblies in it. The cards are equipped with lasers and other state-of-the-art optical components.

“We target the entire market. Our equipment supports great amounts of traffic at incredible rates of transmission in a very cost-effective and technologically advanced fashion.”

Why He Took the Job: “I’m just in love with the electro-mechanical activities. It’s very challenging and it’s never boring. Things change everyday. I’d get bored quickly if I were stuck in a routine. I guess that’s the nature of all engineers. We like to be busy bees.”

Biggest Surprise About Working: “Let me use an analogy: We’ve all seen the TV shows where the lieutenant calls the rookie policeman into his office and he says, ‘You’re too green; you’re a rookie; you think you can change the whole world, but you can’t.’ Working as an engineer, I’ve found out that I actually can change the world. So that’s a good surprise. What you dream, you can make a reality. And that’s no exaggeration. If you can think it, you can do it in engineering.”

Biggest Challenges: “In my business, we’re constantly pushing the boundaries of technology. It’s like riding a horse along a narrow path. On one side of the path is the mountain and on the other side, a cliff. There’s nowhere to turn around. This is what it’s like working with high technology. You just have to keep a cool head and go forward.”

Non-Technical Skills Needed to Succeed: “You must have good people skills. If you’re a genius but you can’t connect with people, your ideas are useless—nobody is going to listen to you.”

Advice to Future Quality Engineers: “Don’t think about salary. Do what you think is best and excel at it. And keep on educating yourself. Your efforts will be recognized.”

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