Lighting Out From Telecom Town
Take the case of Doug Finke, who left his post as COO of Corning IntelliSense Corp. to become VP of product marketing and business development at ChipWrights Inc., which makes "systems-on-a-chip" for consumer applications (see ChipWrights Hires Finke).
"I have to say it is quite exciting working again in an area that is rapidly growing, after being in the gloom and doom of optical telecommunications," Finke writes in an email to Light Reading. While Intellisense has always made MEMS for a range of industries, the majority of its revenues are telecom-related.
In changing jobs, Finke opted to return to his semiconductor roots. In that space, consumer products and biomedical engineering offer better opportunities right now than telecom, though he doesn't have a biotech background.
Finke's not alone in ditching traditional telecom: James Smith, former VP of R&D at Transparent Networks Inc., left that startup this past summer to join L-3 Communications Corp., which makes systems and components for a range of markets, with a heavy emphasis on telemetry gear for the national defense market. He says its strong customer base and "cash positive" position were "absolutely" factors in his decision to join a new industry.
In another example, Michael Ward, former VP of North American sales at Corvis Corp. (Nasdaq: CORV), became VP of worldwide sales and service at more staid but steady Paradyne Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: PDYN) in January 2002. Ward started his career with engineering jobs at General DataComm as well as sales gigs at Ascend and later Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU).
Ward didn't respond to requests for comments on his move. But his case -- like Finke's and Smith's -- illustrates that, while many folk who work in the telecom sector are forced to find work in other industries against their will (see Laid Off, and Leaving Telecom ), others appear to be seeking greener pastures on their own.
In Finke's case, semiconductor experience helped buy a ticket out of telecom. And his experience isn't unique, according to Craig Millard, cofounder and managing director of the Millard Group, a recuitment firm. He says folk with enterprise experience, particularly in the sales and marketing areas, who left their posts for the glitz of optical telecom in the glory days, are now looking backward, despite mixed reviews about the reality of growth in enterprise spending (see In Search of... Enterprise Rebound). "Candidates who came from infrastructure companies that make LAN equipment or enterprise switches are absolutely returning to selling into the enterprise," he maintains.
Millard says it's a bit harder to place those who've been in telecom all along. People who worked for long-haul optical startups, for instance, were often recruited for their telecom skills, and now that business is bad, they can't fall back on 15 years of selling to enterprise customers.
Many folk with specialized skills also face metamorphoses in their fields of origin. It's not a given, for instance, that optical switch engineers, many of whom hailed from companies that made optical displays, can successfully return to their original business, or that network processor experts can go back to computer graphics.
"Graphics is dead. There are only a couple of companies left," writes Linley Gwennap, principal analyst at The Linley Group, a research firm. But he says "significant opportunities" exist for network processor experts in data center and enterprise applications, where vendors are looking to put the technology to use in Web switches, firewalls, enterprise routers, and the like.
Some workers may find they don't have to move -- their companies will take the initiative in new markets. This week, for example, Fujitsu Network Communications Inc. (FNC) announced plans to extend its manufacturing capability to making other kinds of systems than telecom ones. The company's launched its new direction by making ATM machines (the banking kind) for sister company Fujitsu Transaction Solutions (see Fujitsu to Build ATMs).
Other companies are looking to opportunities with Uncle Sam, which is building out a series of new networks related to Homeland Security and other projects. Among them is Firstwave Secure Intelligent Optical Networks Inc., which boasts of having made a smart move in addressing the government market early on (see Firstwave Follows the Feds).
"The federal government is starting to be a very interesting spot for companies in optical and communications," Millard says. He cites Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN) and Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR) as having started federal initiatives.
Light Reading is conducting a reader poll on the issue of leaving telecom for other fields of endeavor. To take a look, click here — Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading