Lighting Out From Telecom Town

Given the all-time low in the telecom market, it's not surprising to see folk turning to more reliable sources of revenue. Telecom skills are being reallocated on the personal as well as the corporate level.

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
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pipesoflight 12/5/2012 | 12:51:58 AM
re: Lighting Out From Telecom Town I am impressed by the well-worded comments concerning the view from the top looking down. I really mean this with no attack on you.
I would have to say many of the qualities included in this summation plus a few more also apply to Founder VPs (engineering), directors, and mangers, when looking up from the bottom. Often times these ideas is exactly what the guys in the trenches believe too. Unfortunately the trench guys canGÇÖt tell the VP he is a micromanager, arrogant, and made some of the poor decisions that caused problems for the program. Upper management often sees the flaws in those below them yet refuse to accept a reverse assessment by those in the trenches. I worked for a VP at a startup in Richardson that talked a lot like your post but he couldnGÇÖt separate emotions well or take criticism well either. Some of the problems on the program were caused by his decisions, but those below him took the rap. Monetary spending was excessive at times and could have made the difference in the numbers laid off.
lastofthebohicans 12/4/2012 | 9:23:27 PM
re: Lighting Out From Telecom Town VP and COO ectypes that have 'lighted out' were prominently featured in this article. Yawn.

A blurb about some techies themselves that have capitulated (and where they ended up)
would have balanced this story out. You could
also do the LR community a service by polling
some of your techie moles out there (and you
know who they are) and find out where they
have ended up ... biotech, defense, CRM,
the hand-held device market, financial services,

RTP, Sonoma County, Richardson have a
disproportionate amount of telecom workers.
Boston area/Bay area are more diversified,
with a better chance of finding an alternate career (if you previously considered telecom a career path).

vapa 12/4/2012 | 9:23:24 PM
re: Lighting Out From Telecom Town I am not high on food chain like COO or CTO, etc., and I am thinking about joining dock union, where peeps get paid some where around 100K. Shucks, that's more than what I make putting in 12 hrs a day or more!
lr_fan 12/4/2012 | 9:23:22 PM
re: Lighting Out From Telecom Town Yeah Right!

I am so sure that some engineer nerd (I am one as well) can get a job ahead of 100s and 100s of 6'4" meatheads who can lift up 2 or 3 nerds.
Paddy MacGinty 12/4/2012 | 9:23:14 PM
re: Lighting Out From Telecom Town I agree, I came in from Defense Electronics to Telcoms. When the bubble burst I have moved to a Japanese electronics firm. They use laser diodes and optics so it wasn't so much of a task to shift but best of all I'm getting on the lean manufacturing bandwagon. If Telco companies are to make headway on the rise they need to be efficient and I guess I'll be well placed to apply my skills.
BobbyMax 12/4/2012 | 9:23:13 PM
re: Lighting Out From Telecom Town The industries that hire people in significant positions from another industry is likely to heart a company in a very severe way. We in the USA have a false notion that anyone can do the job regardless of one'seducation and background is simply a myth. This myth comes from the US military that may declare an officer to be outstanding regardless of his/her education. For example, Dr.Oppenheimer, a distinguished scientist was working for some army officer with no educational credential. This soldier was even credited with the production of the atomic bomb.

In the industry, we have repeated this stupid notion that education/training is not important. A mere look on the internet about the qualifications of the Board Members of Siemens and that of Lucent or AT&T should reflect the fact that we do not value education. It is because of this we see alot of incompetent CEOs who simply do not have the necessay background to serve theie employers. We do not have merit based hiring at any level of employment in the high-tech industry. I wish to assure it happens in our great country.

The employment in our great country has become cyclical where various are victims of downturn every five or six years.

We have imported so many average engineers from abroad at the peril of our own graduates. It is really a sad story when we see our graduates from Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Princeton are not able to find jobs while many companies, particularly in Caklifornia, continue to import foreign workers.
AAL5 12/4/2012 | 9:23:12 PM
re: Lighting Out From Telecom Town Bobby.

are you not getting recognition in Lucent for your academic qualifications?

Have you found your work place being filled with more 'foreigners'?

Do you feel contempt for all the people that have tried to belittle your genius?

Come on you can tell us. Just sit down on the couch, take a deep breath and tell us all about your childhood.

fleshpeddler 12/4/2012 | 9:23:10 PM
re: Lighting Out From Telecom Town
Odd... I have found Lucent to be extremely concerned with education (degrees are tied to bands to some degree for instance). At least it's like that in Jersey where they have lots of PhD's.

Just seems to be the whiney people from Massachusetts based startups that seem to think they are owed something from their "awesome" efforts after being aquired. Starting to look more like a "String of Beads" if you catch my meaning.

Mary Jander 12/4/2012 | 9:23:07 PM
re: Lighting Out From Telecom Town Actually, you reminded me that we are conducting a poll to find out more about where folk are going after telecom. I've added the link at the end of the story above. We'll follow up with the results of that poll, which should help flesh the picture out.
Fiber Xpert 12/4/2012 | 9:23:06 PM
re: Lighting Out From Telecom Town "We have imported so many average engineers from abroad at the peril of our own graduates."

If my memory serves me fine, there was a serious lack of skilled workers in the telecom industry and the only way to sustain growth was to import these brains. Remember all those phone calls from head hunters? well, I do...

"It is really a sad story when we see our graduates from Harvard, MIT, Stanford and Princeton are not able to find jobs while many companies, particularly in California, continue to import foreign workers."

Yeah, right, of course all these "unpatriotic" companies prefer to hire average foreigners rather than the top-notch american graduates. Probably another plan from evil countries to destabilize America?!?

Personnaly, I doubt they hire at all. The problem came from an artificially inflated market from money coming not from revenues and profit, but from over enthousiastic stock market and VC funding which will never come back. Sad, simple and true.

This is the way our free economy works, with its good sides and, as we experienced it, its occasional downfalls.
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