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Career Story: Materials Analysis Engineer For An Electronic Components Manufacturer

Materials Analysis Engineer For An Electronic Components Manufacturer

Job Title: Sr. Materials Analysis Engineer

Type of Company: My company manufactures electronic components for a wide variety of consumer products, everything from cameras and phones to automobiles.

Education: B.Sc., Chemistry, Worcester Polytechnic Institute •• Ph.D,, Chemistry, Oregon State University

Previous Experience: I was a Senior Scientist at FEI Company, on process development for modifying electronic circuits, for over five years.

Job Tasks: I work for a fairly large electronics manufacturing company. My primary role is to support manufacturing (as well as, in some instances, a failure analysis group) in its attempts at understanding the inner workings of small electronic components, like computer chips. Sometimes I monitor our manufacturing processes; other times, if something goes wrong in the field, I'm called on to investigate a high-priority customer return. At times like that, my job is to carefully take these tiny devices apart in a way that allows a microscopic scrutiny of their components. I cut, grind, and polish the components in specific ways to try to get the best look at what is (or isn't) wrong with them. I typically work on one or two components a day, preparing the samples using precision equipment, taking pictures of them and using electron microscopes that can magnify the picture up to 200,000 times to see what's going on. Sometimes it takes many hours just to home in on a sample's problem area -- despite the fact that most of our products are smaller than a fingernail! As electronic technology improves, the components get smaller and smaller, and my job is never easy. I take pride in doing the best job I can, though, advancing the capabilities of our lab and giving our customers the kind of information that will help them solve their problems.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part for me is getting a really good result on a job and making me, my supervisor, and the customer happy when they get new information, hopefully more than what they asked for. I love to try to push the limits of what can be done using our equipment. The worst parts include having to do the same type of job over and over, if the root problem isn't corrected well, and sometimes there can be a frustrating lack of communication between departments.

Job Tips: Try to get as much hands-on experience with electronic and small mechanical equipment as you can.

A good materials science background, especially electronic materials, would help. I don't have one, and sometimes I can't accurately describe what we see!

This job requires attention to detail and a good attention span. If you can't stay focused on a task for long periods, I'd recommend something else.

My job is about 85% lab work, and 15% customer service. So it requires some people skills in addition to technical ability.

Additional Thoughts: Something that surprises me about my job is that I wasn't fully trained in this area before I was hired. I was fortunate to know someone who recommended me for an open position, and the hiring manager took a bit of a chance on me. We're both very happy at the way it's worked out in my first 2-1/2 years on the job. I have had to learn much on the job, and now am considered an expert in some key areas and a "go-to" person for many high-profile projects. Think outside the box!

I was hesitant to join a large company like this one, after having worked for a mid-sized and then a small company with unique personalities of their own. I was concerned that I would just be a number and not a human being. I have found, for me, that my own personality can stand out when it needs to even within a large organization. So being yourself is important, regardless of the size of the company you end up with.

Finally, I have tried to build a strong work ethic in order to maintain my job throughout this past economic downturn. I have tried to put all my energy into doing the best possible work I can, rather than complaining or putting in a substandard effort ( I feel some people resent company policies to cut costs). It has really helped to differentiate me and elevate the status of my group, hopefully solidifying my security going forward. I didn't always have this attitude, but I think it's best for now and the future.

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