My Transition to Qualcomm: Tuning Out The Noise And Focusing On Goals

 Stanford, CA - October 9, 2015:  Stanford Men\'s Soccer vs Washington on Friday night at Cagan Stadium. The Cardinal tied the Huskies 0-0.

“You left the Bay Area for San Diego??” It’s a common question I hear from engineers both on the job and elsewhere. Having graduated from Stanford University with a Bachelors in 2016 and a Masters in Electrical Engineering in 2017, I was set for life in the Bay Area which is rife with opportunities at small startups and large corporations. Instead, I moved to sunny San Diego after I accepted a role as a Wireless Systems Engineer at Qualcomm, one of the greatest mobile communications companies in the world. With Qualcomm technologies ubiquitous in major cell phone products like the iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, and Google Pixel, I was more than excited to make the move south.

Just months after signing my offer letter, it was hard to take in the press surrounding the company. Qualcomm was sued and dropped by Apple, perhaps its largest customer, and would later be sued by the Federal Trade Commission for allegedly exercising technological leadership monopolistically. It would then go through multiple rounds of massive layoffs with thousands of employees and families affected. The stock price dropped significantly, which was enough for competitor, Broadcom, to attempt a hostile takeover. The attempt was subsequently blocked by an executive order from President Trump to protect American 5G cellular technology from being transferred to the Singaporean company. All of this was enough to make my head spin! This was obviously a rough start, but I had been here before.

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My journey through college athletics started off painful. I was recruited after an incredible junior season in the United States Soccer Development Academy, finishing as one of the top goal scorers in the country. The head coach that recruited me had a string of tough seasons and eventually stepped down before I got to campus. Because of a mediocre senior season in high school and a knee injury months before my freshman year at Stanford, I was thrust into a difficult start with the new staff. As the new coach sought to reestablish the culture, I struggled to cope with both the pressure and lack of opportunities. Pretty soon my self-confidence (perhaps a goal scorer’s most precious resource) was shot, and my performance degraded even further. The majority of my freshman year was marked by this struggle which made me question my future on the team and my desire to become a professional soccer player.

I can tell you the day it all changed for me. I signed up for a multi-hour prayer slot as part of an initiative my Christian Fellowship participated in. The goal was to get students on campus to pray more. In that time, I received a real assurance and faith that God had led me to Stanford Soccer for a purpose; I knew He had strategically brought me to this point and that it wasn’t a mistake, so I ended up redshirting my freshman year. 

For the following two seasons, I played just about every position on the field in training sessions while not seeing a minute of game time. In my third season, I even became a goalkeeper! A situation arose where we only had one healthy keeper and my coach asked if I could step in. For me, I saw that opportunity as a blessing. I found joy in not only being able to play, but also the reward of continuing to show up; the joy in that opportunity became that light that continued to guide me.

In the spring before my fourth season, I returned to playing forward and found some success. This spilled over into the fall when I finally earned my first minutes as a collegiate soccer player. We went on to win the Pac-12 before capturing the program’s first National Championship. After my coaches offered me a spot for a fifth season, I returned to complete my Masters (as part of Stanford’s 5 year co-terminal program) and helped the team win its second consecutive NCAA title. What began as humble beginnings became unbelievable success I couldn’t have imagined.

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As I sit here at Qualcomm after all this press, there are lessons from soccer that have helped me in this transition. The first is the importance of distinguishing between the external and the internal. Whether it’s media, press, friends, or family, the external may have opinions about the game, but they don’t affect it. The internal - the locker room, the training field, and actual game - is where real change and results are produced. As I am bombarded with all of the external opinions about Qualcomm in the news, I’m focusing on my own goals, work, and responsibilities.

The second lesson has to do with culture. I ultimately want to bring positive change to Qualcomm and soccer taught me that change and progress are strongly driven by culture. As an athlete, a strong culture is set by the coaches and carried through by the players. A strong culture creates motivation for a team and dictates how players will be rewarded or disciplined. With engineering, the field is so technical that culture often gets overlooked. It’s easy for engineers to focus only on the quality of their the work and when it’s delivered rather than the culture that they operate in. Having noticed this, I’ve been able to take my background in athletics and become a culture setter. Each day I come to work and interact with my co-workers, I think about how my punctuality, professionalism, and ways of communicating either degrade or benefit the environment on my team. At the end of the day, my journey in soccer showed me how important it is to create a strong culture, and I want to do that at Qualcomm to help my team find success.

The last thing that’s helped my transition to Qualcomm has been goal setting. There is always a pyramid of goals in sports. The smaller goals at the base help you and your team make incremental progress towards an ultimate goal at the top (say, a National Championship for example). I got through my rough start at Stanford by finding purpose and setting goals. In the workplace, I’ve found it tempting to just complete assignments and do what I’m given, but soccer helped me see the reward in looking further than what’s happening in front of me. I’d rather step back and set a vision for where my work is leading me and work diligently to make progress. I work to look back like I did at the end of my five year soccer journey and marvel at my progress.

As someone who loves to work with numbers and explore the physical world, being an engineer is an amazing job, both in the lab playing with electronics, and in Excel, doing the calculations to make it all possible. I am truly thankful to Stanford Soccer for teaching me the lessons to flourish here at Qualcomm and enjoy every day. I am confident that my life as a Stanford athlete will continue to manifest itself into a career where I can continue to accomplish goals, positively impact team cultures, and enjoy the journey, no matter how it starts or what’s happening externally.