The Vice President of Engineering at Qualcomm, Dr. John E. Smee, shared how he has become a successful scientist holding 54 U.S. patents, and Qualcomm’s unique “white board” culture for inventors.
“I love solving mathematic puzzles when I was young.” Smee said, at age ten, he fell in love with programming and started to write code. It was 1980 which hasn’t been the golden age of software development yet.
As growing older, Smee loves to apply the academic concepts to real life. “When the professor proved mathematic principles, I would ask how to apply that to telecommunication system,” he said. “Each stage that is really exciting for me is to follow my technical curiosity on challenging problems but also really valued the practical side like ‘is it going to be useful’”. Now, Smee is currently a 5G project engineering lead in Qualcomm’s research and development group.
What is the best word to conclude the most vital trait of a scientist? Smee thinks the answer would be “curiosity”. For him, the motivation of keeping innovating which leads him to win 54 patents is the desire to see the future trends. “You should take use of your curiosity.” he added.
When it comes to patents, Smee praised Qualcomm’s creative atmosphere and system for inventors to bring about different concepts. Since teams become very large, there is a white board in each single office where everyone is exchanging their ideas.
If there is someone new to Smee’s team, Smee will be talking about the problems he or she is solving. “Instead of sending me the document summarizing your design, let’s talk about your design on the board.” he explained. People are encouraged to draw out “What are the challenges?”, “What are you trying to solve?”, “What approach do you take?”, “What different approach can be taken?”, and “What are the trade-offs across those approaches?”
Smee emphasized that “if you have that culture across all levels and sub teams, then you create ability to have each individual feel empowered to contributing that broader design.” He thinks it is the system which helps him acquire his first patent right away after graduating from Princeton University.
If we say curiosity is the key word for a scientist. What makes a successful one?
Smee said, “Build your tool box.” It’s important to invest in fundamental knowledge such as engineering, math, physics, and computer science. “You are basically adding your new approaches to solve problems.” he added.
Furthermore, “It’s very important to follow your passion. You are good at doing what you love,” Smee said, “The first thing obviously is to understand what you enjoy solving, and what are the interesting challenges you like working on.”