Jay Alexander was recently named Chief Technology Officer of Keysight Technologies, the current Electronic Measurements business of Agilent Technologies. On August 1, Keysight will commence operations as a subsidiary of Agilent, becoming an independent company in November 2014. What is the role of a CTO, particularly at a test-and-measurement company? I asked Alexander to explain.
Martin Rowe: What is the role of a CTO? Is there anything unique about being a CTO for a test-equipment company?
Jay Alexander: The exact responsibilities differ by company, but in general the CTO is focused on technology issues that are strategically important for the firm's success. Technology development in a test-and-measurement company is definitely unique, because our customers expect us to help them measure their cutting-edge designs. So we need to stay a step ahead in our own technologies in order to make a valued contribution. In addition to the hardware technologies such as high-speed amplifiers and A/D converters that often come to mind, the test-and-measurement contribution today includes many software-oriented aspects such as very accurate calibration and advanced measurement algorithms.
Rowe: Please explain how the Keysight R&D organization will be structured. Does each division or product line have a dedicated engineering team?
Alexander: Each major product line has a dedicated engineering team, typically located within the division responsible for those products. These teams, however, are augmented by shared technology centers as well as our central research laboratory. The technology centers develop ASICs, advanced packaging and internal test capabilities, and other proprietary parts of the overall solution, while the central research laboratory focuses on next-generation breakthroughs than can be deployed three to five years in the future.
Overall, it's a solid development architecture that has resulted in many successful products for us. While the product teams are engaged in the current development, the technology centers and the central laboratory are helping tee up new building blocks that will be used in programs that come after the current development.
Rowe: Do you anticipate any changes in the R&D structure following the split from Agilent?
Jay Alexander: Not at this time. While we are always open to adaptations in response to changing market conditions, we're pleased with the setup we have in place.
Rowe: Will you work with the new Keysight Labs? If so, how?
Alexander: Yes, absolutely. The Keysight Labs team reports into my organization, and I’ll be involved in guiding their work toward the most important contributions needed by the company in order to best meet customer needs. By the way, Keysight Labs is the new name, but previously it has been known as the Measurement Research Laboratory, Agilent Labs, and HP Labs. It's been a part of our company organization for almost 50 years.
Jay Alexander, Keysight Technologies' CTO (left) visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department instructional laboratories as part of an equipment donation. With Alexander is Dr. Steven Leeb, Professor, EECS and Mechanical Engineering, and an unidentified student.
Rowe: I read recently that you visited MIT as part of an equipment donation. Can you provide some background as to your relationship with MIT?
Alexander: As one of the premier engineering schools in the world, we’ve been involved in other equipment donations for the EECS department in the past. These have typically been in the digital space, for example with logic analyzers and oscilloscopes, although other equipment such as power supplies and spectrum analyzers are also in use there. Beyond MIT, our company has longed played an active role in supporting higher education and research, and we are committed to furthering science and technology by developing strategic partnerships with universities and research labs around the world.
We also provide our Educator's Corner web portal, which provides a one-stop education resource to lecturers, researchers, and students looking to enhance their higher education curriculum and research capabilities. Various tools and resources can be downloaded for free, including iOS mobile apps, teaching tools and lab experiments, computer based training, as well as our library of application notes and webcast seminars. We provide this resource both to give back and to help develop the future technologists that our profession requires.
Rowe: What’s your impression of young engineers today? What skills and abilities do you look for when hiring young engineers, particularly those right out of school?
Alexander: Of course we look for technical skills, and we've employed problem-solving interviews long before they became popular with software or Internet companies. We might ask an applicant to sketch out a certain transistor configuration and derive the gain and impedance values, for example. Or for a software role, we might ask them to code a search or sort algorithm. We also look for teamwork skills, since so much of what we do today happens in a team context. What do they do when they need help, and how do they help others? We often ask applicants to give a presentation, because communicating that way is so important today. In a technical company like ours, virtually all of our engineers wind up interacting with customers and our sales teams, in some cases quite regularly, and it’s something our customers definitely value.
We're very selective in our assessment process, and we give our new hires significant responsibilities right out of the gate. We value their new ideas, their energy, and their technology knowledge, and over time they are the ones who are going to create the next 75 years of success for us. In many cases they effectively receive advanced education simply by carrying out their work, because again, what they’re working on needs to be a step ahead of the technologies used by our customers. It's an exciting environment, and it’s certainly kept me engaged the past 28 years.