Joan Tang Waltman is one of the engineering industry's most accomplished professional leaders, who, as president of the Qualcomm
Wireless Business Solutions (QWBS) division, has led the way in increasing the security and quality of wireless solutions. Since becoming president in April 2005, Waltman has taken her experience in engineering, operations, and management and reshaped the company�s focus to a more customer-oriented and technically proficient approach. She has also been the recipient of a number of professional accolades, including being named one of Cal State Fullerton's ''50 Women of Distinction,'' and is currently a nominee for the university�s 2008 Distinguished Alumni Award.
||''I came to learn that the 'big win' in life really wasn't about earning the biggest title or making the most money but instead was about finding meaning in our work and belonging to something greater than ourselves.''|
Waltman's decision to pursue engineering was the result of a long process of introspection and analyzing the likely benefits of a career in engineering
or technology. Ultimately, it was her desire to translate innovative ideas into utilitarian realities.
''I entered Cal State Fullerton as an undeclared major. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to head more into science or engineering. My mother was a chemist who specialized in breast cancer research, and my father was an electrical engineer who was a great innovator in his field. So I had two very strong role models and influences in my life, but they never tried to tell me what to do — they left that up to me.
''I was in chemistry club at CSUF mostly for the social interaction. That’s where I met Tom, my husband-to-be, now husband of 22 years. I eventually chose engineering as my major because I liked the idea of innovating to turn ideas into tangible products that could make life better for people. Another very practical driving force in my decision was that I wanted to make sure I would be able to support myself comfortably once I graduated, no matter what happened to the economy, and technology seemed like a good bet.''
Waltman's initial foray into the industry was an internship with a local corporation which gave shape to her fluid notions of what life as an engineer would be like. Her time there allowed her to cement her ultimate professional ambition and plan a career path to get her where she wanted to go.
''While I was at CSUF, I worked as a secretary, and then I got a job as a lab technician intern at Hughes Aircraft Company in Fullerton. It was a good job which allowed me to use some of my skills on small design problems and work at a lab bench with the engineering technicians and members of the technical staff. It was my first chance to see what it might really be like to be an engineer.
''After graduation I wanted to get as much engineering experience in my first few years out of school so that I could do what I ultimately wanted to do: be a program manager. My father had spoken about what program managers did, and I always thought that would be more 'me' because of the social interaction and the opportunity to support the team to reach a goal. However, I knew it was important that I have the experience of doing the engineering work in order to develop the judgment and insight I would need to lead such a team. Plus, when supervising engineers, I wanted the credibility that only comes from having worked as an engineer.
''I spent the first four years of my career working in hardware design, test engineering, systems engineering, and some software programming. I also got my master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of California at San Diego
, where my husband was going to medical school. We married in his second year of medical school, so I was working and getting my master’s degree while he was in school. Those were challenging times, but we were doing exactly what we wanted to do.''
By the time she had completed her master’s in engineering in 1990, Waltman learned of Qualcomm
’s search for qualified engineers who would work to develop and commercialize a new technology called CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access). The opportunity was perfect for Waltman, who was looking for a company where her skills and vision could be fully exercised.
''I heard that Qualcomm was a great place to work — a startup with lots of potential because it was founded by Dr. Irwin Jacobs, who had a track record for innovation. So I decided to take a chance and leave the job I had at TRW at the time. It turned out to be the best decision of my life. Even though I had to take a cut in pay, it was an amazing opportunity that landed me at arguably the most innovative company in San Diego. Dr. Jacobs told us that we were going to change the way people communicated so that one day, virtually everyone would have an affordable cell phone. Remember, this was 1990, so it was quite a big, provocative vision and challenge — one that not too many people understood the magnitude of at the time. I was proud to be a part of it, and I still am to this day.''
Personal experiences proved highly influential in Waltman’s professional career, making demands and producing lessons which she had not expected to encounter as a working engineer.
''The most important lesson or opportunity in my life occurred when my husband completed his 14 years of training in medicine and cardiology. We had two very young boys at the time, I had become a program manager, and we were living in the first house we bought as a family in San Diego. Then my husband was offered an amazing opportunity to join a cardiology practice in a growing community in Las Vegas
, Nevada. It was a very tough decision, but we both knew that he had to take the job.
''I told Qualcomm that I needed to leave San Diego to support my husband’s career opportunity. Luckily a position with Qualcomm was available for me in Las Vegas, but it was a completely different job working as a telecom engineer. At the time, I had just completed my second year as a program manager, my ‘dream job’ — or so I thought. I took a cut in pay and a demotion, but I got to stay with the company that I so admired. As painful as it was personally at the time, it was the best move I ever made.
''That experience solidified my belief in how much my family and my husband’s happiness meant to me. Moreover, I came to learn that the ‘big win’ in life really wasn’t about earning the biggest title or making the most money but instead was about finding meaning in our work and belonging to something greater than ourselves. In this new position
I was empowered to create a meaningful workplace for a group of people I was to hire in a satellite office for Qualcomm to be built from the ground up. From that point on titles and fancy offices no longer mattered to me. It was about creating an environment where work was fun and everyone knew and felt that they had an important role to play. Because we were a small office, the experience also taught me that there was no job too small and that every job at every level was important to the success of the organization.''
Waltman credits her professional success not only to her own abilities but to the guidance and examples of others she has worked with over the years. She is quick to point out, however, that not all mentors demonstrated the leadership qualities she hoped to embody, though they still served as powerful examples.
''I’ve been blessed to encounter many influential people in my career. Frankly, some of the worst managers I’ve known were among those that provided me with the greatest lessons on leadership by showing me what it felt like to be on the receiving end of a bad situation. I learned early in my career how not to manage. Fostering a negative environment didn’t make the problem go away — it just made the situation even more painful.
''I’ve also had some great leaders influence my career, for which I am eternally grateful. Most of them operated with a leadership style that Jim Collins came to term ‘Level 5’ in his book Good to Great
. Through them many of the leadership lessons that my parents exhibited and taught me in my youth were brought to life and reinforced. I attribute my good fortune to those exceptional leaders and my parents.''
To the next generation of engineers, Waltman passes along advice regarding four traits which have served her well over the years: humility, fearlessness, honor, and a thirst for knowledge.
''First I would say that you should never stop being a student. To be successful you have to be a lifelong learner. I also think that sometimes you have to step down in your career to move up, and you need to leave your ego at the door to be truly successful as a leader. That’s because it is not about you. Don’t be afraid to surround yourself with strong, competent people — they will help ensure the success of the whole team, and in turn, you will gain strength as well. And finally, to be trusted by others, you have to be trustworthy. That means that every time you agree to do something and you do it, you’re building credibility, and every time you don’t, everyone will know that as well. Don’t underestimate the importance of being accountable and being a team player.''
|Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I spend time with my husband, two boys, and our pets. I love being with the family. It doesn’t really matter what we’re doing. I also like baking and playing the piano.
Q. What CD is in your CD player right now?
A. The Fray — How to Save a Life.
Q. What is the last magazine you read?
A. I think it was BusinessWeek, but honestly, I like reading In Style magazine and Harvard Business Review as well.
Q. What is your favorite TV show?
A. I don’t have that much time to watch TV, but I enjoy Brothers and Sisters on Sunday night.
Q. Who is your role model?
A. My parents served as my role model for life. Together, early on, they provided me with a moral compass that guides my actions and gives me strength.
Q. What makes you laugh?
A. The journey of life makes me laugh — just being a part of the ups and downs. I love the ride.