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Mark McDonald: Alumnus

Electrical Engineering
Degree Program: 
Ph.D., Electrical Engineering
Undergraduate Institution: 
BSE Duke University, MSEE North Carolina State University
Graduate Institution: 
UC Santa Cruz
Ken Pedrotti

What did you study at UC Santa Cruz?

I studied analog hardware design. I’m an older student so I got my BA and MA many years ago. At the time, it was considered that if you got your PhD, you’d be too academic to work in industry. But things have changed and that is no longer the case. So I finished my last startup and thought it would be a good time to get my PhD. I ended up at UC Santa Cruz under Professor Pedrotti. I did research on terahertz, which is really, really fast electronics, and metamaterials, which are human-made materials that have qualities not found in nature. Arguably, the best example is the idea of an invisibility cloak, like on Star Trek or Harry Potter. We can’t make this today, but this is how you would go about doing it—with metamaterials. We know how to do it mathematically today, but we don’t know how to do it in reality.

What do you do for a living?

I work for a company called QualiTau in Mountain View. We make reliability test equipment for the major FABs in the world. FABs are semiconductors, like microprocessors or chips for your cell phone. I am the chief technologist which means I do almost anything that needs to get done. I’ve been doing this type of work for many decades.

How did your experience at UC Santa Cruz prepare you for your current position?

My studies didn’t directly prepare me for my career but I think the value of a PhD is a little bit wider and deeper than that. First of all, you learn a lot more than you did during your bachelor’s and master’s studies, and so you increase the breadth and depth of your knowledge and then you can take what you’ve learned there, as well as also the ability to learn more, and apply it to your current position. And the other thing is you get a lot more respect for the work that you do.

Do you have advice for students?

First of all, study hard. Also, I would encourage students to go beyond a BA. In today’s world, an MA or even better, a PhD, is valuable for several reasons. One is, we need to know a lot more today than people knew years ago. So, in order to learn that increased supply of information we need to study more. Also, employers expect greater degrees. Also, you get paid more! That’s a plus.

What makes a job applicant stand out?

I have the advantage of having worked and studied in the field for many years and I think the most important thing a student needs to learn in their education is not memorizing this or that formula, or do certain calculations at this speed, etc., but really to develop an intuitive understanding and knowledge of what they are doing or learning about. Intuitive knowledge is the most important thing. You can always look up a formula in a textbook or on the internet. If you can’t do a calculation, you can get help with a computer or your neighbor, but you need to have an intuitive understanding of what you’re learning.