How engineering grads get their dream jobs

Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Career Center cultivates relationships with industry, offering opportunities to prepare students for top tech careers

September 9, 2021

For someone who grew up playing Xbox, working for Microsoft Devices — the team behind that gaming console and many other devices people use every day — is the definition of a dream job. And it could be your dream job, if you’re an engineering major in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University.

Such high-profile jobs may seem out of reach for some, but they’re not impossible to get — and companies like Microsoft are always looking for new, highly qualified talent. Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Washington. The Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Career Center at Arizona State University works closely with high-profile companies, including Microsoft, to build relationships and invest in the future of a diverse engineering and technology workforce. Through these partnerships and extracurricular opportunities, Fulton Schools graduates are preparing for top tech jobs. Photo courtesy of vladdon/ Download Full Image

Fulton Schools students and graduates stand out among the competition for several key reasons: among them, the Fulton Schools Career Center’s extensive resources and relationships with Microsoft and other high-profile companies, and the opportunities at the Fulton Schools designed to help students to build their skills and passion for engineering.

“I’m not aware of any other engineering career centers with collaborations to the degree and volume we have,” said Robin Hammond, director of career services in the Fulton Schools. “The opportunities and mechanisms for students and employers to connect are more than just in the career center; they’re a culture in the Fulton Schools.”

This environment has led to success for many Fulton Schools graduates, including several alumni who now have what they consider to be their dream jobs at Microsoft Devices.

Networking and relationship-building for rewarding careers

​A shared commitment to diversity and innovation has driven the relationship between ASU and Microsoft Devices.

“We’re investing in each other, and students are an extension of that relationship and investment,” Hammond said. “They want to see our students succeed as much as we do, and that’s what makes this special.”

Many big-name companies regularly connect with students in a variety of ways outside of traditional career fairs.

Working engineers and technologists as well as recruiters host information sessions and informal coffee chats to help get conversations going between professionals, alumni and students. They also conduct resume reviews, get involved in the classroom, attend student organization meetings and judge competitions. 

Mary Byron, an electrical engineering alumna, works as a Microsoft Ambassador.

Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering electrical engineering alumna Mary Byron worked at Microsoft marketing events as a Microsoft Ambassador while she was an undergraduate student. Photo courtesy of Mary Byron

Mary Byron, a Fulton Schools electrical engineering alumna who graduated in December 2018, is a product engineer for Xbox at Microsoft Devices and has also worked for Microsoft’s radio frequency development team.

As a student, Byron attended coffee chats, a session with Microsoft Devices at a meeting of the ASU section of the Society of Women Engineers and other career events where she asked many questions so recruiters would remember her.

“I believe persistence and familiarizing myself with the ones doing the recruiting helped me through the pipeline,” Byron said.

The key for students to get involved in the university-industry employer relationship is Handshake, a platform that brings together students, alumni and employers.

Employers often go straight to Handshake to post information sessions, interviews, internships, job opportunities and more. There, they can connect with students directly. So Hammond recommends students regularly check Handshake to seek out opportunities to learn about employers and go talk to them.

Gaining experiences through getting involved

While showing up to industry-hosted events is important, there’s a lot of legwork students need to do on their own to make themselves stand out to employers, Hammond said.

“It’s critical to think outside of the standard curriculum and about the ways in which you can grow your skills and your technical knowledge,” she said.

Richard Rigby, an electrical engineering alumnus, poses in front of a Microsoft sign.

Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering electrical engineering alumnus Richard Rigby poses by a Microsoft sign at the company's headquarters in Redmond, Washington. Photo courtesy of Richard Rigby

Richard Rigby graduated in December 2020 with an electrical engineering bachelor’s degree. He’s now an electrical engineer at Microsoft Devices working on the Surface Book and Laptop team where he designs schematics, facilitates layout design and debugs circuit boards in current and future Surface devices.

Rigby took advantage of Fulton Difference opportunities as a student, but in hindsight, he believes he could have stood out more if he had been more involved in an engineering club.

“Engineering clubs where you work with a team on a big project through multiple semesters is probably some of the best experience you can get as a student,” Rigby said. “Not only do you get relevant technical skills, but you also get new, exciting projects that you can put on your resume and brag about in your interviews.”

Becoming adept in a particular field can be accomplished in many ways: doing independent or group projects outside of school requirements, reading books on the topic, joining working groups on Facebook or LinkedIn. Sometimes students may need to figure out their “why” — the reason students really want the type of job they want — so students should get curious and explore. The key to success here, Hammond says, is to do it because you love your field of study and you have a passion that will make an impression on employers.

That’s where the Fulton Difference comes in. This guiding principle of the Fulton Schools partly focuses on fostering success beyond the classroom through extracurricular activities to enhance students’ experiences and skill-building.

Researching careers and companies

Students should also spend time learning about companies before meeting with their representatives. This helps students see how their passion aligns with the company’s vision.

One of the most important things a student can do, Hammond says, is conduct research about a company. Much of this is individual work, looking into products and services, how the company functions and even investment reports. Together, this information can provide the same sort of knowledge a first-day employee would have.

“Understanding the company from a first-day employee mindset helps you walk into an interview with more information about the organization, more confidence and the ability to ask questions about the company’s vision statement and goals and their plan to get to the next level,” Hammond said. “You’re connecting with them as a potential future teammate, and that shows a maturity, an awareness and how you are making the same type of investment in this process that they’re putting in you.”

Altogether, cultivating a passion for engineering, gaining experiences and knowing a company at the level of a new employee will set students apart.

“If you have that passion and share it with a first-day employee mindset, those things come together and will propel you to the next level,” Hammond said.

Samuel Perez Diarte is fascinated by the inner workings of electronics. The May 2018 electrical engineering graduate explored this field as an undergraduate student through a variety of activities outside the classroom. He found an internship opportunity with Microsoft Devices that aligned with his goals, which contributed to him landing his current job.

“I realized that this was what I wanted to do when I got to travel to China and take devices apart for investigations,” said Perez Diarte, who also earned a minor in business. “I’ve always loved taking things apart for fun just to try to figure out how things work, but now I was getting paid for it.”

Electrical engineering alumnus Samuel Perez Diarte attends a Microsoft Devices team event.

Samuel Perez Diarte, an Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering electrical engineering alumnus, attends a Microsoft Devices celebration event in September 2019. Photo courtesy of Samuel Perez Diarte

Putting it all together with the Fulton Schools Career Center

From first-year students to alumni, the Fulton Schools Career Center has resources to help navigate the entire career planning process.

The Fulton Schools Career Center helped Rigby prepare through resume reviews with the peer career coaches — other Fulton Schools students who are trained to help with career readiness. Rigby was a peer career coach too, so he knew the value of such a resource.

“I cannot express how dramatic a transformation my resume went through getting so many trained eyes on it,” Rigby said. “They had a sample resume that was created from feedback from top industry professionals, which was extremely helpful for formatting references and seeing what content my resume was missing.”

The peer career coaches also helped him make effective LinkedIn and Handshake profiles for networking and reiterated the importance of attending company recruiting events, which got him in the door at Microsoft Devices.

He encourages current Fulton Schools students to make time for an appointment at the career center.

“The most challenging aspect of the internship and job search is knowing where to start,” Rigby said, "especially with all the stress of homework and exams on an engineering student’s mind. You will gain a lot of clarity about your next steps, and you’ll have a new resource for asking career questions any time.”

Monique Clement

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU center announces first-ever global coral reef maps

September 9, 2021

When people think of Arizona State University and the Sun Devils, desert landscapes and simmering Phoenix days come to mind. But for one ASU research team, their setting is tropical islands and beaches — Hawaii to be exact. 

The Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science — located in Tempe, Arizona, and in Hilo, Hawaii — does not call this paradise home just for the views. This team is leading the way in groundbreaking research to inform climate and biodiversity action around the world. And one of its projects, the Allen Coral Atlas, continues to reach new heights for what is possible.  Dr. Alexandra Ordonez collects georeferenced reef data with GPS overhead. Credit: Chris Roelfsema Alexandra Ordonez collects georeferenced reef data with GPS overhead. Photo by Chris Roelfsema Download Full Image

On Sept. 8, the Allen Coral Atlas met a major milestone by completing global habitat maps of the world’s tropical, shallow coral reefs. A combination of satellite imagery, advanced analytics and global collaboration has resulted in maps that show the marine ecosystems' benthic and geomorphic data in unprecedented detail. With eyes in the sky, the technology recognizes geomorphic, or seascape structures, up to about 15 meters (52 feet) underwater and benthic data, or the composition of the ocean floor, up to about 10 meters (33 feet) underwater. 

The Allen Coral Atlas is a collaborative project led by the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science in partnership with Vulcan Inc., Planet Labs Inc., the University of Queensland (UQ) and the National Geographic Society. Drawing on satellite imagery, the Allen Coral Atlas maps and monitors the world's coral reefs. And with this newest accomplishment, conservation users will have a resource for globally comparable coral reef data, at a scale never before available.

“We now have the highly detailed maps needed to create new spatial plans and marine protected areas,” said Wen Wen, a marine spatial analyst in Indonesia. “The Allen Coral Atlas is playing a large role in prioritizing 30 million hectares of a new MPA (marine protected area) and providing alternative locations for a coastal economic development project of a shoreline airport. This tool is a blessing to our country.”

A marine protected area is an area of the ocean set aside for economic resources, biodiversity conservation and species protection. Basically, it limits human activity to support the reef and ocean ecosystem, and, in effect, the nearby communities that rely on these reefs.

Innovation and collaboration are key to crafting the maps

Before becoming a game-changing conservation tool, the journey of a habitat map begins as satellite imagery from Planet Labs. ASU calculates the water depth, and these calculations are sent with the imagery to the Remote Sensing Research Center at UQ, where scientists use machine learning and analysis to craft the habitat maps. 

Machine learning uses algorithms to classify the pixels in an image into different reef classifications. Just like any student, these algorithms need to learn how to recognize the different pixels. Local teams have contributed more than 450 datasets that “train” the algorithms to do just that. 

After classifying the reefs, these datasets are used to assess the reef maps and check that the classifications are accurate. While turbidity — think sand or sediment in the water — and atmospheric conditions, such as clouds, create barriers when mapping coral reefs, the Allen Coral Atlas leverages collaboration by engaging with teams for feedback and organizing expeditions for additional reef data.

After the regions have been validated and a local expert provides feedback, the habitat maps are sent to the software engineering team at ASU, where they are transformed into visual and downloadable data available to anyone with internet access. Check them out at the Allen Coral Atlas website.

Informing action

With these maps, organizations have a new tool to guide their conservation efforts. 

“It is a gratifying milestone after years of dedicated nonstop teamwork to bring this global map to fruition, but the true value of the work will come when coral conservationists are able to better protect coral reefs based on the high-resolution maps and monitoring system,” said Greg Asner, managing director of the Allen Coral Atlas at ASU. “We must double down and use this tool as we work to save coral reefs from the impacts of our climate crisis and other threats.”

Already, officials from 14 countries are engaged with Allen Coral Atlas team members, working on 48 new marine planning projects using the atlas maps as their foundational data set. 

Vatu Molisa, Vanuatu Project liaison officer for the IUCN Marine Program, explained how the Allen Coral Atlas will be used to inform the region’s efforts to protect coral.

“We will be utilizing this very valuable and important dataset to contribute to our continuing National Marine Spatial Plan and efforts, and look forward to future and continuing collaborations," Molisa said.

The use of the habitat maps goes beyond marine spatial planning, with organizations using the Allen Coral Atlas for disaster recovery, proposed policies for fishing regulations, and the identification and documentation of local threats to coral reef habitats.

Combined with recent innovation — a monitoring system capable of detecting coral bleaching in biweekly increments — the Allen Coral Atlas is now the most complete, consistent, accurate and continually updated resource for coral scientists, policymakers and regional planners. 

In addition to the Allen Coral Atlas, the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science team’s research continues to awe the conservation community — from groundbreaking studies, including Shawna Foo’s recently published study on coral and algae relationships, to the first high-resolution mapping of live corals on the Hawaiian Islands, to educational coral videos shot under the waves.

Makenna Flynn

Digital communications intern, Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science