DEMAND AND SUPPLY
A relationship between the University and the local high-tech
industry forms as a result of basic economic principle.
Today, looking back from her cubicle in the development and testing division of Calix headquarters in Petaluma, Calif., Mari Rajakumari clearly sees the path that stretched before her. But, in 2000, that path was anything but clear.
Dot.com was in full boom. To the north of Silicon Valley, along the Highway 101 corridor of Sonoma and Marin counties, telecommunications companies were springing up across the landscape. They soon became a driving economic force in Sonoma County and the area they occupied was dubbed Telecom Valley.
But, as the companies grew, so did their need for employees trained for work in the high-tech sector. There were not enough applicants to fill the highly technical professional positions. The search for an answer to this scarcity brought Telecom Valley leaders to Sonoma State University.
SSU responded. The School of Science and Technology worked hand-in-hand with Telecom Valley companies to create the master’s program in computer and engineering science. Students can pursue either communications and photonics or computer hardware and software systems, both specializations highly valued in Telecom Valley. The master’s program started in fall 2001. The first graduate emerged in spring 2003.
When the tech boom went bust, Rajakumari found herself in the same position as other trained computer professionals — unable to find a job. She and her husband had just relocated to Sonoma County for his job. But, unlike some of those other out-of-work techies, Rajakumari soon had a baby boy to care for.
“When my son was old enough, I began again to look around for a possible job, but there weren’t any that I was qualified for,” Rajakumari said.
She had heard about the MSCES program at Sonoma State and decided to look into it, ultimately enrolling in fall 2002.
“I really liked all of my professors and classes,” Rajakumari said. “The program was really good because it is tied so well with the local businesses.”
One of the strengths of the program is its link to the Telecom Valley companies. Local professionals share their cutting-edge knowledge with the students, and an advisory board assures that the students’ training will be directly applicable to the real world.
Before she had even finished the program, Rajakumari landed a position at Calix.
“A classmate from Sonoma State who also works at Calix called and told me about the job opening,” she said. “I was excited when I got the job, but my life was a little crazy at first because I still had to finish my professional project for my master’s degree.”
But that was last year, and life has settled down for Rajakumari. Her degree complete, she now focuses on her four-year-old son, her husband and her job.
“I am learning a lot here because they put me on different types of projects each cycle,” she said. A project cycle normally lasts six months.
And life at Calix has improved as well. Begun as a start-up in 1999, the privately funded company weathered the downturn in the economy and no longer considers itself a start-up company. In fact, the supplier of telecommunications products announced this year that it had matured into a $100 million company, doubling its sales over the previous year.
Before she finished her master of computer and engineering science degree at SSU, Mari Rajakumari was hired as a systems test analyst at Calix, a Telecom Valley company. Left, she talks with coworker Yasu Tanaka, a principal system test engineer.