John Hazel, P.Eng.
“Electrical engineering in particular was an evolving discipline, including emerging possibilities for computer engineering” the 54-year-old Montreal native says. “I was attracted by the diversity of the field, the wide range of opportunities, and the different types of problems that were there to solve.”
That diversity still defines both his work and his interpersonal experiences to this day. As a Network Management Engineer at Nokia, John oversees a globally distributed team and has worked with clients on five continents.
In this role, he interacts regularly with sales engineers, software developers, project managers, and customers from all over the world in different sectors. A typical day sees him engaged across multiple projects running in parallel, switching between pre-sales support, requirements analysis, statement-of-work preparation, functional and system verification, customer training and documentation, and installation, maintenance, and support services for customer and in-house trial and production live-network deployments.
The benefits of this globally distributed, multifaceted style of work are immediately evident when you talk to John. From a business perspective, having team members close to customers is a key benefit, but he also notes that working with people around the world “enriches the perspectives of the team, as they must consider different parameters—some of which may never have occurred to them—in designing solutions tailored to the customer’s unique needs.”
“Personally,” he says, “the exposure to different priorities and challenges has expanded my problem-solving scope and fostered creative solutions beyond conventional wisdom, resulting in an enriching ongoing learning experience.”
“The transcendent power of engineering”
After graduating from Concordia University with a Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical) in 1986, John moved to Ottawa for his first position with Bell-Northern Research.
He recalls an experience early in his career that helped define his perspective on the things that were possible as an engineer.
“I was part of a team responsible for integrating hardware and software components into a network for a Japanese customer. This was a strategic project, and the integration milestone was the first time the network components would interact.
“I was sent to Tokyo as part of a team that would be working directly with the client’s engineering team. My area of responsibility was at the lower end of the protocol stack, part of the signal processing engine. When the two systems were connected, the signaling didn’t work, and error alarms began sounding.
“The entire project team looked at me, and my counter-part on the Japanese team to solve the problem—fast.”
Facing daunting odds, and despite differences in language, culture, training, and experience, John was able to work with his counter-part to identify a cable fault and repair the situation within two hours.
“This opened my eyes to the transcendent power of engineering, and how the exchange of ideas to focus on a problem with a shared goal could overcome almost anything.”
How can I change the world?
Understanding the larger social and environmental contexts in which engineering problems emerge helps keep John feeling connected to the specific work he does as a computer engineer.
“Often that connection is simply a matter of pulling yourself out of the day-to-day and realizing the difference that you are making.”
As for the kind of difference that engineers can make, John notes how people’s perceptions have undergone shifts over the years.
“When I was just entering the work force, people’s efforts were focused on solving pressing human-made environmental crises such as acid rain and ozone depletion. While engineering still plays a significant role in people’s efforts mitigate environmental issues, there has been shift in focus for many people entering the field now. People want to know how their work can help others,” he says.
“Their concerns are social as well as environmental.”
Indeed, some of his most significant technical accomplishments have a large social component at their core, and, in many ways, he doesn’t differentiate the two. His team, for instance, played a key role in establishing a pan-continental telecommunications network in Africa, which involved huge challenges in terms of harmonizing numerous cultural and organizational perspectives. Ultimately, he asked clients to envision an ideal future rather than focusing immediately on the technical challenges or current cultural differences in approach—and it worked.
He emphasizes the fundamental role of so-called “soft skills” in accomplishing this remarkable feat: “Engineering problems are complicated but people are way more complicated.”
In much of what John says, he stays focused on the potential engineering has to provide concrete solutions to larger issues.
“When the public and private sector unite to solve a pressing problem, and learn from the experience by enacting policies that prevent similar problems from occurring in the future, society as a whole benefits.”
Computer engineers create and improve the technologies and hardware that shape our modern world.
Computer engineers research, design, develop, evaluate and integrate computer and telecommunications hardware and equipment, and information and communication system networks including wireless communication networks, fibre-optic networks, intranets, the Internet and other systems.
Computer and telecommunications hardware engineers will analyze a user’s requirement, and design and develop new computer equipment accordingly. They will research, design, develop and integrate computer and telecommunications hardware such as microprocessors, integrated circuit boards and semiconductor lasers, and will develop and conduct design simulations and prototype bench tests of the components. These engineers will also supervise, inspect and provide design support when manufacturing, installing and implementing this hardware.
Network system and data communication engineers will research, design and develop information and communication system network architecture, and will evaluate and integrate network system and data communication hardware and software. They will also assess and optimize the capacity and performance of these networks.
Computer and telecommunications hardware engineers perform some or all of the following duties:
- Analyze user’s requirements, and design and develop system architecture and specifications
- Research, design, develop and integrate computer and telecommunications hardware such as microprocessors, integrated circuit boards and semiconductor lasers
- Develop and conduct design verification simulations and prototype bench tests of components
- Supervise, inspect and provide design support during the manufacturing, installation and implementation of computer and telecommunications hardware
- Establish and maintain relationships with suppliers and clients
- May lead and co-ordinate teams of engineers, technologists, technicians and drafters in the design and development of computer and telecommunications hardware.
Network system and data communication engineers perform some or all of the following duties:
- Research, design and develop information and communication system network architecture
- Research, evaluate and integrate network system and data communication hardware and software
- Assess, document and optimize the capacity and performance of information and communication system networks
- May lead and co-ordinate teams of design professionals in the development and integration of information and communication system architecture, hardware and software.
Computer engineers may specialize in a number of areas including analog and digital signal processing, fibre optics, integrated circuits, lasers, microprocessors, microwaves and radio astronomy.
The vast majority of computer engineering positions are in Ontario and Quebec. Together they account for over 75 per cent of the average annual job openings forecasted for Canada in the next five years—over 60 per cent of which will be due to the replacement of retiring engineers.
- Computer engineers require a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, electrical or electronics engineering, engineering physics or computer science. It is preferred that this comes from an accredited engineering program.
- A master’s or doctoral degree in a related engineering discipline may be required.
- Licensing by a provincial or territorial association of professional engineers is required to approve engineering drawings and reports and to practise as a Professional Engineer (P.Eng.).
- Engineers are eligible for licensure following graduation from an accredited educational program, three or four years of supervised work experience in engineering and passing a professional practice examination.