Viasat engineer Sheu-Sheu Tan’s interest in wireless technology was first piqued by a pocket-sized technological marvel: the cellphone.
“I was very curious about how the cellphone is able to connect without a wire,” she said. “Our voice goes up in space and then shows up on the other end of another phone. It’s like magic. I was fascinated, and that’s one of the reasons I chose to pursue wireless communications.”
The Malaysia native’s curiosity led her to Viasat – an ideal workplace for someone passionate about the science behind wireless technology. Tan joined Viasat in 2013 after finishing her doctorate in electrical and computer engineering at the University of California San Diego. UCSD is only a short hop down the California coastline from the company’s Carlsbad headquarters.
“Satellite communications has always been very interesting to me, and I feel the work Viasat does – connecting people who are unconnected – is very important,” she said. “Viasat’s vision aligns with my personal vision. It’s on a mission to actually bring something meaningful to people’s lives.”
Success leads to possibilities
As a child growing up in Malaysia, Tan said she couldn’t have imagined the life she has now. In fact, she never thought she’d live outside Asia.
But her confidence, and the possibilities she saw, grew with each success she had.
Her youthful fascination with wireless technology led to a major in computer and electrical engineering. And earning her bachelor’s degree in Malaysia led her to Singapore, where she completed a master’s in electrical and computer engineering. Fueled by her experience there, Tan decided to spread her wings further.
“I wanted to challenge myself to a different environment, to go outside my comfort zone and go further abroad,” she said. “UCSD is one of the best schools in the nation, especially in the field of wireless communications. But studying in the U.S. was a totally different experience for me.”
Once again, Tan rose to the challenge of her new surroundings and exceled, graduating in 2013 with a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering (communication theory and system), and then joining Viasat.
“Seeing that I could succeed in a completely different culture and environment made me feel more empowered,” she said. “It gave me a lot of strength and confidence that I’ve carried with me in life.”
Tan travels back to Malaysia at least twice a year to visit her family.
“Being away from my family has been hard,” she said. “There was an instance where they took a family portrait, and I was the only one missing. I wish I could be more involved in their lives.”
That longing is tempered by the career and personal rewards Tan has realized in California.
She spent her first six years at Viasat working as a system design engineer, driving the design of features that determine how data transmission is scheduled – a process that both optimizes the user’s experience and the system’s efficiency. The work requires analysis, modeling and creative thinking — a multi-layered mix that Tan has found greatly satisfying.
That position has prepared her well for a new and bigger challenge. Tan is now transitioning into a different engineering role focused on optimizing the network’s capacity.
The opportunity to take on different roles is among the things Tan appreciates most about Viasat.
“I think Viasat provides an environment in which I can challenge myself and work on impactful problems,” she said. “I like that the company is open to new ideas, that it sees the value of new ideas that can take the company even further. They also care about and listen to their employees, and they want to enable them to grow.”
As a lover of tech, Tan’s also passionate about Viasat’s pursuit of innovation.
“Viasat technology is always ahead of the industry; it keeps pushing itself to the next highest possible level of technology it can achieve,” she said. “I’m very excited to be working on this cutting-edge technology.”
Tan has a full life outside the office, too. She plays classical guitar with the Encinitas Guitar Orchestra, regular practices Pilates, hikes and spends time with her fiancé, a fellow engineer. She also loves to travel and learn about different cultures – and the cuisine that goes with them.
“I never thought my life would be in a different country, much less have all these cool things happening – getting married, taking on a new role,” she said. “It’s very interesting how life turns out. I’m satisfied and grateful for what’s happened so far, and excited about what’s ahead.”
Tan knows there are other girls and young women pondering their futures just as she once did. She encourages them to reach beyond their imagination.
“If I had a chance to talk to them, I would like to tell them to believe in themselves,” she said. “You have more potential than you know. So don’t be afraid to try new things and embrace the possibilities that are offered to you.
“This is a field for all genders, and everyone can thrive equally well.”