Once an intern, Viasat engineer looks back on 23 years with the company

Elizabeth Fong says fresh challenges keep her work satisfying


When Elizabeth Fong became a Viasat intern in 1998, she knew little about the company — nor that her summer experience would evolve into a career that so far spans 23 years.

A friend who worked for Viasat at the time suggested the company might be a good fit for Fong — then a 21-year-old electrical engineering major at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). As a student, Fong appreciated not only an opportunity to work in her field of study, but the allure of a paid internship.

“I went from a $5-an-hour job serving to-go food to $15 as an intern at Viasat,” she said. “I was focused on school, and wasn’t looking for an internship at the time. But I am strongly grateful to my aunt for pointing me in this direction. I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

Fong said she “immediately liked the people and the work I was doing,” and that has never changed.

Today, she is the government segment lead for the engineering quality assurance team — one of many rewarding positions she’s held.

“Throughout my career here at Viasat, I have always been able to do something new,” she said. “Because I’ve worked on so many different things, it almost feels like I worked for different companies. It has never felt stale to me, and the work has always been challenging.”

Early start

Fong’s love of engineering began early in life. Her father was a self-taught electrician who nurtured Fong’s interest in math by teaching her advanced math concepts andtheories well beyond those her instructors were teaching at the time.

An astute English teacher steered Fong toward engineering. Inspired by her father, she majored in electrical engineering. During college, she learned about communications theory and realized she’d found her niche.

Fong, who grew up in San Diego, worked as an intern for two years while she finished her electrical engineering master’s degree at UCSD, then joined the company as a fulltime employee in 2000. The internship program in the late ’90s was wonderful, Fong said, but “nothing like it is today.”

“Viasat had about 400 employees at the time,” she said. “There weren’t any organized intern events like tech talks, hackathons, and the intern projects we have today.

“But I was given the opportunity to work on and learn many different parts of the system. Overall, it was a great experience.”

Fong started her career with Viasat on the commercial side, doing systems testing on StarWire, Viasat’s first commercial satellite networking system.

She also worked as a software developer on the Astrolink International contract, Viasat’s first venture into developing Ka-band terminals. Fong then worked as a programmer on the ArcLight mobile satellite communication system.

She later switched to the government side of the business, working on the fill processor for the KG-250, a compact IP network encryptor. She then spent several years working on integrating the MIDS JTRS terminal. The terminal provides access to Link 16 – which enables warfighters to communicate with secure data, and enables the real-time exchange of data in high-crisis environments. Tools like the MIDS JTRS have helped the U.S. military significantly reduce incidents of fratricide.

“I worked on that in the systems integration team for a number of years,” she said. “It was a really high-performing team. Being in that kind of environment really energizes you, and makes you feel you’re doing good work.”

Work/life balance at Viasat

Fong’s personal life also changed dramatically in the 2000s. She married and had two daughters, and said Viasat helped her find a work/life balance.

“My girls were very young when I was working on MIDS JTRS, and I had to be in the lab a lot,” she said. “I was willing to take on the work but couldn’t travel, and they were able to accommodate me.

“I’m very grateful. Then and now, I feel like I’m heard at Viasat, and the things that matter to me are taken into account.”

Ready for a new challenge, and one that helped sustain that balance, Fong transitioned to the engineering quality assurance team and helped conduct CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) appraisals starting in 2010. CMMI is used to improve processes by integrating functions, setting goals and providing guidance. The audits are required for much of the government work Viasat does.

“It’s a whole different type of work from what I had done before,” she said. “I’m either updating tools or reviewing program plans — things that help ensure we pass the audits.

“I liked that it allowed me a lot of flexibility when my kids were growing up to work at different hours of the day. I could get my girls to school and make dinner for them. That was a plus for me.”

Fong faced another life-altering event in 2014, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation and today is in remission. As difficult as the experience was, Fong believes it was more positive than negative.

“I was able to take the time off I needed, and I felt very supported by the company and people I worked with,” she said. “It made me a stronger person, and changed my perspective on things. Things don’t bother me as much anymore. It was tough, but I think I’m better for it.”

Today, Fong is in a leadership role with the engineering quality assurance team, and said she has “found her voice.”

“I have more decision-making capability, and I’m liking the job much more,” she said. “With the new leadership we have in Government Services, we are now in more of a partnership role with the engineering team. We’re talking together about how we make sure we get things done and measured to ensure we’re doing it the best way possible — that’s what I’m passionate about. That sense of collaboration has made the work even more enjoyable.”

For Fong, it all contributes to a sense of contentment. For the foreseeable future, she has no plans to give that up.

“I look forward to going back to the office again,” she said. “But I am satisfied with where I’m at, and grateful for all the opportunities that have been presented to me along the way. It’s been a great ride here at Viasat.”