Viasat senior systems engineer Andrew Webster is passionate about radio frequency (RF) engineering, and about sharing that enthusiasm with others. Getting people into the field, he believes, is key to making future technological advancements.
“In the last 20 years, people are less and less aware of what RF engineering and radio is,” he said. “There are at least four radios inside your smartphone. It’s just that no one calls them radios. This field is more important and complicated than ever.”
RF engineering is a critical part of today’s tech-focused lifestyle, a necessary ingredient in the technology that makes possible satellite services, GPS, smartphones, and much more. And while the demand for these technologies is only growing, the supply of RF-savvy engineers is low.
To help combat that trend, the UK-based engineer talked about his career with students last month during TeenTech. The event is designed to help students see the range of career possibilities within science, technology, and engineering.
The June 29 TeenTech was held at the Hampshire Court Hotel in Basingstoke, England, near Viasat’s Farnborough office. It drew about 300 students and 24 high-tech employers — including Viasat.
“Anything with an antenna on it, I’m all over it. I love the magic of radio and wireless, that’s why I love working at Viasat.”
The event was focused on STEM careers overall, and Webster said it clearly had an impact. Students were polled twice about their interest in STEM careers — once at the day’s beginning and again at the end.
“You can certainly see at the end that they’ve become more enthused,” he said. “For many, it’s probably the first time they’ve had a chance to talk to someone who works in technology. They may never have met an engineer before.”
Maggie Philbin, CEO and co-founder of TeenTech, said support from tech companies like Viasat is key to the organization’s success.
“We’re really grateful for the support from Viasat,” she said. “TeenTech Festivals bring the world of technology to life for students who may never have imagined they would enjoy careers in this sector. It’s not only about inspiring the students who attend but their teachers who are able to embed fresh examples of how their subject knowledge is applied in the real world.”
TeenTech wasn’t the first time Webster has witnessed the impact of volunteering. About a decade ago, he earned his certification as a STEM Ambassador. The free program provides training and support for people who want to share their career experience with students. More than 37,000 UK professionals are STEM Ambassadors.
“I got involved because I have a background in physics and communications engineering; anything with an antenna on it, I’m all over it,” Webster said. “I love the magic of radio and wireless, that’s why I love working at Viasat.
“I’m passionate about the topic, and I totally believe people should work with the schools to help them understand the application of all they’re learning in the classroom.”
Webster’s volunteer work came to a halt during the pandemic. Missing his time with students, he recently reached out to a partnership that connects businesses, STEM ambassadors, and schools. They sent him information about TeenTech Hampshire. Webster went as an industry ambassador, and Viasat agreed to be a sponsor.
The day was split into three segments, including an innovation exercise in which students brainstormed ways to solve problems with technology or software applications.
“Students who have attended our TeenTech festival days are now working in all areas of technology and engineering.”
“As an industry ambassador, I got to encourage them in a bit of engineering thinking,” Webster said. “I think the students got a lot out of it.
“And I get a boost out of it, too. You get to spend all day talking about all the great parts of your job, highlighting some of the cool stuff you do in front of young people.”
Webster hopes other Viasat employees will join him in volunteering.
“As I see the decline in RF engineers, I feel some personal responsibility to get out there and talk about radio,” he said. “We should constantly encourage people to get out into the community and do STEM outreach. It’s important stuff.”
“Students who have attended our TeenTech festival days are now working in all areas of technology and engineering,” she said. “Viasat’s support will have played an important part in the future of the young teenagers who came to this recent event and are now thinking about your sector in a very different way.”