Alum with Renowned Career in Telecommunications Presides Over Dean’s Roundtable

Ed Knapp (EE ’85), Chief Technical Officer of the American Tower Corporation, shared his career advice and insight into wireless communications with students.

Ed Knapp (EE ’85) knows a thing or two about mobility; it’s been a repeated theme in his life and career.

Now the Chief Technical Officer of the American Tower Corporation, Knapp has also served as the

  • Senior Vice President of Engineering at Qualcomm, building teams across the U.S., India, and Israel;
  • CTO of the PacketVideo Corporation, where he worked on the streaming of MPEG4 video to mobile devices;
  • Senior VP and CTO of NextWave Telecom; and
  • Executive Director of technical services for Bell Atlantic/NYNEX Mobile (Verizon Wireless), where he was responsible for the design, build-out and operation of the New York Metro area cellular system.

Before all that, however, he was delighted to earn $7 an hour as an engineering student intern at Sperry, a major defense electronics company. “I had never earned more than $1.80 an hour, so that was a big leap for me,” recalled Knapp, who hailed from Queens and was the first in his family to attend college. He spoke at a recent Dean’s Roundtable event, where he chatted with a group of students who had been invited to attend based on their academic performance, service to the school, and recommendation of their professors.

Knapp emphasized the importance of looking ahead towards emerging disruptive advancements in tech and communications.

Knapp emphasized the importance of looking ahead towards emerging disruptive advancements in tech and communications.

Knapp earned his degree just as the Bell System, which had monopolized the nation’s telephone communications industry for decades, was being broken up into smaller “Baby Bell” companies — a set of circumstances that lent his career its variety and provided him with a front-row seat to the evolution of 3G/4G/5G and Wi-Fi communications at Qualcomm’s Flarion Technologies. “I’ve watched wireless and telecommunications history unfold right in front of me,” Knapp, who has four U.S. patents to his credit, told the rapt students.

He stressed the importance of looking to the future and trying to discern where the next disruptive advancements would emerge. “That’s where you want to be,” he advised, “on the ground floor, if possible.” Money and status should not be the end goals, however, he cautioned. “It’s more important to be in the right engineering environment, working with the brightest people, and solving important, interesting problems. Don’t get caught in the trap of caring about the corner office; that might come eventually, but it shouldn’t be your focus.”

As they embark on their careers, he reminded them, they should keep their core values and sense of ethics at the forefront, treat everyone well and maintain those connections, and be open to any possibilities that present themselves. “And in the end, faith in your ability, luck, and hard work are all going to play major roles in your success, whatever career path you choose,” he concluded.