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Orchestrating a Symphony of Tech Solutions

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One of many research projects Matt Grob ’89 has been directing is Qualcomm ZerothTM processing. The research is aimed at mimicking the brain and nervous system, so devices can have embedded cognition driven by brain-inspired computing. Working with business and academic partners, Qualcomm Zeroth is looking to biology to inspire a new generation of processors. Visit bradley.edu/go/ht-Grob2014 to view Grob presenting an update on Qualcomm’s brain initiative, Zeroth processing. Photography courtesy Qualcomm Technologies Inc.

We live in a world teeming with wireless technology that affects the daily game of life in nearly every aspect of our existence. Although we are free to choose our level of connectedness, work and play can merge into seamless entities. As executive vice president and chief technology officer of San Diego-based Qualcomm Technologies Inc., Matt Grob ’89 is a leader who continues to “point the ship in the right direction” during this digitally integrated revolution. His personal mission is to “connect everyone, to lower communication costs, and to simplify and develop more energy-efficient devices.”

The Peoria-raised electrical engineering major said his vision is based on evidence and anecdotal stories. Qualcomm, one of Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work for in the U.S.” for the past 13 years, is working to simplify the user interface because the public demands it. “When you connect people and make it easier and cost efficient, communication can improve the standard of living, quality of government, freedoms, and many metrics,” he commented. “As Qualcomm moves forward, we are making it easier for devices to communicate and as a result, for people to communicate. One of the exhilarating aspects of our business is that we have high-volume products. Maybe we just create or add a feature to improve the camera or make a modem work a little faster; it’s a rewarding feeling that even a small change is making a product better for lots of people.”

Feeling fortunate to be in an innovative business at the right time, Grob said Qualcomm, also one of Fortune’s “World’s Most Admired Companies,” has founders who continue to place a high priority on quality work environments, growing opportunities, comfortable facilities and competitive benefits. “When you combine that mindset with the fact that the actual business is related to cellphones and smartphones and has done very well, it’s just a great place to work,” Grob noted. “Qualcomm is highly committed to community activities and sponsorships, including one I volunteer for — FIRST Robotics, and I am pleased that there was a Peoria regional FIRST Robotics competition this year. We give back because we’ve had so much success.”

The company has expectations for engineers to innovate and invent. If it’s new or different, Qualcomm captures it in the form of a patent. For example, Grob worked on EVDO, a project aimed at greatly improving the speed of wirelessly connecting to the Internet. As a result, along with others, he filed a number of patents on radio techniques that enable information to flow faster.

“We have two major businesses here, and one is the product — basically the chips that go in the phones, tablets, etc., and the other is the licensing that goes with the product,” he explained. “We welcome the use of our patents and collect a small percentage for full access to them.” 

Engineering the Bradley Experience

As a legacy student following his father, Emil Grob ’52, and sister, Catherine Grob ’75, to Bradley, he acknowledged he was very happy with the “whole positive package” at the University. Grob noted the competitive curriculum prepared him well for the rigors of pursuing his master’s in electrical engineering at Stanford University. He valued knowing his professors and the emphasis they placed on teaching, especially the electrical engineering faculty, including Drs. Brian Huggins, associate dean and associate professor; In Soo Ahn, department chair and associate professor; and professors emeriti Donald Schertz ’60 and the late William Hammond, MSEE ’60.

Grob shared that he recently referenced a Friedrich Nietzsche lesson learned from Dr. Michael Greene, professor of philosophy, “hard reading for an engineering mind,” he added. “Believe it or not, I remember discussing, ‘If you gaze into the abyss, the abyss will gaze back at you.’ It’s a very interesting nugget of wisdom from my Bradley Experience that I refer to even today.”

Understanding how helpful it is in life to have a “rounded kind of perspective,” Grob said he is aware of the University’s efforts to build a business and engineering convergence center and applauds the project: “Engineers at Qualcomm, particularly junior engineers, need the ability to communicate and have a sense of what’s taking place in the business of the project they are working on; they must know how it’s being viewed by customers and competitors. It’s not just a question of pure technical skills; engineers need that entire circle to be most effective.” 

The father of 13-year-old twins, a daughter and son, Grob said a third generation of his family could someday call Bradley home. “It’s funny,” he recalled with a laugh. “Just yesterday, my wife, Dawn, and I were talking about colleges, and she said Bradley would be an excellent choice for our son. It’s a great school, and we have family in Peoria. It’s certainly possible; it could happen.”

— Karen Crowley Metzinger, MA ’97