Felipe Diaz-Cruz and his classmates shrank a Texas Instrument (TI) system from the size of an older PC to that of a home phone. His work caught the attention of TI recruiters.
By Contributing Writer
By Adrienne Sylver
Not everyone can pinpoint a transformational event in their life. But Felipe Diaz-Cruz is fortunate to have experienced two life-changing moments ― both while he was studying at FIU, where he ultimately received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
“Two professors were absolute game-changers,” Diaz-Cruz says. “They saw something in me and gave me so many opportunities. None of what came later would have happened if I hadn’t come to FIU and met them.”
Diaz-Cruz, today a rising star at Texas Instruments (TI) in Dallas, Texas, is referring to Gustavo Roig, a professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Shekhar Bhansali, a professor and leader of the Bio-MEMS and Microsystems Lab/Group at FIU.
Colombian-born Diaz-Cruz came to the university because of its international flavor and outstanding electrical engineering program.
“I had Dr. Roig for an electrical circuits class, which is one of the first electrical engineering courses in our major. I was very curious and driven and I would always go to his office hours and ask questions,” Diaz-Cruz remembers. Roig invited the undergrad to his lab, where he taught him how to work with the components of microsensors and circuits.
Later, in Bhansali’s lab, Diaz-Cruz got experience with electronic chips used in the medical field, particularly as wearable and implanted devices to diagnose and treat disease.
“Several of Dr. Bhansali’s graduate researchers were working on the development of biosensors that could detect stress hormones and I was able to shadow and learn from them. Eventually, I made adjustments to the sensors and began independent work.”
The knowledge he gained in the lab led to a summer undergraduate research position at Duke University, allowing him to become more immersed in the microfabrication world.
His work also resulted in a published paper, conference presentations, and, in a roundabout way, his job at Texas Instruments. Challenged by Bhansali to develop sensors small enough to be portable and to replace the large machines being used to perform testing, Diaz-Cruz turned to existing TI circuit cards as a starting point.
“Thanks to the wonders of the internet, our group was able to connect with one of TI’s developers of circuit cards,” Diaz-Cruz says. “He was in one of TI’s design centers in Italy and here he was taking the time to sit with college kids and teach us how circuit cards worked and help us to automate the process.”
Diaz-Cruz and his group were able to shrink the system from the size of an older PC to that of a home phone.
Diaz-Cruz gave a presentation on the biosensor project at the 2014 Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers Conference. A TI engineer noticed he was using the company’s technology and invited Diaz-Cruz to an on-site job interview. A few days later, he got an offer to join the Leadership Development Rotational Program (LDRP) at Texas Instruments.
“There’s a misconception that TI is all about calculators,” Diaz-Cruz says. “But only 2 percent of our business is calculators. We deal mostly with electronic chips.”
Learning around the world
After receiving his master’s degree, Diaz-Cruz moved to Dallas. He spent a year and a half of the LDRP there, working in a factory as an implant engineer, a group that deals with the many aspects of the implantation of impurities to silicone to change its electrical properties, vital for performance.
Next, he moved to Malaysia, where he was a product test engineer in a TI assembly and test plant in Kuala Lumpur. As part of the job, he also traveled to Japan, Singapore, Thailand and other countries.
The third year brought him back to Dallas as an analog technology development engineer, where he joined forces with a TI team located in Bangalore, India, and with whom he collaborated to develop enhancements to the company’s device simulation infrastructure.
He also attended the MBA program at the University of Texas at Dallas. Each step in the journey taught him new skills and allowed him to work with a diverse group of employees from around the world.
When it was time for Diaz-Cruz to choose an area of concentration for his next career move at TI, he picked process integration because it melded everything he was most interested in, the in-depth technical aspects from a product’s early development to its reliability and manufacturing.
“Everyone is becoming more familiar with electronic chips as they are used commonly in everyday items, including automobiles, personal, industrial and scientific equipment,” he explains. “Being able to contribute and feel like you are doing something good for the world is important to me.”
TI has taken notice of the young engineer from FIU. He was recently elected to the TI Tech Ladder, a level that recognizes his contributions and leadership to the company and gives him further opportunity to grow as a leader and mentor.
“Only about 8 percent of TI engineers are on the Tech Ladder,” he says.
He hopes to move up the ladder to an elite level.
Because mentors have played such an important part in his life, Diaz-Cruz encourages students to reach out.
“Build connections with professors and graduate students. Just talk and ask questions. And don’t be afraid to knock on doors. Join a lab or a group, even if it’s not a paid job.”
Throughout college, he worked bar and restaurant jobs to pay living expenses.
Diaz-Cruz’s curiosity was something that impressed Bhansali.
“The desire to seek information beyond the obvious is rather uncommon and a mark of a future leader,” Bhansali says of his former student. “He was willing to go the extra step, rather than just accepting the performance range of a chip, for example. He wanted to find out why the range was what it was and why it could not be different.”
Research labs at FIU, Bhansali says, are the perfect opportunity for students to discover their strengths and passions in a team environment, which leads to professional success.
Today, when he’s not working, Diaz-Cruz enjoys exercising and spending time with his life partner Stephanie and their two sons, 3 and 1. They are expecting a third child in September.
“The kids are a box of surprises,” he says. “We love to go on walks, go to the pool and play with our dog, Zoe.”
To keep his Colombian heritage alive, he is working with his children on their Spanish. He also coaches his oldest son’s soccer team.
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