February 13, 2009
Once upon a time at Northwestern University, Mark Re (E'87) stood in a line. While he was there, he saw a recruitment video from AT&T/Bell Laboratories outlining exciting advances in transistors, lasers and magnetic bubbles. Re had also planned a visit to Carnegie Mellon to explore grad school opportunities; serendipitously, he received a phone call from the university the same day he stood in that line. "What would you like to learn about on your visit?" the caller asked. "How about transistors, lasers and magnetic bubbles?" he answered.
And just like that, a career was born.
"That's how I ended up in magnetics," said the Chicago native. "And it turned out to be a really good move."
When Re arrived at Carnegie Mellon, he became ECE Professor Mark Kryder's first student in the Magnetics Technology Center (now the Data Storage Systems Center) to study magnetic recording, specifically working on a magneto-optic microscope to image the domains in thin-film recording heads. Re studied the internal workings of the head at high frequencies in an effort to understand why the head performed the way it did, and how they could improve its design or material properties.
Re's research at Carnegie Mellon helped him land a job after graduation at IBM's Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. But so, too, did the strong relationship he developed with IBM through the MTC's connections with industry. While he was a student, IBM supplied Re with samples and also supported him with a fellowship. It was that kind of interaction with industry, Re said, that made his Carnegie Mellon education unique.
"We had these reviews, and industry people came and students got to talk to them. There was always someone from industry walking by, so you had the sense that what you were working on was going to be appreciated," Re said. "From talking to them, you could get an idea of what areas might be important to work on. I think that was another positive aspect of the center and it also helped you decide what you wanted to do and where you wanted to go."
For his first nine months at IBM, Re was a researcher, but he soon moved into a management position. Five years after he joined the Watson Research Center, he moved to IBM's facility in San Jose, Calif., where he held various roles. When he parted ways with IBM six years later, he was director of head development and an IBM Distinguished Engineer — an honor granted only to IBM technical staffers who demonstrate the highest levels of technical leadership, innovation and vision.
After spending time as Read-Rite's senior vice president of research and development, Re joined Seagate Technology in 2003. Today, he's senior vice president of research and technology development, leading a team of more than 300 people in the U.S. and abroad in an effort to generate head technology that's 18 months or more out.
More than two decades after he graduated from Carnegie Mellon, Re still sees the value of his education every day.
"Clearly the technical part of the education is something I use all the time, but other things really helped," Re said. "One was the fact that as you got farther along in your graduate student career you could help mentor either undergraduates or other graduate students. It was very useful for learning to work as a team, work with a group of people, and manage a project." He also praises the relationship with industry and learning to present work to center visitors. "Those kinds of skills, not just the book learning or the research, were some of the more valuable things that we learned."
As Re has progressed through the ranks of the technical research and development world, he's realized how important it was to receive an education in an interdisciplinary environment. "What was special about Carnegie Mellon and the MTC/DSSC was the interdisciplinary atmosphere. That's what the real world is like. You work with people from all over the place, as far as discipline and diversity — be it racial, cultural or gender-related — are concerned."
Despite his dedication to research and education while he was a student, Re still had time for fun. (He fondly recalls the irony of a trip to the recycling center when he and a few colleagues from the MTC — all trained in magnetics — needed to borrow a magnet from someone to separate aluminum cans from their steel counterparts.) In fact, that's one of his big recommendations for current students.
"Take advantage of the great education and facilities and learn what you can" Re says. "More importantly, try to interact as much as you can with professors, industrial visitors and your other colleagues, because you're going to rely on them in the future — whether it's for contacts for a job, bouncing around ideas, or reminiscing about good times.
"Make sure to take time for some of the personal relationships you can develop," he finishes. "And try to have fun."