Advice for Inventing in STEM: From an Engineer With 300+ Worldwide Patents and Applications

Sponsored by Qualcomm Incorporated

Dr. Lola Awoniyi-Oteri

Photo courtesy of Qualcomm.

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April 17, 2024 at 6:21AM UTC

Ever since she was a child growing up in Nigeria, Dr. Lola Awoniyi-Oteri has had a love for technology. “I always wanted to be an inventor,” says Awoniyi-Oteri, who notes that she was inspired by her father, an electrical engineer, and a book she read growing up called Men of Purpose by Peter Masters, which discussed influential scientists and inventors like Michael Faraday and Lord Kelvin.

In regards to her father, Awoniyi-Oteri recalls seeing him “deploy fixed landlines and wireless communications systems in Nigeria” and witnessing “how that changed communities and states — even the country.” In fact, “When I was six, my dad was the lead engineer in charge of a project that set up the first satellite system for a nationwide broadcast, and I was glad I got a front row sit to observe the progress of the project,” notes Awoniyi-Oteri. “On the day it launched, people across the nation watched the Independence Day celebration from the capital city at once thanks to my dad. I knew then that if you truly understand technology, you can make a real difference.”

These foundational experiences of seeing and reading about the impact that engineering and inventions can have on humanity “inspired me to learn more about technology and how to leverage it in making a difference,” states Awoniyi-Oteri. As a result, her passion took her to the U.S., where she received a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering through a joint program with Clark Atlanta University and Georgia Tech. After that, she received an M.S. and Ph.D. in the same field from Stanford University and joined Qualcomm Incorporated in 2008.

Now, Dr. Lola Awoniyi-Oteri is a Principal Systems Engineer at Qualcomm Technologies, where she focuses on standardization, research and development of 5G millimeter wave devices, particularly in the areas of mobility management and power efficiency.

To learn more about her role, her best advice for other innovators and how Qualcomm has supported her in her journey, read on.

How Awoniyi-Oteri innovates in the 5G space.

In short, 5G has the ability to connect millions of cellular-enabled devices for countless applications. 5G transmits data through high radio frequency bands that require precise calculations about energy and positioning, especially across long distances and with large amounts of information.

Modern mobile devices are able to make use of such 5G technology — while staying small, becoming more powerful and conserving energy — through constant advancements and ingenuity in wireless technology. 

Awoniyi-Oteri is one of the key names driving many of these advancements and breakthroughs, particularly in power savings and mobility management for 5G, as she invented many of them.

Awoniyi-Oteri’s total list of patents and inventions spans a wide range of areas, including Wide Area Network technologies involving cellular and satellite networks, as well as Local Area Network technologies like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Awoniyi-Oteri’s inventions help reduce power consumption while enhancing network mobility and the mobile user experience for 3G, 4G, and 5G connectivity. In total, she is responsible for 300+ worldwide patents and applications in the wireless communications field.

“Some of my inventions allow the end user to enjoy the high speeds promised by 5G without sacrificing the battery life,” explains Awoniyi-Oteri. These innovations are not quick to come into fruition. As Awoniyi-Oteri says, “Going from an idea to a device in one’s pocket takes a while.” The process involves identifying a problem (like a need for power savings) and then narrowing the scope of the problem down until the problem statement is clearly defined. For this part alone, the “journey from identifying a significant problem to defining the problem statement could take years,” notes Awoniyi-Oteri. Her work takes creativity, innovation and more than a small dash of patience.

Advice for other aspiring inventors.

What advice does Awoniyi-Oteri have for aspiring inventors? First off, always remember, something you initially see as impossible may just be possible given time, passion and dedication. ”Having gone through the process a number of times, I realize that what really matters is having an interest in any specific field, spending enough time to understand the existing body of knowledge and identifying significant problems in the space,” says  Awoniyi-Oteri. “Those are the ingredients you need to begin inventing and coming up with innovative ideas.”

Next, once you have ideas, you need to evaluate them, experiment on them and question them. And, if an idea doesn’t work, Awoniyi-Oteri explains that “then you go back to the drawing board and refine your ideas until you come up with unique and solid ones.”

This is a long, iterative process. However, it is rewarding. The “first idea you come up with doesn’t always win,” says Awoniyi-Oteri. “But the idea is to stick to it. I sincerely believe in my heart that anybody can invent in any specific field as long as one is willing to dedicate oneself and have the interest in spending time to understand what exists, what the problems are, and how to start proposing new ideas and to find ones that are viable.

Why Qualcomm is a great place for innovators, inventors and women in STEM.

Throughout her time at the company, Qualcomm has supported Awoniyi-Oteri every step of the way. “Qualcomm equips employees to invent and develop innovative ideas,” Awoniyi-Oteri notes. “For example, there are many wireless communication classes at Qualcomm anyone can take. If you are new to 5G or looking to dive into more details about specific areas of 5G, Qualcomm has courses on a wide range of 5G subjects. For an individual who is new to invention, or just trying to understand the space, Qualcomm provides a lot of these resources to get you up to speed.”

Another benefit at Qualcomm is that the company “has created this ecosystem that attracts experts,” notes Awoniyi-Oteri. “At Qualcomm, there are literally experts down the hallway from you whose offices you can walk into and talk to them for 20 minutes and you immediately understand the crux of the problem or the concept,” says Awoniyi-Oteri. “Having access to experts like this really makes your life easy as an inventor, because… knowing what exists is a good starting point for developing new innovative ideas.”

And, of course, the willingness of all of these experts to work together results in amazing things. As Awoniyi-Oteri puts it, “The collaborative environment at Qualcomm is amazing. Any of the ideas I work on, I'm working on with teams. We're brainstorming and putting new ideas together, and it is one of the most fun parts of my job. We're all trying to create new products and services, and I really enjoy being surrounded with people who are experts in their field and are also driven to make a difference.”

This article was inspired by an article originally published on Qualcomm’s OnQ Blog.

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