Charlotte Iola Field
Alumna Excels in Telecommunications Industry
Charlotte Iola Field is a leader of uncommon sense who is especially mindful of the contribution of those who work with her and for her.
“There are few jobs in industry associated with an individual only,” she says. “It’s all about teams and life skills.”
She says that she learned about both at Michigan Tech. “Tech prepares you for life and the real world,” she says. She singles out the Enterprise Program. It didn’t exist when she was at Tech, but she recognizes its value—“It gives students the opportunity to work as a team and understand the technical side, the business side, and the financial side.” To succeed in an enterprise project, she notes, teamwork is “absolutely imperative.”
She worked for 25 years at AT&T, where she held numerous positions, including building the first nationwide fiber-optic system and working with key broadcasters on video distribution technologies. In 2000, she moved to AT&T Broadband, where she was asked to build a Network Operations Center supporting the changing nature of the cable business. Comcast purchased AT&T Broadband in 2002, and Field is now the senior vice president for national infrastructure and operations. She is the highest-ranking woman in technology and engineering at Comcast.
Field came to Tech from Naperville, Illinois. Many of her family, including five brothers and one sister, also attended Tech programs, and her sister and two brothers also hold degrees from Michigan Tech. Her interests were math, science and telecommunications. She earned a BS in Electrical Engineering in 1977 and an MBA from Farleigh Dickinson University in 1985.
Her campus life at Tech was rigorous. She routinely arose at 4 a.m. for a regimen of cooking at a local restaurant, participating in work-study programs, attending classes, studying, acting, singing, skiing, and camping.” At one point she carried 27 credits. “I didn’t get a lot of sleep,” she says. “A busy day, but a lot of fun. The professors wanted you to succeed. They were open and supportive.”
In many electrical engineering classes, she was the only woman, but there were no gender issues. “It wasn’t hard that way,” she recalls. “No uncomfortable stuff. We had study groups--great people. We all helped each other.”
That lesson in cooperation was complemented in her career by a good dose of ambition and experimentation. “I put myself out there and tried new things. You have to explore. You need to grow. You have to step into a new role and be comfortable. You have to be willing to take chances and do things you never did before.”
She avows that people should be a product of their times—and today’s world is one of pervasive telecommunications that are driven by rapid and dramatic change. “You don’t want to be left behind. You need to adapt constantly and be open to new challenges in your personal and business life.”
To match the feverish pace, she says, people have to “grow quickly” because “the best and the brightest are leading technological innovation. You have to be savvy about technology. It’s everywhere. Even if you don’t think you’re in it, you’re in it.”
Besides education, her upbringing has informed her career. Her father was the first person in the family to finish grade school, and he went on to be the first in the family to complete high school and then college. The family mantra: “Never give up and always learn from yourself and others.”
Field remembers her roots and has stayed involved at Michigan Tech. She is a member of the Presidential Council of Alumnae and the College of Engineering Industrial Advisory Board. She has been a speaker and mentor for Tech’s Women in Engineering Program, which is part of Summer Youth. She contributes because she believes that it is “paramount” that industry knows about Michigan Tech and its prized graduates.
What’s the biggest challenge for today’s students? “Staying competitive in a global economy.”
What’s the biggest need of today’s students? “Good jobs here and abroad.”
What’s the biggest asset for today’s students: “Quality of education.”
She has been singled out by the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers, which called her “one of the most highly respected women in the industry’s technological ranks. If you’ve ever seen her in action, you’ll know why: She’s smart, direct, a quick thinker and an inclusive personality.”
She feels “proud and lucky” to be described that way, but she acknowledges, “A lot of people—men and women--have helped me along the way.”
In turn, she wants to be known for helping others. “I believe in people. I recognize everyone has something they can offer. A leader must find the opportunity for someone to blossom. The best leaders develop people, delegate, and give them opportunity.”
She and her husband, whom she met at Tech, have two children. “Some people think that if you’re not committed to your work 100 percent of the time, you’re not committed to the company. I don’t see it that way. Work is part of your life, not your life. The worst bosses are people who don’t understand that people have lives and respect that.”
As a woman, she has had some pioneering roles in her career, and she is a bit of the court jester when she talks about that circumstance. What is the best thing about being the only female in the room? “There’s not a line for the restroom and you don’t have to worry about someone overhearing your conversation in the restroom because no one else is there.”
The worst thing about being the only female in the room? “People who don’t know you or your reputation expect you to prove yourself. This is a big problem for women early in their career. All people need to assume that the individual in question is a valued resource until proven otherwise.”
Toward that end, she concludes, “You have to be smart about what you do and how you do it.” She does both and is a satisfied person. “I love working with people. I enjoy communication. I just love life, I guess.”
From 2000 Induction to the Department of Electrical Engineering Academy