Antenna Design and How I Landed the IT Job I Have Today

IMG_4329I had a 3 month old baby, no job and an antenna.  How do you find a job when that’s all you have going for you?  (Not the baby–she was and is the joy of our lives!)  Read on and you will find out how the antenna you see here landed me the IT job I have today!

My wife and I were in career changes.  She had just given birth to our first girl and decided to be a stay-at-home mom.  I was finishing my electrical engineering degree.  We had some money saved up and decided that I would not work for a year so I could immerse myself and finish this engineering program. (OK, it sounds like we were crazy–and probably were.  But we both decided on this plan and went for it!).

Hey, what about the antenna part?  OK, OK, it’s coming!  I was in my last semester and had to complete the research project requirement for graduation.  It was a four credit-hour course with two hours being research and planning and the last two hours being the written documentation and oral class presentation and defense of the project.  Since the electronic topic area was wide open, I chose to design a ham radio antenna controlled by an electronic tuning circuit.

Being a ham radio operator (call sign, KA9FNL), I had made many dipole wire antennas (it has to be the rite of passage for every ham to make at least one dipole antenna).  But this project was extensively more complicated and took easily over 100 hours to complete, including research, testing, breadboarding, running to this store and that for parts (I had to find the “just right” stepper motor), PC board etching, soldering (and desoldering!) and so much more.

I’ll give you a few basics about the antenna I designed.  Loop antennas were originally used in the US military and were called “Army loops”.  It is less than a one-third wavelength dipole antenna that is bent into a circular shape (or, as you see in the graphic above, an octagon works OK, too).  A low loss capacitor was “homebrewed”, using virgin Teflon sheets as a dielectric, wrapped around a copper “U” shaped tube that slides up and down inside a larger copper tube, controlled by a stepper motor.  A remote tuning unit was designed to control the capacitor movement (up for higher capacitance, down for lower). The specialty design of this tuning capacitor was critical as at 100 watt output (normal for HF amateur radios), the capacitor plate voltage can exceed 3000 volts!  A gamma impedance match was also added for adjustment.

So, I digress.  How did this antenna land me an IT job?  I thought you would never ask.  Roger was a fellow student in several of my engineering classes.   After he viewed my oral presentation, he told his sister in law that there was “this guy” in his class that just did a super electronic presentation.  (Oh, by the way, he and his sister in law both worked at Florida Power Corporation, where she served as IT manager).  Well, her admin assistant contacted me, I went in for an interview, and the rest is history!

No, I didn’t start out in Wi-Fi at work.  Wi-Fi was just in its infancy 17 years ago.  They actually hired me to organize and “straighten-up” the PC imaging room (O/S and software installation).  But this beginner IT job allowed me to get my feet wet, to learn, explore, set up work labs and get some certifications under my belt.  And then one day, someone hands me a PCMCIA card, and said “this thing allows wireless network connection and has some numbers on it called 802.11”.   The lights went off in my engineering mind (“hey, this is sort of like ham radio, for the computer!”).

Antenna design helped immensely in my WLAN studies.  As  I began CWNP studies, I saw a bunch of stuff I had already learned from amateur radio.  RF behaviors, antenna design, VSWR, feed line impedance, antenna polarization, Yagis, attenuation, gain and a lot more is required knowledge in even the most basic FCC amateur radio exams.  Yes, I had to apply these RF concepts to microwave frequencies, but my ham radio background helped a lot as I pursued the CWNA and CWDP exams.

OK, none of the following is earth-shattering.  But this is what I learned from my antenna design project and these principles have helped my IT and WLAN career over the last 17 years:

  • Follow your passions wherever they may lead. (Yes, you do need to keep bread on the table…)
  • The job you land is probably a stepping stone to the next.
  • Work hard, be diligent, exhibit patience, learn everything you can from everyone you know. One day, your ship will come in.
  • Prayer changes things!  We are Christ followers and believe that “The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with.”  (James 5:16, The Message).  We prayed–a lot–during those years and saw many things happen that we attribute to God answering prayer in our lives.  I can tell you how the CIO almost fired me one day (and he was fired the next day…) or how an IT co-worker did not commit suicide–all because someone prayed (those stories will have to wait for another blog…).

Our “baby” is now 18 years old and preparing for her freshman year at college (OK–I asked her to “proofread” my blog and she just “happened” to add the following comment:  you can check out her blog here).  My wife is a admin assistant at the school where she just graduated.  And me?  Well, I’m still around, doing IT and Wi-Fi stuff at work. And loving my job!

Oh, and yes, I still have my loop antenna in the garage.   🙂

————————————————————————————————————–

For more of the technical details on this loop antenna, see below:

  • The following link is my written project documentation presented to the engineering faculty.  As this is an unpublished technical paper on file in the engineering archives at SPC, it cannot be copied or forwarded.  However, if you would like additional information, please use the “Leave a Reply” section below.  Thank you!  (loop antenna)
  • Additional pictures highlight details of the loop antenna
  • Other technical documents include antenna calculations, block diagram and schematic diagrams
IMG_4318

The KA9FNL Loop Antenna

IMG_4312

Detail of gamma match

IMG_4306

Remote unit to control tuning capacitor

IMG_4315

Kenwood TS-130S HF radio and remote unit

IMG_4311

Detail of tuning capacitor. Note Teflon dielectric (white) and stepper motor attached to brass threaded rod for capacitor adjustment.

antenna calculations

Calculations used in loop antenna design

block diagram

Remote tuning unit block diagram

schematic_diag1

Schematic diagram 1 – capacitor adjusting counter

schematic_diag2

Schematic diagram 2 – direction driver, hexFETs and stepper motor

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One response to “Antenna Design and How I Landed the IT Job I Have Today

  1. Pingback: Learn More About Wi-Fi through Amateur Radio | gcatewifi

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