Alumni Q&A: Milan Mashanovitch, CEO Freedom Photonics
Why did you choose UCSB? What were some of your expectations when you came here?
My undergraduate major was actually in photonics, which is unusual. Also, I came here as an international student, so I was looking for the best photonics program in the world that I could get myself into, and UCSB was a clear choice in that.
Did you have a mentor during your time at UCSB and do you think it’s important to find a mentor and someone who pushes you in your academic and career goals?
I was fortunate enough to have two advisors who were both my mentors in ECE, professors Dan Blumenthal and Larry Coldren. That was a unique experience because it provided me with the opportunity to work with two different people who had very different styles and skill sets and allowed me the opportunity to ask more questions and get more input. And, it also helped that they were both pushing me to finish my degree. I think having a mentor is almost as important as getting a degree because you can practically learn as much from your mentors. I’ve had numerous mentors throughout my life, including to this day, and it’s been amazingly crucial for me.
Many successful students come from UCSB’s ECE department. What do you think makes the program so successful?
The ECE department is unique in the sense that it has amazing people, amazing faculty, and faculty that can bring in funding to do amazing, cutting edge research. Then, we have excellent facilities to research in, including the Nanofabrication Facility at UCSB. Those two factors attract outstanding people to come and study at UCSB, so then you have this fantastic group of people whom all work together toward new engineering endeavors and discoveries.
Do you have any advice for entrepreneurial students at UCSB in the College of Engineering?
Try out your idea quickly and then if it’s not a good idea, fail quickly so you can start with a better idea. UCSB is an amazing environment that supports all sorts of entrepreneurial activities, so use it to your advantage.
How did the knowledge you gained in ECE help propel you in your specialty and career path?
I learned most of what I do today at the ECE department here at UCSB. Coming here and learning the whole hands-on process of designing lasers and fabricating them. I’m one of the few people who still uses technical skills gained during their graduate school on a daily basis at work. At the same time, the entrepreneurial environment was really curious to me. It really intrigued me and inspired me to do what I ended up doing.
From an alumnus prospective, why do you think it is important to give back to the college?
The way I feel is that everyone should give back based on their individual circumstances. In our case at Freedom Photonics, we have a number of UCSB alumni. The major way I feel that we give back, is by continuing to collaborate with UCSB on joint programs, funding that’s beneficial for both the ECE department and Freedom Photonics because then we’re focusing on real problems that need solving, so the university research remains relevant. And, then it’s also great for us as a for profit company to take new technologies and then place them in the marketplace.
What is your advice for students starting their engineering careers this fall as first-years in Electrical Engineering?
Definitely study hard, ask a lot of questions, try to get some of these soft skills like communication and project management that will prepare them better for a real life working as engineers. Have some fun, but be serious about it. Definitely seek out internships—that’s amazingly important. I actually did three undergraduate internships at three different places and that was really what shaped my outcome and then enabled me to go to graduate school.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
It’s hard to say. Everything that I do right now has been enabled by my UCSB education and the UCSB experience. And, I don’t think, looking back, I would change that.