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Alumnus/Trustee Warren Mickens Finds Success in Ever-Changing Telecommunications World

July 20, 2011

 Warren Mickens 1

 

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology alumnus Warren Mickens was featured in the spring issue of Minority Engineer magazine, sharing his wisdom about his career success in the telecommunications industry.  He also discussed the importance of education, more importantly his mechanical engineering degree from Rose-Hulman, and the important need for more minority students to join him in the engineering profession.

Mickens, a member of Rose-Hulman's Board of Trustees, is vice president of wholesale operations for Monroe, LA-based CenturyLink, the third largest telecommunications company in the United States. He has also served as vice president of network planning and engineering for AT&T/Ameritech; vice president of strategy and interconnection with SBC Telecom; vice president for operations for Ameritech Information Industry Services; and worked for Cummins Engine.  He earned a master's of business administration degree from Harvard University.

Read Mickens' story below:

CenturyLink-Managing Changing Demands

By Lorraine A. DarConte

Minority Engineer Magazine

 

Warren Mickens' father died when Warren was only eight years old, but not before he gave his son some solid career advice.  "Dad was a steelworker at Inland Steel who didn't finish high school.  He saw that all the managers who ran the business were engineers by trade, and so he said to me, 'Go get an engineering degree and you'll get a good job,'" he remembers.

Mickens says he'd like to say his decision to become an engineer was more complex than that, but it wasn't.  "There's a stereotype that African-American inner-city kids without fathers don't do well," states Mickens, who in fact, maintained good grades and excelled at math and science throughout high school.  He didn't have a lot of male authority figures in his life to help him with life's decisions, as his grandfather died two years after his father. However, like others in his situation, he had both a strong mother and grandmother who kept him on the straight and narrow.

When it came time for college, Mickens chose Indiana's Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.  He not only got a first-class education, he also found a few professors who were almost surrogate fathers to him.  When he attended Rose, the school had 1,000 male students, all of whom were studying engineering and science.  "Rose-Hulman is a small polytechnic school with very high academic standards.  It is a very tough school to get into," comments Mickens.

The school, which offers undergraduate and master's degrees, has maintained a number-one ranking from U.S News and World Report for the last 12 consecutive years.  "It is a small, intense engineering school and you work hard for four years.  But afterwards," notes Mickens, "you find you can hold your own intellectually and academically anywhere."

When Mickens attended Rose-Hulman for mechanical engineering and economics, he was one of only a handful of African-American students on campus.  "I was a little surprised because I grew up in a school system that was essentially segregated and had little time in the classroom with people of other races," he recalls.

After graduation, Mickens worked for three years at Cummins Engine before earning a master's of business administration degree from Harvard University.  He also served as vice president of network planning and engineering for AT&T/Ameritech; vice president of strategy and interconnection with SBC Telecom; and vice president for operations for Ameritech Information Industry Services.

 In addition, Mickens was vice president for Alcatel in Wellington, New Zealand, where he supervised engineering and operations for Telecom New Zealand on an outsourced basis.  "It was a great assignment," reports Mickens, who relocated his family to the small country for a year.  "I learned a lot about outsourcing and living internationally.  I had traveled and worked internationally, but never lived outside of the United States."

Today, Mickens is vice president of wholesale operations for Monroe, LA-based CenturyLink, where he manages a team that provides a broad range of support and service functions that are vital to the division's daily operations, including customer support, service delivery, process management, project management, and collections.  On April 1 of this year, CenturyLink completed its acquisition of Qwest Communications, where Mickens served in the same role.

Perfecting his customers' experience is something he thrives on.  "I'm responsible for operations for wholesale markets, which includes service centers where we process orders for the wholesale side of the business," explains Mickens.  "My customers are other telecommunications companies.  In addition to service orders, I'm also responsible for functions such as billing and collections and information technology for all the operation support systems that the wholesale part of the business uses."

One of the most rewarding parts of his job is to manage the customers' changing demands.  He is focused on meeting his customer's needs, which embody a broad spectrum, given that the companies vary greatly in size.  "We have the commitment and expertise to serve all of our customers, whether they are small or large companies," states Mickens.

In his spare time, Mickens helps make a difference by advising students interested in telecommunications to make math and science their foundation because without those disciplines you can't be an engineer.  From there, he suggests students study either electrical engineering, which is the dominant engineering degree for the telecommunications business, or industrial, civil, and/or mechanical engineering.

"One of those engineering disciplines from a good school," says Mickens, is essential, "because the quality of degree does matter."  Mickens also advises students to search out intern opportunities while still students so they can participate in the business and make sure they like the work.  "I spent my summers predominantly at Inland Steel.  I'm grateful for those experiences; they taught me how to work in industry," he remarks.

He's also outspoken about the need for more minority engineers.  "While progress has been made, there is still a lack of diversity in the engineering profession.  That's continually been a struggle, and it's one of the things I've been working on as a trustee with my undergraduate school," he explains.  "The good thing is we're up to around 4% African Americans and 2% Hispanics in the student body.  That's a big improvement from the 1% levels of just a few years ago.  The bad thing is that that we celebrate such low numbers."

Telecommunications, says Mickens, is a fun and interesting industry that deals in a high level of technology.  It's a business that everyone touches and uses, and, he notes, those who work in the field recognize it's changed all of our lives.  "I enjoy what I do," Mickens concludes, "and that's the most important thing to do something you enjoy, to make a contribution, and to ultimately make a difference."

Currently, Mickens has two sons in college; one is a senior studying pre-med and biology and plans to attend graduate school next year to pursue a master's degree in public health.  The other is a freshman-engineering student.  Both attend Indiana's Valparaiso University.

CenturyLink is the third largest telecommunications company in the United States. The company provides broadband, voice, and wireless services to consumers and businesses across the country.  It also offers advanced entertainment services under the CenturyLink, Prism TV, and DIRECTV brands.  In addition, the company provides data, voice, and managed services to business, government, and wholesale customers in local, national, and select international markets through its advanced fiber optic network and multiple data centers. For more information, visit www.centurylink.com.

Learn more about opportunities for minority engineers at Minority Engineering magazine's website at http://www.eop.com/mags-ME.php.