This Executive Director Is Leading Verizon Into the Future Through Quantum Computing

Jean McManus
Photo: Verizon

By: Joanna Goodrich

THE INSTITUTE Jean McManus seemed to be destined to work for Verizon. After all, every telephone company she worked for in her 23 years was eventually acquired by or merged with Verizon.

Her first job out of college was with Contel, which was acquired by GTE in 1990. Later she joined Bell Atlantic, which merged with GTE to form Verizon.

Today the IEEE member is executive director of emerging technologies with Verizon’s technology and product development group in Waltham, Mass.

McManus also mentors the company’s young engineers, especially women. In addition, she works with professional-development programs run by Verizon and IEEE to connect with young professionals and help them reach their career goals.

She was profiled in the 2016 book The Internet of Women: Accelerating Culture Change, which highlights standouts in science, technology, engineering, and math who are making historic contributions to their field.

DESTINED FOR VERIZON

McManus was inspired to pursue engineering by her father, who was an electrical engineer. She received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1987 from Duke University, in Durham, N.C. She then joined Contel as a systems engineer and later transitioned to security engineer.

After the company was acquired by GTE, McManus decided to return to school, and she earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering in 1993 and a Ph.D. in systems engineering in 1996 from the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. For her doctoral dissertation, she focused on the delivery of video over networks.

She then joined Bell Atlantic in Arlington, Va., and worked as an engineer on the company’s Video Delivery Through Networks project. The company was conducting a trial in Toms River, N.J., that was related to her dissertation, and “it was a perfect fit,” she says.

When Bell Atlantic refocused its efforts on broadband and DSL, McManus became the lead architect in building the company’s DSL architecture.

“It was really exciting,” she says, “because at that time, most of my colleagues were experts on narrowband technologies. Meanwhile, I was more familiar with broadband technologies.”

McManus was able to define the architecture of broadband technologies such as customer premises equipment (Wi-Fi routers, cable TV boxes, and telephone sets), edge routers and switches, and associated protocols, she says.

Four years after joining Bell Atlantic, it merged with GTE to form Verizon.

After the merger, she was named a Verizon Fellow—which, she says, provided her with a great opportunity to work with the company’s leaders. She began working in the network architecture department and, in 2014, was promoted to executive director of emerging technologies. She leads a proof-of-concept lab and is responsible for product-focused technology innovation.

“Becoming a manager wasn’t in my original career plan,” she says. “I wanted to be an individual contributor, but after 10 years I realized that being a manager would give me more opportunities and would challenge me in new ways.”

In her current position, she says “not only do I have to keep up with technology but I also need to motivate my team of engineers and developers to move forward with their ideas.”

McManus and her team—which consists of network architects, engineers, and software developers—are working on quantum key distribution, and advancing GPS technology using the satellite navigation technique real-time kinematics (RTK). Quantum key distribution is a “new encryption method that uses photon properties to protect subscriber data,” according to the Verizon news release.

FROM ENGINEER TO LEADER

McManus’s expertise lies in telecommunications, specifically on protocols, architecture, and security. She also has worked on technologies such as carrier Ethernet (the use of high-bandwidth Ethernet technology), subscriber data management, and network virtualization. When she was offered the opportunity to be involved in product development, she took it.

“I’m still doing technical work, but it’s now more product-focused,” McManus says. “This [position] gives me the opportunity to think differently about technology and how we can support our customers.”

McManus’s job has two responsibilities: staying up to date with technology and exploring areas in telecommunication that can be improved in support of Verizon’s products and services.

“One part of my day is spent looking to see what’s happening, whether it be research labs, academia, what other companies are doing, or just trying to understand how people are applying technology,” she says. “But, more importantly, what technologies are going to be coming within the next several years.

“The other part of my day is spent interacting with my team. I try to engage with them as much as possible from an innovation perspective.”

DEVELOPING NEW TECH

Within the past year, McManus has led the development of innovative technologies.

She and her team conducted one of the first commercial trials of quantum key distribution in the United States. “We connected three Verizon sites in the Washington, D.C., area and sent a video between two of the sites,” McManus says. “Using quantum key distribution, we received encryption keys to the two sites and were able to detect if someone was eavesdropping on that connection.”

Her team is developing software to enhance GPS location data using RTK. The software “makes GPS more accurate and precise, reducing the error to the 2-centimeter range,” McManus says. “My team has figured out a way to scale it such that we can support the large number of Internet of Things devices.”

Among those devices are drones. The software McManus and her team developed can make them more vertically accurate, giving the pilot a better measure of how high off the ground it is and helping to avoid crashes into telephone wires and power lines.

MENTORING THE NEXT GENERATION

McManus takes pride in being a mentor to women. She says she was inspired to become a mentor when she “saw a lot of women were struggling with how to navigate Verizon.” She says she wanted to provide others the support she didn’t receive early in her career. “There wasn’t such an emphasis on mentoring at that time,” she says.

She works with Verizon’s Women of the World (WOW), a seven-month-long career-development program for employees that aims to help them develop effective communication skills, personal brand development, and self-leadership. The participants are put into groups led by managers.

“Jean shared her experiences working as an executive director and encouraged the women in our group to openly discuss our goals, take action, and share our career successes with each other,” says Sharon Muli, who participated in the program. “I also met individually with Jean, and she offered me guidance on pursuing various career paths and training opportunities. She utilized her connections to introduce me to individuals on other teams and strengthen my network at Verizon.”

McManus, who joined IEEE as a student member, has spoken at IEEE conferences such as the 2019 IEEE Women in Engineering Forum, where she was on a panel discussing 5G.

“It’s great to see the support [IEEE] is giving to women in engineering,” she says. “Some of the things it’s doing to help develop women engineers, and not just at the start of their careers but also making sure that they’re staying in those areas. There’s just a lot of opportunity to really embrace the industry as a whole and develop yourself.”

This article originally appeared in IEEE Spectrum on 11 November 2020.