WAVE Feature: Chromis Fiberoptics’ Miri Park, Ph.D

I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Miri Park, co-founder and COO of Chromis Fiberoptics, a leading manufacturer in the design of high-performance polymer optical fibers.  Parks is an inspiration to all Women in AV, as a multi-patent holder, Ph.D in Physics, renowned author, and mother of two young daughters.  She exemplifies that women and young ladies can not only have a successful career in the technical side of STEM, but, lead the industry regardless of gender.

Please tell us about your background. When and how did you get started in the AV industry? How did it feel being a woman in a male-dominated industry?  Have you seen any evolution over the years and where do you feel we are at now?

I came to the United States from Korea at the age of 15, so my first challenges were to learn a new language and a new culture.  Coming to America to study abroad was so exciting. I had fun staying in dorms with other kids my age, and I was young enough to adapt quickly.  Still, I preserved my Korean traditions, so I would not forget where I grew up. Now I instill those Korean values in my children so that they grow up with broader cultural perspectives. I graduated from Cornell University with a Ph.D. in experimental physics and then went on to Princeton to complete my post-doctoral program. I started my career in 1998 at Lucent Technology, now known as Alcatel Lucent, in their opto-electronics field which led me to the plastic fiber optics and then eventually to the AV industry.

I’ve always been in a male-dominated environment. When I was in engineering school, I was often one of two or three females in a classroom filled with 20-30 male students.  I’m very accustomed to working around males. So when I entered the AV industry I did not feel uncomfortable.  In the evolution, I certainly see more women in the AV industry now than before. For example, look at WAVE, your organization!  We now see many more women not only in the AV but also across all industries.  It is no longer my mother’s days.  There is no longer the bias that you cannot have certain careers because you are a female.  A male or female, whoever has value-adding talents is now being recognized.

Look around.  There are many industry leaders who are women – CEOs, politicians, engineers, and professors, and many more.  They are recognized and respected as leaders not because of their gender but because of their hard work, professionalism and talents.  There are still fewer women than men in general in leadership positions in the current workforce.  However, it is a matter of time.  We, as a society, have advanced and matured, and will continue to do so.  I have two daughters, and I have no doubt that it will be even better when they are ready to enter the workforce.

Please tell us about your business, its history, how you’ve evolved, what market you serve, and what you do for the AV industry?

Chromis Fiberoptics was established as a spinoff from Bell Labs in 2004.  My partners and I did a management buyout of the plastic optical fiber business unit that we had been a part of, developing plastic optical fiber technology and its manufacturing process.  Since then, Chromis has commercialized the technology and continues to pioneer the use of plastic optical fibers for ultra-fast connectivity solutions.  We fill needs for high-bandwidth data/video links covering the last 100 meters with active optical cables (AOCs) that have unique performance and cost advantages compared to glass fibers and copper wires.  For example, our AOCs are thinner and more flexible than comparable copper cables, and are also tighter-bending and less expensive overall than glass fiber AOCs.  We produce a variety of industry-standard interface AOCs – such as InfiniBand, HDMI and DVI – for high-speed links in data centers, professional audio/video, consumer electronics and high-performance computing applications.  For your readers who may not be familiar with AOCs, they have the same electrical inputs as a traditional copper cable, but use optical fiber for data transmission “between the connectors”.  The connectors perform electrical-to-optical conversion at the source and then reverse it at the destination.  We serve customers who are looking for a fast, reliable and plug-‘n-play connection solution.  Glass fibers changed the world in terms of high-speed data transmission over long distances.  Chromis will do the same with plastic fibers over short distances!

How do you see the AV industry in being welcoming and/or encouraging women?  What, if anything, do we need to do to bring or open the possibilities for women to want to join us and make a career of AV?

What WAVE does is great – supporting, encouraging, and mentoring.  Those of us who are already in the industry should continue to reach out to those considering this field.  Let them know that, while male-dominated, it’s a welcoming industry.  Yes, you need to work harder at times, but women do bring different perspectives, and diversity is healthy for the industry.  On average, most industries reflect the gender split of our population; about 50:50 male to female ratio.  Exceptions such as the AV industry need more women, especially those who are talented and add value.

You are elite in being involved in a highly technical and future (IT-centric) side of where our industry is headed.  What are the differences, similarities, and where do you see the two markets converging?

The AV industry is already extremely high-tech so convergence is a reality.  Consumers are looking for a very high quality auditory and visual experience, but without complication.  There is an incredible amount of science in the optics, electronics, circuit designs, image processing, sound technology, and many other related fields that come together to create and deliver that perfect AV experience.  Note that even a seemingly simple product like one of our HDMI AOCs – just plug one end into a source, the other into a display – is the result of many years and millions of dollars of development in plastic optical fiber technology, starting with its origins at Bell Labs and continuing to the present day.  Yet the consumer is blissfully unaware of all of this technology, which is exactly as it should be.

Most importantly, you are a female leader in the technical side of our industry for your achievements in fiber optics, patents, and co-founding a company.  What does it mean to you to be recognized and what advice do you have for people who want to follow in your footsteps and pursue a career in the technical side of AV?

Being recognized is a huge honor, and I feel flattered. To the women who want to pursue a career on the technical side of AV, or in any other field, I would tell them to go for it.  As long as you have passion, are willing to work hard and are prepared to add value; any endeavor is fair game.  You should approach your career dreams without any prejudgments.  Do not shy away or be discouraged by the fact that the industry you would like to enter is male-dominated.  Being a minority as well as a woman, there are additional challenges, but we have come a long way and the number of women represented in the industry can only go higher.

What would you say to women who want to be a business owner such as yourself — what do they need to know and do to achieve success?

My honest answer is, it requires a lot of work, but once you do, it is one of the greatest feelings.  I am working hard to be a successful business owner.  I believe what makes successful business owners—those characteristics and skills—don’t differ between men and women – strong work ethic, determination, creativity, strategic thinking, and etc.   Of course, everyone has their own share of unique strengths and weaknesses.  I think that hard work and devotion are keys because you will face challenges that will test you.  But the good thing about the difficulties you face is you either overcome them or learn from them (even if you fail).  At the end of the day they make you stronger and wiser.

Now, my advice to women who are wives and mothers who want to be business owners is to prioritize your life and find a balance.  You can’t be the best at everything you do. You can’t be the perfect wife, mother, friend, and business owner.  Set realistic goals and expectations.  I am not saying to lower your standards, or set easy goals.  But learn to be flexible and adapt to your different roles.  Once you realize that you can set realistic goals and expectations for yourself, you will enjoy what you do more, and you will be happier as a person.  That enjoyment is the fuel that will give you perseverance through low points and challenges.  That feeling of happiness is what makes you successful.

As simple as it sounds, very few woman, let alone men, achieve what Miri Parks can say in her lifetime.  We should all take a picture from her book in terms of how you can lead an industry and love what you do.

To find more about Chromis Fiberoptics, please visit www.ChromisFiber.com