Azad Jalali

A portrait photograph of Azad Jalali.
As someone focused on the implementation side, I can make hardware platforms run and bits toggle all day long, but that work is most rewarding when I know it's in service of a technologically valuable mission.

When did you join the Laboratory, and what made you decide to pursue a career here?

I joined the Lab in September 2022. With a background primarily focused on radar subsystem design, I was eager to take my digital systems foundation and apply it to a new problem space. That said, the decision to pursue a role at the Lab was first and foremost career-oriented, not simply about finding the next project or job. Fortunately, I found both. In the Advanced Lasercom Systems and Operations Group, I saw an opportunity to not only jump in on immediately interesting work in the short term but also to grow in the long term alongside the laser communications technology that my group is working to push forward. In my past roles in industry, I felt like I’d watch the cutting-edge race away from me in real time. There are few places where you can really keep pace. The Lab is one of them. 

What has your first research program at the Laboratory entailed?

The program I’m working on is developing a highly capable and adaptable free-space laser communications terminal, which will eventually be demonstrated in space. I’m part of a small team developing the hardware for the modem, complete with numerous high-data-rate interfaces, digitization, and a state-of-the-art computing platform at the heart of it all. 

What is the most exciting part of your work?

It’s exciting to work with system-level thinkers at the top of their fields who have the knowledge and the mandate to look at big-picture problems and meet them head-on with solutions that progress technology. As someone focused on the implementation side, I can make hardware platforms run and bits toggle all day long, but that work is most rewarding when I know it’s in service of a technologically valuable mission. Partnering with people actively pursuing those types of missions goes a long way in making my own work satisfying, and gives me countless models for how I want to grow my career. My career goals point toward diving deeper into digital systems architecture, and I work with highly experienced engineers doing this kind of work every day. 

If you could give advice to someone looking to enter your field, what would you say?

Hardware design is an art. It can be creative and fun but also maddeningly nuanced. So be detail-oriented! Nurture a broad knowledge base by asking lots of questions and giving yourself chances to fail intelligently, and then use that knowledge base to know what details are important. 

What are your favorite activities/hobbies?

I enjoy creating and playing music, which helped spark my interest in electronics originally. I probably looked at my guitar pickup, amp, and pedalboard, and, realizing I had no idea how any of it worked, I determined an electrical engineering degree would unveil the mysteries. Interestingly, my music making, much like the trend in digital systems more generally, has increasingly incorporated software since then. 

I’m also an avid climber. Climbing requires a different type of creativity and thinking from music and engineering, and this hobby helps give those parts of my brain a break. When the season is right, I can be found at one of the many excellent crags we’re lucky to have within a two-hour drive of the greater Boston area. Say hi if you see me!