A look back over 35 years at Viasat

Longtime employees reflect on the company's past and its accomplishments

Azfar Najmi and Meherwan Polad

Azfar Najmi and Meherwan Polad have been at Viasat together since 1994.

As Viasat celebrates 35 years since being founded in May of 1986, we asked employees from throughout the company to share memories of the early days and reflect on how far the company has come

 

Kristi Jaska, vice president of customer experience, 1987

Carlsbad, CA        

I joined Viasat as the 6th employee when I was 24 years old, less than two years out of grad school in engineering. I have many fond memories of our small office. When one of us had a birthday, the entire company would go out and leave a yellow post-it on the external door with “Viasat out to lunch – back in 1 hour.” We had a petty cash box in the kitchen area in case anyone needed to borrow cash – just leave an IOU note in the box.

 

Many traditions that last to this day were started early on, for example the Viasat ski trip. We worked hard too, I remember being jolted at the lab bench when the morning Wall Street Journal was thrown at the front door.

 

It has been especially satisfying to see Viasat grow in the scope of projects, products, and services that we are able to take on, and in turn in our ability to positively impact the world in a significant way. We started out by developing software and hardware that went into other companies’ products, then developing our own products (such as modems), and then entire systems (such as satellite ground networks), and then moved into space with our own satellites, while we also transformed from a product to a services company for consumers, businesses, and defense customers. I am looking forward to stories from around the world on how we have made a difference in people’s lives and livelihoods.


Kristi Jaska

I worked out of my house for the first six years in my poorly heated cellar next to my model trains and the cat box. —Ken Gamache, Boston

Kavoos Entezam, network security analyst, 1988

Carlsbad, CA

 

In early 1998 I got a contracting job at ViaSat in the Cosmos (West 9) building reporting to Mr. Mike Johnson, then IT manager. That year, the company had the ground-breaking ceremony for its new campus.

 

Towards the end of that year Mike offered me a job – something that I couldn’t refuse, mainly because of Mike’s personality and the family-oriented culture of ViaSat.

 

In the Cosmos breakroom, there was a board with pictures of all employees then. Each picture had a label on it that showed name, badge number, and department. Once I got my permanent badge, someone with a Polaroid camera took a picture of me and posted it to the board.

 

The saddest day for me was the first anniversary of Sept. 11. A dark cloud of sadness was all over the campus, like the rest of our country. We planted 2,977 American flags in the courtyard. Another sad day was when one of my coworkers and best friends, Ricardo Haller, passed away. Ricardo was very much loved by everyone in our campus.

 

The day we launched the first satellite, my heart was pumping fast – part because I was proud of Viasat and its achievements, part because there was an 80% chance of success. I never sat down that day, nervously walking and taking pictures. It was my happiest time at ViaSat until that point. The launch of the VS-2 was also a very proud and happy day. Just like the first one, we all watched it on a jumbo screen in the courtyard. I can’t wait for the VS-3 launch, yet another milestone achievement for our company.

 

I’ve been very happily blessed that part of my job required me to travel to other locations throughout these years. In all the travels, my team and I have made everyone happy as either we upgraded their network’s hardware or set up networks in new buildings and moved them into them. I have met many beautiful and extraordinary people all over with tons of happy memories and friendships I will always cherish.

 

I’ve enjoyed every day of the past 23 years, and very much proud of the collective job that all of us have done under the Viasat flag. As the company has grown from few hundred employees to the thousands, it has kept its family-friendly culture, which attracted me on the first day. I am very optimistic about the future of our company!


Kavoos Entezam

 

Rhonda Camp, project manager, 2000 (as part of the Scientific Atlanta acquisition)

Duluth, GA

When I look back 30 years, the time seems to have gone by so fast – partly because I’m one of those people who has enjoyed my job/jobs. I started in an entry-level position, working my way through merit and education to project manager with the Business Development group. Viasat creates an environment in which people can find their own space and grow at a pace that works for them.

 

My favorite thing here at Viasat is the smart, professional and kind people that I have been blessed to work with and around. 

 

Jon Stearn, systems design engineer, 2005

Carlsbad, CA

As I near the end of 16 years at Viasat, it’s fun to take a look back. I’ve spent my time here working exclusively on Link 16, but have had quite the tour of the Carlsbad campus. While the Viasat campus has grown significantly, so has the surrounding neighborhood. We went from a small family-run café on site with really no off-site food establishments nearby to nearly 30 commercial dining entities within walking distance.

 

I joined Viasat as a data link software engineer. I had no idea I would travel the world – 19 trips to Australia in a five year period, trade shows in Denmark, Norway, Austria and sales calls to Turkey, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Japan, and South Korea to name a few. With COVID-19, we haven’t traveled nearly as much in the past year, but I was afforded the opportunity to host the first Virtual Viasat Data Link Working Group.

 

I certainly can’t say it’s been boring.

 

Azfar Najmi, senior creative strategist, 1994

Carlsbad, CA

 

When you and your life partner have spent more of your existence at a company than outside of it, your life stories get inextricably intertwined. Add the fact that we fell in love in 1986, the same year Viasat was founded, and you might say it was written in the satellites.

 

I joined Viasat in 1994, at a time when co-founder Steve Hart was personally recruiting graduates from UC Davis. My partner, Meherwan Polad, had just been recruited from the same electrical engineering master’s program I was graduating from,. Viasat later sponsored us both for green cards, which allowed us to stay on in the United States, at a time when being a gay couple in Pakistan was not an option (it was illegal there then, as it is now).

 

Twelve years into my career, when I was ready to follow my passion from engineering to design, Viasat unexpectedly offered me a position on the Marketing team of four, and I started the visual design department. A personal highlight of that career was the successful launch of our new brand in 2017.

 

Another highlight was the chance to join Meherwan for the in-person experience of the ViaSat-2 launch. Never before had I witnessed so many hopes and fears riding on a single explosive event. The thunderous roar, the feel of the ground reverberating beneath our feet, the night turning spontaneously into day, as the feat of my engineering comrades soared beyond the stratosphere – those memories will stay with me a lifetime.

 

It’s been quite a trip, Viasat. Happy 35th anniversary – to you, and to Meherwan!

 

Julie Gatz

 

Julie Gatz, site project manager, 2005

Denver

I had been in the cable industry for 24 years when I was asked if I was interested in working for a satellite company. That was WildBlue, the Denver start-up Viasat bought in 2009. Jump to 16 years later and I’ve learned the satellite business is not for the faint of heart. Watching my first satellite launch was thrilling and I was hooked for the long haul. The company has grown each year with exciting technology advancements and has been exciting to be a part of the team where everyone shares a common, passionate belief of bringing broadband to places that would otherwise never be able to receive service. 

 

 

Andrew Eccles, senior director of strategic busines development, 1994

Duluth, GA

I was hired in October of 1994 as employee 166. I was hired to run the purchasing and materials team, which then consisted of four buyers and two stockroom/receiving clerks.

 

(CEO) Mark D liked to meet all the new employees back then. He talked about his philosophy, the principles by which we wanted the company to operate. There were no budgets then – Mark’s simple guideline was: “Spend what you need, but need what you spend” — a philosophy I still live by today.

 

Once a year, Mark liked to have us all assemble outside for the ever-growing company photo. In 1998, to get us all in, we had to have the photographer climb up on the roof of Cosmos Court while we all played sardines in the back parking lot, waiting for the photo to be taken. That may have been the last entire company photo we ever took.

 

As we expanded, we found it difficult to find buildings large enough to hold us all – so we moved into adjacent rental space as it came on the market. That all changed in 1999, when our new, custom-built campus on El Camino Real was built – Buildings One, Two and Three – and for a short time at least, everyone was finally located within walking distance of each other.

 

“Bring your Daughter to Work” day was a big event every year, and our then-7-year-old daughter Sarah enjoyed coming in each year to see what Dad did. She is now an engineering manager working in the Atlanta VAST group, but she still has her participation certificate (signed by Mark) from one of those early events.  

 

My last year in Carlsbad was 2000 – that year, we moved the family out to Atlanta to assist with the acquisition of 3 business units of Scientific Atlanta.  We have lived here ever since.

 

Charlotte White, buyer, 2000

Duluth, GA

When Viasat purchased the antenna systems division of Scientific Atlanta, we weren’t sure how this would all play out, and while there were some struggles in the beginning, it didn’t take long for us to come to the conclusion that the SA employees were very fortunate that Viasat saw in us what SA didn’t. 

 

My personal experience is that Viasat works hard and they like to play hard as well. They have and are continuing to try new things and opportunities to entice the best workforce to sign on and work for Viasat. 

 

Viasat has been a great company to work for and I’ve enjoyed the people and have learned a lot, especially on processing government orders. 

 

Ken Gamache, business area leader, 1989

Marlborough, MA

Mark D, Steve H, and Mark Miller and I all worked at Linkabit. I worked in the East Coast office, they worked at the headquarters in San Diego. After Mark, Mark, and Steve started Viasat, Mark D wanted to open an East Coast office to have access to key potential customers in the Northeast. We had never met, but Mark D had heard about me from others at Linkabit and knew I was on the East Coast.

 

I joined in 1989 as employee 16. 

 

My first project was working at Raytheon in Marlboro on Milstar (military satellite system). Someone, I think Mark D, informed the Raytheon folks that I was a UHF DAMA expert. I knew how to spell UHF DAMA, but I was certainly no expert. As with many of our early projects, learned on the job and ultimately became subject matter experts.  It was a great way to learn and grow, even if under a little duress.

 

I worked remotely from Boston from day one.  I worked out of my house for the first six years in my poorly heated cellar next to my model trains and the cat box.  You’ll also be impressed to hear my home was a secret cleared facility with an associated clearance level safe!

 

In 1989 and the early 90s, there was no internet. There were no virtual tools, no video teleconferencing, WebEx, Slack, Zoom.  All we had was the telephone. FedEx was brand new, a high-speed connection was 2400 bps, and everything was point-to-point.  There were no “networks”.

 

Gary Echo and I were overjoyed when we were able to establish a 2400 bps link across the US between our two computers allowing us to transfer, very slowly, files that we were developing together.  For larger files, we still had to rely on floppy disks and FedEx!

 

Barbara Schaeffer, administrative assistant, 1996

Carlsbad, CA

I started in September 1996 as employee #294. 

 

I never in a million years would have dreamt that 25 years later, I would still be at the company. Back then, I was the switchboard operator, so I knew everybody in the company.

 

I had only been at Viasat six months when I had to tell them I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.  I did not know what my future was going to be. I’d have to have chemotherapy, which meant that I was going to use my hair. Wigs were not covered under insurance, so I was going to use my FSA money; I remember telling one of the executive administrators it was going to cost $250 for a little bob wig. I was shocked at the cost. A couple days later, I came into work and the security person at the front desk handed me an envelope – a little bit on the thicker side. The executive staff had taken up a collection to pay for my wig. I still have that card. To this day, I’m so grateful for the kindness. A month ago, I celebrated 24 years of being cancer free.

 

Even today, even though we’re so much bigger, there still is a family feel to the company. You may not see people every day, but you still have that connection and bond. Viasat is very special in the fact that people care about each other.

Barbara Schaeffer

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