Sheldon O. Connell says he was a boy with a penchant for breaking things. “I was opening things up, just seeing how things work.”
He grew up in the 1970s, a time when vacuum tubes were giving way to transistors. And Shel-don, curious about the innards of all things mechanical, was fascinated. “I knew I wanted to be part of the electronics age.”
That he has. Starting as a technician with the company then known as New York Telephone, Sheldon has risen to the role of Verizon’s director of global transport engineering.
He’s in charge of plotting the expansion of our global network of Ultra Long Haul (ULH) inter-city connections — super-fast 100G-capable fiber optic systems that make the information super-highway of the 90s look like a narrow country lane.
These are the lightning-like broadband lines highly in demand for streaming video from Netflix and flashing the million-dollar financial transactions of Wall Street. Verizon’s ULH connections are linking major cities in America and around the world— more cities all the time.
Yet the job isn’t all that different from the first engineering job Sheldon had back in 1994. “It’s bigger, and more impactful, it’s global,” Sheldon says. “I now have the entire world. My transport network pipes are bigger. If a fiber is cut, a lot more people are impacted. And conversely when the system is working well, a lot more people are positively impacted.”
He started as a phone company technician, working all over New York’s five boroughs. Raised in inner-city Brooklyn, the Caribbean-born Sheldon had graduated from a vocational-technical high school and earned an associate’s degree in electrical technology from a New York com-munity college.
Back then, Sheldon says, “the only kind of trunk I knew was what you put clothes in — not knowing it was a way a single transmission channels between two points”
But he soon learned that, along with everything he needed to know about the traditional voice switches and the transport network.
After several years, he realized he was gaining the best possible education in the technical side of telecommunications, just by being on the job. To further his career, he got a bachelor’s in or-ganizational leadership (Nyack College) and a master’s in business administration (Wagner Col-lege).
He’s 47, with his wife of 12 years, a 10-year-old daughter, a 4-year-old son, and a frustrating golf game. An enthusiastic conversationalist, he was raised in a family that preached about character. “My dad would always say, ‘It’s about what you do when I’m not around. You get no credit for good behavior when I’m there. It’s what you do when I’m not watching that counts.’”
He tries to impart the same spirit to his Verizon engineering team, urging them to think of their jobs as much more than a paycheck and to take responsibility toward the larger mission. “I say, ‘Guys, you've got to know why you’re doing this — what’s the shareholder value, what’s the contribution you’re making to the whole? It’s important to give folks the buy-in.”
His team installs, expands and hardens 100G ULH systems — 88 channels, each capable of handling 100 gigabits of data. The first domestic system was installed in 2011 between New York and Chicago. It’s grown to 30,000 miles of 100G connectivity. Overseas, Verizon linked Frankfurt and Paris in 2009 and now provides 8,500 miles of service.
He believes the cell phone is nothing less than the greatest invention of our times.
“Because, honestly, I don’t know how I would be able to get along without it,” Sheldon says. “If I don’t have it with me, I have to turn right around and go back to get it. It gives you comfort. It allows you to know you’re never really alone.
“Frankly, that’s why I love what I do so much. I may not be in the cell phone space, but I know that phones have to communicate. It’s all network-based, and in the end of the day it has to be reliable communication.”
A call may be as simple as warbling, “Happy birthday.” Or as serious as summoning emergency help for a heart attack.
As a member of Verizon, “you want to make sure you’ve done your part,” Sheldon says. And to make sure you know exactly what that part is.
““You have to know your value.” he says, “to the corporation and the space.”