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Kram is a member of the Coeur d'Alene tribe and grew up on the Coeur d'Alene Indian reservation in the northern Idaho community of Plummer, less than an hour's drive from the Moscow campus. "My dad, was a first generation graduate and had a great experience at the University of Idaho. I was able to witness his graduation when I was a sophomore in high school. The University of Idaho always seemed like a great fit for me." Prior to becoming a full time University of Idaho student, Kram attended summer Music Camp, Science Camp, and JETS. "The college was close to home, affordable, and was always making headlines as a top engineering school."
Like may other beginning students, Kram was not all that sure exactly what he wanted to study, but did have a strong leaning towards engineering. "I grew up interested in technology and electronics in general, so engineering seemed like a possibility. I guess I was like your typical young teen ager who wanted a job playing video games for a living." After three years, Kram had completed the foundational math and science course required for for several engineering majors and some of the introductory Computer Science courses that gave him the option to go into Computer Engineering or Computer Science. At this point he decided that Computer Science was the way to go.
"There's a good balance between theory and practice. You need both to be effective."
The Computer Science curriculum includes a required set of core courses supplemented by a set of technical elective courses that can be used either to develop breadth or depth of knowledge. "When I was in school, I didn’t really have an area of specialization. I graduated during the .com boom so web technologies were huge. If anything, that was my primary interest. Considering what happened during the .com bust, it's probably good that I never actually worked in this area."
Kram summarized his University of Idaho education this way, "I thought the breadth of offerings was great. I remember taking a number of abstract CS classes that were very interesting although I never wrote many programs for them. On the other hand, other classes required a lot of problem solving in a particular programming language. It was easy to get a taste of both worlds."
"An internship can lead to securing full time employment even before you finish your degree."
The way Kram ended up working for HP might be considered somewhat accidental, but certainly transforming. "When I was a junior, my database instructor actually helped me get my first internship at HP. He asked me if I had any plans for the summer. I was planning to work in Moscow and had never thought of applying for an internship. He encouraged me to interview and I received an offer. The rest is history. I interned at HP for two summers. When I went back for my final year at school, I did so knowing that I had a full time offer in Boise waiting for me when I graduated." Kram received his BS Computer Science Degree in 1998.
When Kram started at HP, he began working on development of Windows software driver for the LaserJet 2100 printer. At the time Microsoft was pushing their "Universal Printer Driver" model and HP was supporting it for the release of Windows 2000. A year later everything changed as All-in-One devices that could scan, fax, copy, and print were all the rage. "At the time I did a lot of what I would call 'low-level' coding on the fax driver. I learned a lot because the job required that I take a pre-existing code framework and make it work on a new product. With each new printer we reuse as much of the code from previous products as we can."
Several years later, Kram is now a Quality Program Manager. "My job is to reduce warranty costs and improve the Total Customer Experience for the LaserJet All-in-One customer. Part of my job requires managing a printer test program called "Delta". During Delta testing, we select a small sample of customers to actually use our finished product before we release it worldwide. This way we get a sneak peek at the quality of a product as viewed by our customers."
"At the end of the day, my job involves finding the mistakes we have made during product development and ensuring that we do not make them again."
Another part of Kram's job requires analysis of customer data to find out which product issues are the most prevalent. "The most challenging part is taking this data and presenting it in a way that is useful for other parts of the business. What may be best for R&D may not be best for Marketing. At the end of the day, my job involves finding the mistakes we have made during the course of product development and ensuring that we do not make them again." Like many other companies, HP is responding to a evolving global market opportunity for their products and moving some of the development work offshore. Reflecting on how this has changed some important aspects of his work Kram had this to say, "Our business environment requires me to interface with a number of partners all around the globe. In addition, my job involves full ownership of any issue that might arise in the field. Sometimes I get software related issues that need to be resolved. Other times I get issues that have nothing to do with software. I recently received a request to change the control panel on one of our products because the words were not translated properly in Hebrew."
Along the way Kram was able to find the time to complete an MBA at Indiana University. The MBA has proven to be a useful complement to his technically oriented Computer Science degree. "I do a lot of problem solving which requires analytical skills and technical knowledge where I must understand the relationship between the software and firmware because this is where the issues customers report are usually found." While the ability to analyze a technical problem is important, Kram quickly pointed out there's another dimension to his work, "I also need to understand how a problem ultimately impacts the customer and our business. If R&D decides not to fix something, it has implications for our customers. It is my job to understand what those consequences are and how to address them. We might see tangible consequence if a customer calls our support number. Every minute a customer support person is on the phone costs us money. The intangible consequence can arise if the way we handle a problem impacts how the customer views the integrity of the HP brand. We don't want them turning to one of our competitors for a future product purchase. I always have to remember that the 'Big Picture' is most important."
"A University of Idaho education is a great value and allows you to complete on equal footing with those from more prominent schools."
When I first came on board at HP, I had a steep learning curve to overcome, because I didn't have a background in Microsoft Windows programming." It's pretty clear that Kram was up to the challenge. "I think another way the University of Idaho helped me was economically. It's a great value for the price that you pay. Although it doesn’t necessarily show up in the rankings that you see in magazines, you will observe that University of Idaho students end up competing well for the same jobs as graduates from schools like MIT and Stanford. I've witnessed this firsthand at HP."
The views expressed on this page are those of the individual being profiled and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University of Idaho or the employer. References to specific organizations and companies does not constitute endorsement of their products or services by the University of Idaho.
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