The Power of Opportunity: How Being a First-Generation Graduate Has Driven Edgar Figueroa’s Success

December 10, 2019
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As Edgar Figueroa sat over lunch in the UT Club, he reflected on what it meant to him to be the first in his family to attend college.

“Pushing through the late nights studying or the challenges of being a first-generation college student was a privilege that others in my family never had,” he said. “I wanted to leave a legacy my family would be proud of.”

Born in Guatemala and raised by a single mother, Figueroa immigrated to the United States at the age of 14, becoming the first in his family to graduate from high school. Figueroa then joined the U.S. Navy as a jet engine specialist, serving four years of active duty before earning his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UT Austin in 1994. Figueroa later went on to earn his master’s degree in technology commercialization from UT in 1998 and completed the Executive Scholar Program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Edgar Figueroa

“Everyone in my family thought higher education was the path to a better life. But since none of us had gone to college, what that meant and required was abstract,” Figueroa said. “When I became the first in my family with a realistic opportunity to earn a degree, my pursuit of education was pragmatic: I wanted to honor the sacrifices my mother made by ensuring my education unlocked opportunities for a better life that others in my family could not realize.”

Figueroa’s drive to unlock opportunities propelled his career. He has held many high-level positions within top companies – 3M, Polycom, Ridgeway Systems (now Cisco) – and helped to design world-changing solutions, such the world’s first session border controller, a network element for real-time internet voice and video calls, which became an International Telecommunications Union standard that continues to be used today. Figueroa has worked at Wi-Fi Alliance since 2003, setting requirements for Wi-Fi across the world, and serving as the president and CEO since 2007.

His successes are shaped by his dedication to hard work and a focus on the big picture, a mentality he finds essential to growth.

“I want to be thankful for the gift of the current moment and to give it my best. But, to truly do that I need a passion that comes from knowing how my contribution fits within the context of the bigger picture,” Figueroa said. “Combining the natural passion that comes from setting big goals and aspirations with perseverance and consistency is a recipe for growth and success.”

Although he travels the world with Wi-Fi Alliance working to ensure continued Wi-Fi proliferation and adoption into mass markets, it is still important for him to make time to give back and invest in future engineers by sharing the wisdom he has gathered throughout his career.

“The parable about bricks and cathedrals has a great moral that is applicable for engineering students,” Figueroa said. “The engineering education is long and demanding. It requires hard work, commitment and sacrifices. In the toil of engineering school, it is important students realize they are not simply laying bricks, but rather laying the foundation for the great cathedral that will be their engineering career.”