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News / Business / Clark County Business

Working in Clark County: Phuong Pham, senior manufacturing technician, nLIGHT

By Kay Richardson, Columbian staff writer
Published: August 21, 2017, 6:30am
5 Photos
Senior manufacturing technician Phuong Pham of Portland inspects the housing for direct diode lasers at nLight in Vancouver on Aug. 15. Pham has worked at nLIGHT Inc. for 10 years.
Senior manufacturing technician Phuong Pham of Portland inspects the housing for direct diode lasers at nLight in Vancouver on Aug. 15. Pham has worked at nLIGHT Inc. for 10 years. Photos by Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

A professed gadgeteer, Phuong Pham works in the fast-paced, innovative field of laser manufacturing technology. Someone who — for fun — rebuilt and retrofitted the optical housing for his car’s headlights, Pham spends his workdays assuring quality products, troubleshooting equipment and processes and training colleagues. “I enjoy getting introduced to the latest technology, and working with all kinds of people,” he says. “Actually knowing the products I help manufacture and the final results they go into is something I like about working in manufacturing.”

Residence city: Portland

Employer/business name: nLIGHT, 5408 N.E. 88th St., Building E, Vancouver. www.nlight.net

Age: 39

Educational/professional background: When I was 2 years old, my family came to the United States on refugee status after the Vietnam War, settling in Portland. I graduated from Reynolds High School in 1996, then went on to receive an associate degree at Mount Hood Community College. I eventually got a bachelor’s degree in manufacturing from the Oregon Institute of Technology.

How — and when — you got started in your business: My first manufacturing job, in 2003, was at Nike making air soles. It kept me busy during the summer as I was still going to college. Being exposed to all the different types of machines and the methodology of manufacturing really got me intrigued. My next manufacturing job was at Wafertech, making microchips. After several years working there, I decided to try something different. Lasers were a new concept to me and nLIGHT was the perfect opportunity to satisfy my curiosity. Once I got started working here, I saw the diverse capabilities of a laser’s use. Even after 10 years of working here, it’s still exciting to see how we are applying our lasers to so many different applications.

Personal/business philosophy: Sometimes you don’t know your full potential until you push yourself to the edge of your capabilities.

Most rewarding part of job: Working with all the talented people on a daily basis. It’s amazing how much I can learn just from their experience. Each person has a unique skill they bring to the table. Giving them the opportunity to share it and finding a way to apply it to my needs is definitely valuable.

Most challenging part of job: Getting new colleagues up to speed on what they need to do to perform their duties, while staying on schedule with my daily tasks. This requires an understanding of how they work and the best way to feed them the information they need.

Something surprising about your work: Working with lasers can be dangerous. They can cut through metal, crack glass, burn skin and cause blindness. Safety is our top priority and is emphasized in every aspect of the company. Dedicated laser goggles provide eye protection. Emergency shut-offs are installed on every station to quickly turn off lasers. Employees are trained to be aware of the dangers and are routinely required to participate in courses.

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Best feature of my Clark County community: Nature is just outside our door. We are close to so many natural wonders. Refreshing beaches to the west. Snow-capped mountains to the east. Streams, rivers, waterfalls and luscious forests are conveniently nestled throughout this region.

What would make your community a better place?: More affordable housing. A lot of families struggle to make a living: Rising home prices and rents, increasing taxes, commodities costing more. Wages are not keeping up with cost of living.

What is your favorite travel destination and type?: I don’t travel much, but when I do, the beach is my favorite spot. The fresh air, the sound of the ocean, the view of the coastline help soothe my often-busy mind.

Favorite restaurant/pub/coffee shop/store: I enjoy most of the family-oriented restaurants, Red Robin, The Old Spaghetti Factory, Red Lobster, just to name a few. My favorite place to shop would be hardware stores. I love getting new tools and building gadgets!

Hobbies: You will find me on most weekends out in the garage. I have developed skills as an automotive detailer and can bring back the luster of old neglected paint with fierce determination. Aside from that, I like to fiddle with broken things. Take them apart and try to fix them. I also like hitting the gym. It’s such a natural stress reliever for me.

Most enjoyable book/play/movie/arts event in past 12 months: I like sci-fi and action movies. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” was the last movie I saw and I really liked it.

Who’s on your playlist? I miss songs from the ’80s and ’90s, so I play that while driving. For working out at the gym, I switch to trance and techno to keep me motivated.

Something you’d like to do this year/within five years: I haven’t taken a real vacation in many years. The last big trip I took was to Hawaii. I would love to go back there and take my girlfriend since she’s never been there.

One word to describe yourself: Devoted

Person you’d most like to meet: Bruce Lee. A very focused and disciplined individual who showed the world his passion for martial arts.

Columbian staff writer