First-Hand:An IEEE Senior Member's Interesting Engineering Career
Submitted by William S. Cranmer
In my case, it all started at age six when my father gave me a Mechano set as a birthday present. I learned which way to turn a nut on a clockwise screw-thread and many other worthwhile lessons in the mechanical world. It wasn't long before I was winding my own RF coils on two of my play blocks glued together, and setting up simple radio circuits with the VT-199 and 201A vacuum tubes.
Formal education was uneventful except for the unusual circumstance that I received a BS from Rutgers University in accounting. I hesitate to mention this fact as the IEEE may question my long standing status as "Senior member." After four years of Gun-Laying-Radar work during World War II in the European Theater, I had no desire to enter a career of accounting and in 1945 joined the RCA Electron Tube Division in Harrison, New Jersey.
Following six years of night school at Stevens Institute of Technology, I finally earned a MS degree in engineering management in 1951. It is interesting that at one point a school official said, "We really don't like to award a master's degree to a business student, but you passed all the courses, so I guess we have to go ahead ..... " This type of combined business (accounting degree) and technical background (MS in engineering management) is only mentioned as it had a pronounced effect on my engineering career. In the early days of the electron tube industry, I was totally impressed by the genius of the more senior engineering personnel. It was commonplace to see engineers walk down a hallway with vacant stares as they concentrated on some function or equation, completely unaware of their surroundings.
On one occasion, I remember approaching one of these individuals and asking a legitimate technical question. The engineer stopped, concentrated for a moment, and then just walked away. I thought I had interrupted him at a wrong moment and went back to my place of work.
Three and a half weeks later, this engineer came up to me and with no introductory remarks gave me the answer to my technical question. Many of these geniuses would do their best work with their feet propped up on top of their desks!
During those years, I believe I completed some worthwhile engineering tasks and received only occasional rebuffs from my superiors. One I do remember, however, was a technical presentation given by an accomplished engineering leader. After his presentation, the speaker approached me and asked, "Did you understand that lecture, Bill?" I replied that I did understand a good portion of it and congratulated him on a well organized presentation. He said, and I quote, "Well I thought I would ask you, Bill, because if you understood it, anyone would understand it!" and he walked away. For the most part, I am happy to report that I was fully accepted as a part of the engineering staff.
One of the greatest educational benefits was the opportunity to represent my company at JEDEC, IEEE or Armed Services product meetings. It took a bit of training to gain experience and self confidence at such meetings but the rewards were substantial. At one of the Armed Services meetings I attended as a new member, the Chairman announced, "Don't worry gentlemen, in a minute we are going to hear from RCA." I would look around the room and suddenly notice that I was the only one there representing my company and they meant me!
It was a challenge, but over time I managed to learn the language and the proper protocol for these occasions. After numerous meetings, I was finally able to speak up and say such things as, "Mr. Chairman, I request that the secretary include in the minutes a report of my minority opinion on this last point in question." Other meetings were in-house "strategy" meetings to insure that everything was in order in preparation for an important forthcoming meeting with a customer. I recall one marketing manager saying, "When you engineers get to the meeting just sit there and don't say anything or you will blow the whole contract---." I am proud to say that we engineers talked anyway and came up with some valuable comments for all concerned.