The “Good Old Days” were… Good!

A few days ago, I was chatting with a neighbor who asked what my first real job was. Thinking 35 or so years back put me in the “good old days”…

I was a lab technician with a highly regarded communications equipment manufacturer called Collins Radio Company. If you were skilled and passionate like me working in the telecom industry in the early ’70’s, there were two premium employers on the radar screen among a field of many fine and notable companies: AT&T’s Bell Labs and Collins Radio Company. These companies were globally the most highly regarded in the industry on the service provider side and the manufacturing side respectively. They were innovative and engaged in some exotic endeavors. These two companies employed the “cream of the crop”. Work was exciting, and the people that I worked with at Collins (later a division of Rockwell International, and later a part of Alcatel) were dedicated and passionate just like I was. I worked in the same cluster of buildings with many of the same terrific people for about 20 years. I still have my old Collins “meatball” employee badge in a very special place.  

My coworkers and I were encouraged to come to the lab after hours in those days to “play” with anything that piqued our interests. I suspect that a goodly number of my coworkers preferred the lab to home… We built ham radio gear and satellite video receivers (out of some parts that Collins surely had paid for), and we worked on pet projects that were officially unfunded but somehow vital for something important – we played with the very newest cutting edge components available that manufacturers had sampled to our lab – we experimented with new assembly and manufacturing techniques, some of which crept into the factory over time – that factory was right outside of our lab’s large interior door. This was a “hoppin’ place” on many a’ Friday night, littered with fast food wrappers, and abuzz with excitement and camaraderie until the wee hours, and for some until sunrise. This was our own unique “skunk works” culture. The ’70’s were “heady times” for me that I still fondly recall.

When I show up at a client location today, I bring “passion” with me – it’s infectious. I try to “infect” as many people as I can! In a tech industry, I think that passion assures ongoing technical competency, fosters innovation and risk taking, and provides a compelling non-monetary reward system. Passion is an intangible that is hard to tally and put on a balance sheet. But, I tell you, it is essential to have passion if you are to be a leader in a crowd. It may be an even more important a factor of success today than it was in the “good old days”.

Those “good old days” were indeed good. I am highly curious what will make young people entering the workforce today regard this day among their “good old days” as they get older and mature in their careers… I hope that they have “good old days”, too.

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