Posts Tagged ‘Collins Radio’

What the computer says “must be true”

May 31, 2009

To quote a recent Microsoft customer service rep, “Yes sir, that’s what my computer says, it must be true!” That’s dribble. Two errors were made by this customer rep: 1) my registration records were checked, but initially not the correct records; and 2) their records were incomplete – even when the correct records were found. The service rep had 100% confidence in inaccurate and incomplete records. This problem has been a common one for a very long time for many companies, and it persists to my great irritation – everywhere…

This post is another commentary on the value of context. My mentor many years ago drilled this meme into my head: “Just because you took a reading doesn’t mean you made a measurement.” In other words, don’t blindly believe what you see on the test equipment display – or on your computer display, for that matter. That engineer at Collins Radio Company was Bill Thompson who died of cancer not too long ago. I will miss him until my own death – he was a truly great engineer.

Bill’s message to me was to be sure I was measuring the correct signal with a properly configured test setup measuring the relevant characteristics that are necessary to answer the pertinent questions so that I draw a valid conclusion. Until I was certain of all of those considerations surrounding my test equipment reading, I had not made a measurement. I had to be careful to “think sufficiently” about my objectives and know enough about the context of what I was trying to do.

My conversation with Microsoft during the week failed to accomplish what I set out to do. Ultimately, their dataset was incomplete. Microsoft had acquired a software company, and that company’s old registration records were not completely incorporated into Microsoft’s own CRM systems. Microsoft provided no context to the customer support staff that registration data for my product might be incomplete. “Our records simply do not show that you are a registered user (you’ll have to convince us…).” They “took a reading, but they didn’t make a measurement”, and it is my problem to convince Microsoft to the contrary.

Well, this isn’t over, yet. I found my e-mail copy of the original purchase and the company’s confirmation of receipt of my registration information on my e-mail archive DVD! But is it worth two more hours of my time on the phone with those buggers at Microsoft?

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The “Good Old Days” were… Good!

May 29, 2009

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.