This week, I am departing from my effort to update previous blog posts for the COVID-19 and post-COVID era to discuss the career development lessons I’ve gleaned from my Father’s career. Career development was not a “thing” in his time. Nonetheless, he did it very well, left behind a legion of well-trained experts in his field.
The six takeaways include:
- Make yourself “essential” during a war or national crisis,
- Complete your education,
- Follow industry trends and change with the times,
- Be customer-focused,
- Train and mentor the next generation, and
- Consult and share your knowledge after retirement.
My Dad entered the workforce as a Radio-telegraph operator aboard ships before World War II and retired as a telecommunications consultant at the dawn of the World Wide Web era.
- Make Yourself Essential.
Dad started his career shortly before the Second World War as a radio operator aboard coastal tankers. Oil tanker shipments drove our economy then and still do today so the work was essential. It was dangerous, even if U-boats were not torpedoing the tankers. The radio room was the highest point on the ship, accessible via a narrow catwalk crewmembers could be washed off of in a storm.
My Dad sought to do even more essential work shortly after America entered the War. Radio-telegraph operators were needed in the Army, but they were not essential enough. The Army sent excess operators to the “ReplDepot” to replace lost infantrymen. As a result, he became a radio repairman for B-17 bombers, and then a radar technician. Our forces could not afford to lose such experts so he stayed behind the lines. .
- 2. Complete Your Education.
Dad returned to the civilian workforce as a marine radio operator after the War. He worked at WNY, a ship-to-shore radio station in Manhattan, started a family with my Mom, and, somehow, attended City College of New York full-time for his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry. My Dad remained in telecommunications, but he learned how to organize work and solve problems in the Chemistry lab. Most importantly, the degree qualified him for supervisory training at his company—and for training in an emerging technology—computers.
- 3. Follow Industry Trends and Change with the Times.
The advent of new technologies such as geosynchronous communication satellites meant the “writing was on the wall” for marine radio-telegraphers so my Dad “reinvented himself” as a computer expert. His company, RCA Global Communications, adapted its early computers for TWIX and Telex message switching. Dad qualified for training on the new equipment because he had a college degree and telecommunications experience at the Company. According to my brother, Michael Goldwitz, who worked with him, Dad ultimately supervised more than 60 message switching networks.
Dad was right to make the move. The job of radio-telegrapher was slowly phased out and largely disappeared in 1999. Satellites and digital radio services took over.
- 4. Be Customer Focused.
One of the things that impressed me when I was growing up was Dad’s incredible focus on the customer. The communications customers in those days were large multinational companies, including Japanese firms that did much of their messaging during their business day. That is during the night in the United States. As a result, Dad addressed customer concerns at any hour of the day or night. If the operator on-duty could not immediately fix the problem, my Dad took the train or drove to the computer room at any hour to make sure the customer got their messages.
- 5. Train and Mentor the Next Generation.
Michael and other computer operators that worked for Dad remember the training classes he delivered. He insisted all operators understand computer basics, and not just the commands they had to type.
Today, Michael still remembers the first question Dad always asked the new operator classes. What is a bit?
- 6. Consult and Share Your Knowledge After Retirement.
Dad remained active in telecommunications after he retired. He worked to install new messages switching systems for companies in the US and abroad. His vast experience convinced customers to avoid costly errors. A major TV network, for example, wanted to install their system without raised flooring that was common in large computer centers. Dad told their management this was a mistake. Eventually, they listened.
My Dad, and many others in the Greatest Generation stayed with one organization for much of his career, unlike many of us today. Still, he had to make himself indispensable, get his education, change with the times, train his team, be customer-focused, and share our knowledge. Harold Grossman died last Monday at age 98. His family, co-workers, and friends will all remember what we learned from him.