One of the things that caught me by surprise after retiring was a simple question: Who am I? First, though, some background.
How I Decided to be an Electrical Engineer
I knew in Grade 3 that I wanted to be an electrical engineer. My father had introduced me to building balsa-wood model airplanes that you could fly with a real model engine. To start those engines, you needed one heck of battery by traditional household battery standards. It was essentially a massive D-cell battery that must have been about ten times longer and proportionally wider. This was used to power a glow plug in the engine that heats up so that spinning the propeller would fire up the engine.
Well, one day, after learning how to make an electromagnet, I decided to make one using that big battery to power it. I dutifully found a big nail, about three inches long, wrapped some wire around it several times, and attached it to the big battery. I was amazed at what I could lift with that electromagnet. I knew right then and there that I was going to be an electrical engineer, just like my Dad, my Uncle John, and not so far from my Uncle Ralph, who was a Mechanical Engineer, which is almost as good as being an Electrical Engineer. 🙂
First Career Crisis
Many people in highschool had no idea what they wanted to be, career-wise. I knew I wanted to be an electrical engineer. After Grade 11, being in Montreal, I went to John Abbot College, a CEGEP, which is a form of college in Quebec. I took the pre-university program that lasted two years, where I learned a lot of physics, math, and chemistry.
WIth CEGEP under my belt, I was off to university. I asked my Dad, who managed an Engineering department, to recommend an Engineering school. The best engineers working for him went to the University of Waterloo (Dad went to McGill). So, off I went to the University of Waterloo, which had a great co-op program where you alternated between school and work. It took a year longer than most programs, but you ended up with two years of relevant engineering experience.
While at the University of Waterloo, I tried to get a minor in Computer Science. Unfortunately, the classes were in heavy demand and I was always one term behind. I graduated with my Honours Bachelor of Applied Science in Electrical Engineering.
To my complete and total surprise, I was completely unprepared for graduation. I had known since grade three that I wanted to be an Electrical Engineer, and now I was one. But, now what? I had been focused for so long on that one goal that I really hadn’t thought much about what would come afterwards.
Of course, I looked for a job, which was a reasonable thing given that we’d just had our first child. However, the job market wasn’t great in 1983. Since I was dissatisfied without that minor in Computer Science, I had applied for Grad studies in Computer Science in the Faculty of Mathematics, still at the University of Waterloo. I was accepted, and graduated with a Master of Mathematics in Computer Science.
Career—The Really Short Summary
This isn’t the place for a description of my career, but in a nutshell I started working in the Mulitprocess Systems Group, a research lab at the University of Waterloo, as the lab manager. My primariy responsibility was building a testing a specialized piece of hardware to support very fast message passing. I then did a stint at the University of Waterloo Department of Computing Services, where I wrote an internal course for UNIX Systems Administration. After that I joined Bell-Northern Research in Ottawa as a software designer. After almost five years, I joined a small startup called ObjecTime Limited. ObjecTime was acquired by Rational Software, which was in turn acquired by IBM. I retired from IBM at the end of 2015.
Retirement—Now Who Am I?
For a long time I knew I wanted to be an Electrical Engineer. I had a long career first in computer hardware, but mostly in software. If you’d asked me who I was at the time, I’d have first said that I was a Product Manager and then an Electrical Engineer. After that, I’m a husband and father. Once I retired, this had to change. I’m no longer a Product Manager. So who am I?
Of course, I knew all this would happen, but I didn’t appreciate how significant it would be. I didn’t give much thought when I automatically renewed my membership in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and my Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) membership in 2015. Now that I’ve retired, I’m not so sure about that.
I still think of myself as an Electrical Engineer, so I will likely remain a member of PEO. Yet, I’ve also returned to playing bass guitar, which I hadn’t really played since my grad school days. I’m taking weekly lessons now as an intermediate bass guitar player. I’ve also always wanted to play the piano, so I’m taking weekly lessons for piano as well. I’m beginning to think of myself as a musician nowadays. I’ve also done some video work including being that camera guy that does closeups of the band for the video screens at the Ottawa Glowfair festival on Friday, June 17th.
I don’t have a solid answer to the question, “Who am I” yet, but I’m working on it. Ask me in a year.