Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My greatest impact

Question from a job interview: "Thinking back on your career, what's the one thing you've done that has had the greatest impact?"

Well, I can't think of one. I'll have to give you three.

First, back in the 1980s, I did something that everybody said couldn't be done. I figured out how to gold-plate the inside of a copper tube. This tube was about 30 centimeters long and had an inside diameter of 7 millimeters. It had to be gold-plated on the inside, to a very exacting specification. I figured out a way to do it that was twice as exact as the specification. That might not seem like much, but these perfectly plated tubes were used to calibrate microwave test equipment, which was in turn used to calibrate and tune the radars in military helicopters and fighter jets. Our two biggest customers were Hughes Aircraft and the U.S. Marines. So, in summary, this is a story like "The House That Jack Built:" I invented a way to gold-plate the tubes, that calibrated the testers, that tested the radars, that went in the aircraft, that were flown by the Marines, that won the Cold War.

Second, I was one of the first 200 employees of Hewlett-Packard's Inkjet Components Operation. We made the printer cartridges that kicked off the inkjet revolution. My job was to turn the nozzle-plate manufacturing operation from a low volume R&D operation to a high volume, high quality, production operation. From 200 employees, our cartridge volume expanded to fill seven factories on three continents. If you open the HP printer on your desk and pull out the printhead cartridge and look at the business end of it, you will see a little gold square, smaller than a postage stamp, with hundreds of tiny holes where the ink comes shooting out. That little gold square is my baby. My work appears in every HP inkjet printer in the world.

But my greatest impact didn't come from my work as an engineer. It came from my work as a teacher. For two years, I taught 7th grade mathematics, and I had an impact on 200 young lives. Some of them came into my classroom hating or fearing mathematics, and unsure of their abilities. Almost every one of them left with an advanced understanding of math, and with increased self-confidence. I didn't just teach mathematics, I taught about math and reading and music and life skills and believing in yourself. Many of my students still keep in touch with me, and it's fun for me to see what they're becoming and what they're doing with their lives. Some of them will change the world, and I will take my share of credit for that. That is my greatest impact.

Note for my seminary students: I didn't mention you in the interview. But for the record, I was an early-morning seminary teacher for 12 years, off and on, over a period of 30 years. I taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ, through the scriptures, to hundreds of high-school students over those years, for an hour every morning before school started. But it wasn't just book learning. I taught you how to search for and find spiritual truth on your own, how to recognize it, how to test it, and how to apply it in your lives. The spiritual foundation that you young people built for yourselves in my classes has sustained you through the years, kept you morally strong, and guided you through your life experiences as individuals and in your own families. Many of the things that I taught you have been passed down to your own children. That is an impact equal to, or greater than, the impact I had on my mathematics students.

Note for my children and my adopted children: Forget "impact." You are the greatest things I ever did in my life. I didn't mention you in the interview either. I didn't need to.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You have been such a great influence on me. If I didn't have u I don't honestly think I would be where I am today: In college and really good at math. You helped me see how much I can do. :) thank you.