One of the finest engineers still alive is someone I’ve known since 1975. He came to my attention, indirectly, when I was out doing field service — adjusting mechanisms, swapping boards, diagnosing comm problems, making dead computers compute. I began to notice something as I was changing out circuit boards in dead hardware. Many of the assemblies had lots of mods — printed circuit traces cut, blue wires run from place to place, sometimes even an IC or two glued to the board feet-up (the “dead bug” engineering change) with more blue wires. Yet there were a few other boards that had a layer of dust on them — never swapped. No blue wires. The circuit artwork revision number was ‘-‘. The board engineering rev level was ‘A’.
I eventually uncovered the identity of the genius who had designed these things. My first encounter with him, unknown to me, was when I was a new hire at field service basic training, and he was the instructor for a number of the instruction blocks, notably the Diablo printer (the first commercially dominant “daisy wheel” device) which the company incorporated into its products.
He had gained his knowledge of the Diablo Hytype by going over the tech documentation. I had gained mine from Diablo’s factory training, conducted by the engineer who had designed the electronics. As a result, in the first hours of the class, from time to time, I raised my hand to say something like “Uh… actually, it works a bit differently from that…”
We broke for lunch. When we returned, I couldn’t find my place in the classroom. Then I noticed that my name card was on the instructor’s desk, the instructor was sitting in my original place, grinning. There was a TV camera in the back of the room, and I was told to conduct the rest of this block.
Eventually I joined the instructor staff, shared an office with this guy, and learned that he had been my phantom genius designer. He had been booted from the Engineering group because he made the wrong people nervous. Give him a design assignment, and he might spend several days with his feet up on his desk staring at the ceiling, sipping tea and making an occasional note or writing an equation. Then, at the end of this exercise, he would draw a circuit diagram, take it to the lab and give it to an Electronics Technician saying “Build me one of these.” It was normal for that design to go into production with few if any changes.
This was basically career-ending, wherever he worked, when he could get hired…
He gave up working in Industry many years ago. It is evident that fewer than ten other people alive understand magnetics at his level; he makes a steady living as an independent, designing startlingly efficient motors and solenoids, and doing design recovery. I guarantee that none of the biggies would hire him on staff.
Just too weird, doesn’t interview well.