This weekend, as we celebrate Father’s Day in the United States, it seemed like a good time to revisit a post I wrote in April 2020 and add new comments on implications for our careers in the post-pandemic world. My father spent much of his career with one company but he still recognized the need for indispensable skills. He watched trends in his field, responded to change, and to customer needs.
My six takeaways from examining his career include:
- Make yourself “essential,”
- 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 father entered the workforce as a radiotelegraph operator aboard ocean-going 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 before U-boats started torpedoing the tankers when war broke out. 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 father sought even more essential work shortly after America entered the War. The Army needed radio-telegraphers, but they were not essential enough. Excess operators could be sent to the “ReplDepot,” or Replacement Depot 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. According to my father, he spent much of the war servicing radar sets in Hawaii, including antennas at the iconic Opana Radar Site that detected—but did not correctly identify—the incoming raid on December 7, 1941. (My father was there later in the War.).
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 father remained in telecommunications despite training as a chemist in college. Although he did not directly utilize his chemistry degree, he applied the methodical approach he learned in the lab to problem solving at his jobs and at home.
In addition to providing transferrable skills, the degree qualified my father for supervisory training at his company—and for training in an emerging technology—computers.
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 father “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, our father 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.
Be Customer Focused.
One of the things that impressed me when I was growing up was my father’s 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, dad took the train or drove to the computer room at any hour to make sure the customers got their messages.
And it did not matter who the operators on the work shift were. My father treated everyone equally, whether the operator was my brother, or the Company’s first African-American computer operator and supervisor.
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 our father always asked the new operator classes. What is a bit?
Consult and Share Your Knowledge After Retirement.
Dad remained active in telecommunications after he retired. He worked to install new message 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 his knowledge. Harold Grossman died of COVID-complications in April 2020 at age 98. His family, co-workers, and friends continue to appreciate what we learned from him.