Pivot Points

My wife and I was at dinner recently and we were discussing some long-ago event. It occurred to me that there was a single point that changed the direction of our life. A point that created a fork in our life, a divergence from the life before us. That pivot point was an invitation to lunch.

It happened in January, 1976. I was working in an administrative job for a flour milling company. The company owned a number of flour mills across the country and one charcoal plant. My job, depending on the day of the week, was Payroll Manger (hourly employees), Data Processing Manager, Assistant Treasurer, Payroll Accounting Manger, and on Friday, Manager of the company Benefit Program—paying medical claims for the salaried employees.

A couple of weeks after New Years in January, 1976, I received an invitation to lunch by a Ham Radio friend. I had been a Ham Radio operator for four years and was interested in RTTY, Radio Teletype. So was my friend.

I had spent my Christmas Holiday building a RTTY demodulator. The device decoded two RTTY tones received over the air and converted the tones to Baudot code for the TTY printer. In transmit mode, it received Baudot code from my TTY keyboard and converted that code into two tones that would be transmitted over the air. I had designed and built the demodulator from scratch. I was very proud of it and, at the request of my Ham Radio friend, took it with me. My Ham buddy wanted to see it.

When I arrived, I found my friend sitting with another. My friend was a field maintenance engineer for a Texas-based distributed computing company. The other person sitting at lunch was his boss. The boss was based in Minneapolis and visited Kansas City monthly. That day was his January monthly visit.

The lunch went well. I presented my pride-and-joy, described the circuitry and the techniques I had used in its construction. After twenty minutes, my friend received a customer call, some equipment needed maintenance. He departed leaving me with his boss.

It was a setup.

It was a job interview. My friend had accepted a position within the company to be an instructor in the company school in San Antonio, TX. However, as part of the deal, he couldn’t leave Kansas City until he found a replacement. Me.

I impressed my interviewer. I lacked knowledge of digital computing but I did have more knowledge of basic electronics than many of the current field engineers of the company. By the end of lunch, I had a job offer, for the Kansas City area, at twice my salary of my job at the milling company.

I took it! My wife was five months pregnant and my salary of $600/mth was small compared with the cost of a growing family.

I had been coasting since leaving the Air Force. My job at the milling company was dead-end. It was a family owned business and all the higher positions were limited to family members or very close family friends. The new job had more opportunities and the potential for a much larger salary.

That pivot point changed our life. I became a field engineer. A few years later, I was second level support covering a four state territory. Not long after that, I was third level support for a seven state area and a regular visiting instructor in the company school teaching disk-drive maintenance, software design and programming and telecommunications.

I have no idea what our life would have been if I hadn’t accepted that invitation to lunch. I’ve lost touch with my Ham Radio friend. A decade later the computer company was bought by a financier who broke up company and sold the pieces.

That field engineering job eventually lead to position with Sprint that lasted until I retired as a Principle Network Design Engineer. While working at Sprint I was a programmer, manager, systems design enginer and finally a project manager. I acquired seven patents along the way.  All in all, it’s been a good life.

I wonder if I will meet Mike Rathbun again. I think I will.

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