During my several careers I had the good fortune to learn from three mentors, and as I wrap up my career, they deserve mention. I hope you have had equally good fortune to work for and with such good people.
Seventh grade caused me nothing but problems, and my interest in science and math waned. Things changed in eighth grade science with John Shuttleworth, who had just started in our district. John rekindled my interest in science. He taught well and made science interesting and fun. Things started to look better. Luckily, I had John as my high school chemistry teacher. At last I could follow problems and solve them due to John’s clear explanations and step-by-step examples. I had the feeling I might have a career in science after all. Eventually I earned degrees in chemistry.
When I got to grad school, I met David Larsen, who taught an “electronics for scientists” class at Virginia Tech. We hit it off right away, and a few years later Dave helped several of us start a company that created educational electronic hardware and books for people interested in computers and electronics. Dave showed us new ways to approach business, gave us encouragement, and suggested helpful marketing ideas. I learned a lot about how to work with people, how to communicate well, how to conduct business fairly, and how to carefully evaluate business opportunities. He might not realize how much I learned from him and how I still enjoy our friendship. Now Dave promotes amateur radio for personal and emergency communications in the Republic of Dominica through his FAIRS charity based in Floyd, Vir.
When I became chief editor at EDN magazine in 1986, Roy Forsberg was the editorial director. We got along well, enjoyed working together, and shared an editorial vision for the magazine. Roy wouldn’t put up with nonsense, and, as a Naval Academy graduate, he knew how to lead and how to inspire people. I learned more and better leadership skills from Roy, as well as how to formulate and present business and marketing ideas and plans.
During “rough spots,” I knew Roy would listen and offer helpful advice. I cannot remember Roy ever giving direct orders to me or other people. Instead, he helped people understand what we needed to do and we knew he would support us. I enjoyed my time working with Roy and our friendship continues. I can’t thank Roy enough for his mentoring.
These three men share characteristics of good mentors. They all provided guidance without issuing “orders” to do something, and they gave helpful advice and suggestions based on their experiences. My mentors had a solid moral and ethical foundation on which they based their actions. Good mentors also challenged me to continue learning new skills and to try new things, even though I might (and did) make mistakes. And instead of saying “this is wrong,” or something similar, they pointed out errors and problems, and helped me learn from them. My three mentors had excellent reputations, which made me and others admire them and want to live up to their expectations.
Mentoring goes beyond the work environment. My mentors became friends as we talked about family, education, astronomy, sailing, landscaping, home maintenance, flying, travel, and many other interesting subjects. Good mentoring requires a personality that puts people at ease talking about themselves.
I write this column as my last in a long series for Design News. Time has come for retirement so I can mentor pre-engineering high-school students, spoil grandkids, spend time in my lab and shop, and travel with Jane, my wife of 43 years. Thanks to the Design News staff I had freedom to write about topics I thought engineers would find helpful. I wish you good health and good fortune, dear readers.