Getting a job
It was the fall of 1958. I would soon graduate, and the end of the decade of the fifties was in sight. I didn't realize it then, but it was a great time to be a newly-minted electrical engineer. The modern Computer Age had begun around 1953 with the implementation of the first "compiler," the Cold War between the United States and the USSR was escalating, and The Space Race had begun in 1957 with Russia's October 4th launch of the "Sputnik" satellite.
For companies such as General Electric, RCA, Westinghouse, IBM, as well as the large aerospace companies, it was time to hire all the electrical engineers they could find. For me, it was time to begin the job hunt. It all came together at the Purdue Student Union.
The procedure was well established. In the fall and winter, companies seeking to hire spring graduates came to campus to interview prospective candidates. Purdue did a good job of facilitating the interviews. In November and December, 1958, I spent a lot of time in the Student Union being interviewed. The follow-up letter that would arrive within weeks, if not days, of an interview usually contained either an outright job offer or an offer of an all-expense-paid interview trip. What a kick!
After the semester break the interview-trip process began on January 26th with a trip to Zenith Corporation in Chicago. As a result I received a job offer with a starting salary of $520 per month. The offer letter stated, "We expect to have an active project very closely related to your interest in electronic musical instruments, and if this materializes we would assign you to this work."
On Saturday, March 7th, Ken Genoni, Fred Glaski and I flew to New York City. Ken and Fred had interviews with companies hiring chemical engineers, and I had interviews lined up for Monday through Wednesday at Sperry Gyroscope in Great Neck, at Norden Division of United Aircraft in White Plains, and at Hazeltine Corporation in little Neck on Long Island. I received job offers from each of these companies.
On Tuesday and Wednesday during Easter break---March 31st and April 1st---I interviewed with Automatic Electric in Northlake, Illinois, and at ElectroVoice in Buchanan, Michigan. I received job offers from these two companies.
On Wednesday afternoon, April 8th, I flew to Midway and then to Boston for an April 9th interview at Ratheon in Wayland, Massachusetts. The hotels were full in Boston, and Raytheon arranged for me to share a room at the Framingham Motor Inn with another applicant, Robert Marschall, from Newark. The trip was a major hassle, but the interviews went well. The next day, Friday, April 10th, I interviewed at Sylvania in Needham, Massachusetts. On April 28th I received a letter from Sylvania offering me a position at $533 per month in their Advanced Development Computer Department. As was customary, the offer was contingent upon my obtaining appropriate "security clearance from the Armed Forces." Raytheon followed up on May 1st with a nice offer of $540 per month and my choice of three positions: (1) Working with section head Tom Weil in the Transmitter Section of the Surface Radar Department; (2) Working with Max Michelson, manager of the Microwave and Receiver Section of the Ordnance Radar Department; or (3) a position in the Communications Department.
On Sunday, April 19th, I again flew east for an April 20th interview at IBM in Owego. This visit was particularly memorable. I was in my motel the night before and noticed that the television was unplugged. I put the plug between two fingers and reached behind the desk to plug it in. Fire shot out of the outlet and blackened the fingers on my left hand. The motel was very helpful in getting me to an emergency room. The next day I went to the interview at IBM, and not a single person at IBM asked me why I had this huge gauze bandage wrapped around my hand. Since privacy rights weren't such a big deal in the good old 50s (HIPAA didn't come along until 1996), that struck me as strange. As it turned out, they sent me a rejection letter
A week later, I took yet another trip east for an April 27th interview with Sylvania in Buffalo, New York.
The procedure for a typical trip east was to fly from Chicago's Midway airport to New York on a DC6. The trip from Purdue to Midway was either by car or by DC3 out of the Purdue airport. On my last trip I had my first flight on a Boeing 707. Passenger jets were just being introduced and flew from O'Hare airport, since the Midway runways weren't long enough for a 707.
By May 1st, 1959, I had received job offers with salaries in the range of $490 to $560 per month from the following companies:
- AC Spark Plug Div. of GM, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- AiResearch Manufacturing, Los Angeles, California
- Automatic Electric, Northlake, Illinois
- Autonetics Div. of North American Aviation, Downey, California
- ElectroVoice, Buchanan, Michigan
- Hammond Organ, Chicago, Illinois
- Hazeltine Electronics, Little Neck, L.I. New York
- Norden Div. of United Aircraft, White Plains, New York
- Missle Div. of North American Aviation, Downey, California
- Raytheon, Wayland, Massachusetts
- RCA, Camden, New Jersey
- Sperry Gyroscope, Great Nect, New York
- Sylvania, Needham, Massachusetts
- Westinghouse, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Zenith Radio, Chicago, Illinois
It would have been a very difficult choice but for the fact that Hughes Aircraft, based in California, offered me a "Hughes Fellow" position at a salary of $670 per month. This meant that I could get a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering at USC with tuition and expenses paid by Hughes. I would work 26 hours per week at Hughes and get paid for whatever hours I worked. Hughes counted on a high percentage of the Fellows sticking around after graduation, but there were no explicit strings attached. I accepted Hughes’ offer. I was about to turn 23.