How do you thank someone for the life lessons they taught you—especially the ones that helped you build a long, satisfying career? If you are Harry T. Roman, you write a book—or even two books—about it.
That’s what this IEEE Life Senior Member has done, with his always-inspiring and often-humorous new two-volume e-book, Valuable Career Lessons I Learned in Dad’s Workshop. In Volume 1, new this month, Roman concentrates on what he learned from his father about creativity and planning ahead.
“It’s amazing what you can learn when you’re apprenticed to someone who knows how to teach and mentor,” writes Roman. “I was fortunate to have a Father who loved to solve problems and invent things on the spot.”
Describing his boyhood as his “wonder years,” the author relates, with both admiration and insights, how he learned valuable career lessons while helping his Father in the large basement workshop of their home. His Dad, a master of what the Roman calls “unstructured problem solving,” discarded almost nothing. At the same time, his Father always found new, repurposed uses for the most mundane items–including used-up batteries and the cast-off foot pedal for a sewing machine.
Roman explains that his Father honed his skills during World War II–making repairs with what was on hand. His naval detachment in the South Pacific jungles fixed anything the enemy had blown up and the military wanted fixed. Before enlisting, the elder Roman had grown up on a farm, where he learned to repair broken farm equipment with what was readily available.
“Down in the basement,” writes Roman, I was apprenticed to a man who was teaching me how to get my hands around a problem and how to use my head.” Spare parts, he learned, can be a goldmine at stimulating creative thought.
In a humorous anecdote that illustrates the need for thinking creatively, the author relates an incident when his Father repaired an old toaster that his Mother really had wanted to replace. Roman’s dad spot-welded the connection back to the heating element–using two carbon rods that he had scavenged from old batteries.
The elder Roman also taught his Son that planning ahead, by having the right tools on hand to perform a job, was absolutely necessary to a successful outcome. For example, when preparing to work on the family car, Roman’s Dad insisted on laying out all the necessary tools and parts the night before.
“The penalty for not having the right tools was always the same,” Roman writes. “If I caused the work to stop for want of a tool, I had to put all the tools back in the tool box, lug it all the way back to the workshop, get the right tool, and lug everything all the way back again.”
However, he notes that learning to have the right tools stayed with him his entire engineering career, and that particular lesson taught him to plan and organize well. He points out that if his planning and organization skills had not been good, he would not have survived–much less, thrived. Roman says that such skills maximize scarce corporate resources, and demonstrate to senior management an appreciation for taking care of the company’s property.
“In 36 years on the job, I never overran a budget,” he says. “I attribute that to Dad and the lessons I leaned in the old basement workshop.”
A fan of Thomas Edison for almost all his life, Roman peppers the volume with various quotes attributed to the famed inventor, such as “To invent, you need a good imagination, and a pile of junk.”
The author was a child when Edison first inspired him. Since retiring from PSE&G in 2006, he has spent much of his time working at the Thomas Edison National Historic Park in West Orange, N.J., and with the Edison Innovation Foundation.
Roman holds 12 United States patents; and he has published more than 550 scientific papers, articles, monographs and books. His many honors and recognitions from IEEE and other organizations for his contributions to technology education include the 2015 Region 1 Excellence in Teaching Award. He also has published more than 70 resource books, science kits, and other educational products.
Valuable Career Lessons I Learned in Dad’s Workshop, Volume 1, is available at https://ieeeusa.org/shop/ for $2.99 for members and $4.99 for non-members.
Volume 2, covering responsibility, communication, and continuous learning, will be available soon.
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.