When Harry T. Roman was a boy, he learned many valuable life lessons while helping his father in the basement workshop of the family’s home. In fact, he learned so many, he wrote a two-volume e-book series–to share them with other engineering professionals who want to build a long, satisfying career.
Valuable Career Lessons I Learned in Dad’s Workshop, Volume 2, by this IEEE Life Senior Member is now available from IEEE-USA E-BOOKS. The first volume was introduced in September.
“The vignettes I present in this second volume discuss what I learned from a master teacher, and they demonstrate the importance of being responsible, developing good communication skills, and continuing to learn,” says Roman. “All are very relevant to today’s discussions about engineering, STEM and invention.”
The elder Roman, whom his son describes as “a master of unstructured problem- solving,” was a lifelong tinkerer. After growing up on a farm, where he learned to repair broken equipment with what was readily available, Roman’s dad further polished his skills during World War II. His naval detachment was stationed in the South Pacific where–with whatever was at hand–they fixed anything the enemy had blown up, and the military needed to be repaired.
“Down in the basement,” writes Roman, “I was apprenticed to a man who taught me how to get my hands around a problem, and how to use my head.”
With humor and love, the author relates how he learned personal responsibility through various tasks to help his father maintain the family car. “I can still hear him talking about how being able to get the car running again after a problem, including while on vacation or far from home, was a measure of a man’s responsibility to take care of his family,” he writes.
When Roman’s father acquired an old electric motor-driven compressor from an ice cream truck that was headed for the junkyard, he rebuilt it as an air compressor. Besides providing a ready supply of compressed air for the workshop, the fully charged unit (and at least one spare tire) went into the auto trunk before family vacations.
“Nothing stopped or deterred Dad from getting us home safely,” he writes. ”We also found plenty of use for that tank of air down in the shop.”
Another of his father’s homemade inventions provided bright light for auto maintenance, as well as other workshop tasks that required it. “Dad’s invention, now residing in my garage,” he writes, “is a headlight in a box, with a handle and one end of the box wide open. Two 50-foot electric wires connected to two large clamps were how we attached this contraption to the car’s battery.”
Roman writes that 35 years later, one of his father’s car-repair lessons–how to check generator output to diagnose battery and regulator problems–led to two of his many patents. “This lesson also vividly showed me how a generator serves load, and as that load increases, it will bog down the engine–requiring increasing engine speed to serve the load,” he adds.
The elder Roman also taught his son the value of good communications, a lesson that he relied on during his 36-year career with PSE&G, New Jersey’s largest utility company. Discussing the value of feedback, he observes that while his manager’s knowledge of both how to use the tools, and understanding the problems, helped ensure that everyone safely went home each night, he also encouraged members of his crews to provide daily feedback.
“If they had a better way or doing something, then that’s what we did,” he writes. “And I grew even more experienced.”Advertisement
Finally, Roman believes that his father’s television repair business, a side venture for him, is a perfect example of the value of continued learning. He recalls that as “the sorcerer’s apprentice,” he learned everything from how to start a business to promoting it, ordering supplies, and talking with customers.
“As printed circuits and transistors began to replace vacuum tubes, Dad and I also had to lean about them,” he observes. “Of course, he had developed an interesting way of diagnosing bad semiconductor components. He would spray canned refrigerant onto the surface of the semiconductor in question, and if the problem abated, it was generally a positive test for finding a faulty component.”
An unabashed devotee of Thomas Edison, Roman scatters the volume with various quotes attributed to the inventor, such as “To have a great idea, have a lot of them.”
The author was in elementary school when he was first inspired by Edison. 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, and with the Edison Innovation Foundation.
Roman holds 12 U.S. 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 1 discusses creativity, having the right tools, and planning and organizing.
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.