Year in Review 1996
October 1, 1996 was the first day for Lucent Technologies and it was my last day so I became the first person to retire from Lucent Technologies. The next day, I retired after a career of 30 years at Bell Labs. What an honor to be part of an elite team of dedicated people who pioneered computerized telephone switching, first in the USA and then worldwide. These types of switches have created the heart of the infrastructure of the information age. My career spanned almost exactly the period of evolution from the introduction of electronic switches to the point that they dominate the telecommunication networks of every country. The advanced countries have reached or will achieve 100% conversion in this decade. The general public is aware of these switches because of new features like Call Waiting, Caller Id or ISDN, the faster call setup times on long distance and international calls, the explosion of cellular phone services, etc. Access to the Internet is via these switches. The switches from Bell Labs, as you would guess, are the most reliable in the world with downtimes of just a minute a year.
A career at Bell Labs was a rare opportunity to learn something new every day and exercise all parts of your brain. Working with top people multiplies what one person can accomplish.
This year has been the year of the long good bye. My retirement was announced in January and then delayed due to managements request. I've been to many receptions, lunches and dinners in the US and Japan this year with groups or one on one. Tough to say good-bye to so many good friends, colleagues and customers, but it was time to retire.
Just before retirement my father had a health crisis and both my brother and I spent a lot of time in Dallas helping our dad. That month made a pivotal impact and now things are back to normal. My father has been retired for 28 years. At the end of October, I got permission to visit the grave of Alexander Graham Bell. I flew to Canada and, by chance, stayed in the same hotel room Bell lived in while his estate was being built. As part of my rite of passage to retirement, Ive written an essay about him for your enjoyment.
In 1966 I started at Bell Telephone Laboratories in New Jersey in real-time programming on the No. 1 ESS, Electronic Switching System. This was the first commercial ESS in the world and it was the first and historic step to replace all of the old electromechanical telephone switches. There were only two ESS offices in service in the world when I started. This was an exciting time to be a programmer because so many basic concepts were still new.
In the fall, Bell Labs transferred me to Illinois, and sent me to the University of Chicago for a Masters degree in Computer Science as part of their Graduate Study Program. My first major project was designing a billing system for PBXs (private business telephone switches) connected to the No. 1 ESS, and I developed a reputation for designing with customers as a first priority -- I was a bit ahead of my time.
In September 1972, I was selected for a special program and sent to Illinois Bell for two years to be a second level Switching manager. See transfer letter and luncheon announcement. At Illinois Bell where I managed 55 people, I was responsible central office maintenance for Aurora, (the second largest city in Illinois), Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles, Elburn, Big Rock, Sugar Grove, Oswego and Yorkville. The full history of switching equipment Step-by-Step, Crossbar, No 1 ESS, No 2 ESS had to interoperate to provide local and toll services. (Humorous view of Aurora.) Part of my job was selecting staff to be retrained to operate new ESS Switches replacing the old Step-by-Step equipment. (See Yorkville announcement with 2 of my employees.) So how did I do? (Read my performance review.)
Seven months after returning, I was sent on a high priority assignment to New York City after the massive Second Avenue fire in 1975, the worst fire in telecommunications history whose restoral required over 2,000 people. For the second phase of the restoral, I coordinated Bell Labs support helping achieve the fastest installation ever for a No. 1 ESS. A memo from Western Electic on March 31 showed an in service date of June 30th -- 3 months instead of the normal one year and a memo from New York Telephone shows my taking up on-site residency for the duration. Nice when your efforts are reported to an executive you admire by an executive you respect.
In 1976, I was promoted to supervise the call processing group. Bell Labs News published the announcement on page 4 in March 1976. In 1977 I volunteered when the International Switching department was created and headed the planning group. This was a pure adrenaline rush because everything was new: the features required, how to compete (novel then because we had a closed system mentality) and how to deal with customers.
My job was to determine what should be developed and when, in order to win each job. I was the technical support of the sales people and frequently traveled overseas (Korea, Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica, Egypt, Singapore, China, Russia, the Netherlands, etc.) giving presentations to customers and interviewing them to understand their needs. I became a kind of bridge person who could find the balance point to satisfy the conflicts between systems engineers, developers, business people and customers. This was a very demanding role as our organization continued to grow in size, complexity and entropy.
Our first major project in International Switching was the introduction of millions of lines of 1A ESS switches into South Korea. I was a co-author of a Bell Labs Record article in 1983, vol 61, number 6 which provided an overview of the entire project. The Call Failure Analysis feature, described on the last page, was not a customer requirement, but a new type of feature I initiated. This feature allowed 1A ESS switches to analyze failures in existing electromechanical switches significantly improving network completion rates.
As the only manager who was in International Switching since the beginning, I feel proud that now 40% of our ESS sales are overseas. One project I initiated, the 5ESS international gateway switch, is now in service in 42 countries.
In 1990, since I had the most experience and expertise in breaking into new markets, I was assigned to break into the Japanese market. This was considered a kind of mission impossible since we had failed in 1985 in a very high-profile attempt. Visiting Japan as a tourist in 1971 and twice in the 1980s, I admired what the Japanese had accomplished, but did not understand how Japan functioned. With some luck and a lot of organizational support, I was able to break into Japan and now we are the best-positioned foreign supplier. For example, all operator calls and many cellular calls in Japan are on our 5ESS switches. After 60 trips to Japan in the past 6 years, I do understand many of the differences in perception of common sense. For me and many others, this has been a profound learning experience and an opportunity to routinely work at the limits of human endurance. Opening the market to Japan has meant that literally hundreds of people from each country have visited the other. Many friendships have been created. Four children have been born, so far, in the opposite country. Many thanks to all of the wonderful colleagues and customers across 30 years!
The expensive election of 1996 cost $1.6 billion and resulted in no change in the composition of Congress or White House. Clinton ran as a Republocrat instead of a Demopublican. It was Clinton (The era of Big Government is over) vs. Dole (Tax collector of the Welfare state posing as a tax cutter) in a boring race. There was no discussion of major issues since the duopoly closed ranks to keep out of the debates the only other two Presidential candidates on the ballot in all 50 states, Ross Perot and Harry Browne, the Libertarian Party candidate. Harry Browne, linked deed with message, by being the first Presidential candidate to meet the standards for public money and refuse to take it.
A historical shift is occurring. The public gave no mandate for any new government programs, and is placing less and less confidence in government in general. Basically, government is becoming less relevant. Only one adult in four voted for Clinton. The deficit has been coming down for the last 4 years because the Federal government needs to borrow so much money that it must listen to the bond market. Market realities are going to compel governments to be more rational. We will not be able to afford the regulations and programs that prevent us from competing with other countries.