story reads like an infomercial for IBM, which it probably is. Of course
infomercials had not been invented by 1957, so IBM was ahead of its
time. The answer to the article's title, "How Far Can You Go in Electronics
Without a Degree?" is was the same 55 years ago as it is today: As far
as your intellect and ambition will take you. Back then, as with today,
few people could rise to the level of design engineer without a college
degree. However, there are many aspects of electronics that requires
no formal education at all if you possess the requisite skills. I never
have bought into the feel-good lie about anyone being able to be whatever
they wanted to be. Some people simply cannot achieve the mastery necessary
to do a particular job.
September 1957 Popular Electronics
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
How Far Can You Go in Electronics Without a Degree?
Bill Miles talks frankly about the technician's, biggest problem
years ago, degreeless Bill Miles had reached a blind alley in his career.
Yet today, with IBM, he's actually supervising engineers in America's
biggest electronics project. Here's how this technician broke through
the "education barrier."
"Training and local assignments," recalls
Bill Miles, "were what caught my eye when I saw an IBM ad in 1955. So
I investigated. Now here I am with an advanced electronics education
under my belt - and responsibility as a Group Supervisor in Project
SAGE. I work on the world's largest and most advanced computer. I live
in my home town. And my future in the company is what I make it. Yet
only 2 years ago, I thought I'd gone as far as a technician ever could!"
Becomes radar technician. Bill's background
is typical of thousands of capable, ambitious technicians who never
acquired a formal engineering degree. His interest in electronics, aroused
in Camden, New Jersey, high school, was nourished by a 3-year stint
as Aviation Radar Technician in the Navy's "Black Cat" air-sea rescue
Discharged in 1946, Bill married a girl he'd known
in high school.. During the next 9 years, Bill was teacher in a radio-TV
institute, TV service man, TV company technician, and chief supervisory
TV technician. All the while he pursued an engineering education at
night. But growing family responsibilities made it more and more difficult.
Finds doors barred. However, feeling he was equipped
for greater responsibility, Bill, now 30, investigated several companies
but found that, while they liked his abilities, his lack of degree barred
the door to significant advancement.
Bill gets electronic computer education at IBM Kingston
Miles does diagnostic programming on the Operating Console of the
Miles nails down problem with Site Manager R. Schimmel
"Student" Bill Miles diagrams computer circuit
Enters IBM school.
In May 1955, when he moved his family to Kingston, New York, and started
at IBM, Bill wasn't quite sure what to expect. The 8-month training
course - valued at many thousands of dollars per man - had been the
big magnet for him.
"Sixty of us started school at IBM, attending
class 8 hours a day. The course consisted of about 20 subjects, mostly
dealing with computer circuits and units, and maintenance techniques.
The teaching was adult, superb. During training, we received a living
expense allowance, over and above salary. We kept our own grades, and
every 6 weeks when we reviewed them with the instructors, they asked
us for ways to improve the course.
I expected a casual 'hello'
when I met the Division Manager of Education, but he talked to me for
an hour about myself and my interests. IBM has real concern for you
as an individual, both before and after they hire you."
Joins home-town computer site. Bill had joined IBM
as a Field Systems Engineer. After graduation, Bill was assigned to
a computer site near his home in Mt. Holly, New Jersey, with IBM paying
his moving expenses. For the first two months he helped install the
SAGE computer, an important link in America's air defense. Ultimately,
such computers will ring America's entire air defense perimeter.
World's largest computer. "The computer is probably
the largest one in the world, with over a million components. Flattened
out, it would probably fill a ball field. The computer analyzes radar
data on every object in the sky. Then it checks each object against
available traffic information and identifies it as either friendly or
hostile. It can make suggestions, but it can't send a Nike missile against
what it thinks is a 'baddie.' Only airmen can make that decision."
Supervises fifteen. Recently promoted to Group
Supervisor, Bill now directs an entire shift of 15 men, reporting to
a Group Manager. His job: to maintain the computer in combat readiness.
"I have to be familiar with the entire system. I rely on two types of
specialists to help me: computer units men who are specialists in certain
areas; systems engineers for the over-all computer."
question remains: Is Bill really an engineer?
"No, I certainly
don't consider myself a 'professional' engineer, qualified to design
machines, for instance. But the point is, I'm doing work ordinarily
done by engineers ... work usually denied to men without a degree."
IBM upgrades technicians. Could he do this
elsewhere? "Of all the companies I know, IBM appears to be one of the
few upgrading the technician to the level of engineering responsibility.
Fortunately for me, IBM had the imagination to get men without degrees
and encourage them to rise in responsibility and income to the level
of their native talents ... not what their formal education dictates."
Since Bill Miles joined IBM, opportunities in the Project SAGE
program, destined for long-range national importance, have grown more
promising than ever. If IBM considers your experience equivalent to
an E.E., M.E. or Physics degree, you'll receive 8 months' training,
as a Computer Systems Engineer. If you have 2 years' technical schooling
or the equivalent experience, you'll receive 6 months' training, as
a Computer Units Field Engineer, with opportunity to assume full engineering
responsibility. Assignment in area of your choice. Every channel of
advancement in entire company open - and IBM is leader in a field that's
skyrocketing in growth. All the customary benefits and more. Write to
Mr. N. H. Heyer, Room No. 12609, IBM, Kingston, New York.