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Gain Your Own Fame: Once Upon a Time at Cape Canaveral

by Justin Hall, CIO

Justin-HallThis story begins in the very early days of the space program, when NASA and its vendors IBM, Grumman and others were looking to hire staff to work at Cape Canaveral. The advertisement was simple: they were “looking for many good people.” Interviews and hiring were conducted at a very fast pace, and the competition to get good people was at a then all-time high. I went to work at IBM, which had the mission to build and manage the Instrument Unit (IU), the “brains” for each of the Saturn Vehicles (which we all referred to as “birds”).

Those of us (about 25) who were starting with IBM were being temporarily housed in a very large NASA building several miles from the Saturn rocket Launch Pad. In the corner of several of the conference rooms in this building were racks of schematic diagrams for each of the major systems that IBM would be responsible for: Guidance Computer, Stable Table, RCA 110 computers, Ground Network, Power Systems, AGCS Network etc.) Each person was assigned to the area in which they would be working.

The management team instructed us to remain in the conference rooms except at lunchtime. Those were the only instructions we were given. No one mentioned or even looked at the schematic diagrams lying in plain sight. We could do whatever we wanted, (read magazines, newspapers, play cards, etc.) We were going to be in the room between four to six weeks; by the end of the first day, the schematics remained unnoticed. By the second day, one other employee and I picked them up and learned that they covered all the systems for which IBM would be responsible. We at once began tracing circuits and drawing simplified diagrams. By the end of the fourth week, we knew how all the systems were interconnected and how they worked. The two of us continued working while the other new hires waited for instructions.

At the end of the waiting period, our new team moved to the launch facility to assist in verification procedures for the operation of the ground support equipment. We did not yet have a bird on the pad. About the time we finished verification on the ground support equipment, the various pieces of the Launch Vehicle “bird” arrived. The first and second stages of the vehicle were stacked, mated and connected, and then the Instrument Unit mounted on top of the second stage. Now it was time to ‘power up’. Both my friend and I were assigned to networks, and we weren’t happy because we drew Block House assignments instead of getting in the AGCS area (computer room under the Launch Vehicle) where all the cool equipment was housed.

Two days later, IBM had all stations manned for the initial power up of the IU. Picture twelve IBM systems engineers sitting at their consoles, a NASA Test Supervisor and an IBM Manager ready to get started. The NASA Test Supervisor said to the IBM Manager, “Power up the IU,” and guess what happened? The IBM Manager did not have a power up procedure. Imagine the pregnant pause and embarrassment! I then noticed a brown inter-communications envelope lying on the console next to me. On the back I wrote the twelve steps my new colleague and I had formulated in procedure format and quietly handed it to the IBM Manager. He read off the steps and the IU and all systems successfully powered up. The test was officially recorded as being successful.

If you want to “gain your fame,” look around and see what needs doing and offer to do it. If your skills don’t match what the task requires, consider getting those skills. There are people out there who wait to be told what to do, and there are people out there who do what they think is necessary to get the job done. Here at Bridge360 we strive to fill our teams with the latter, because that’s what we think is best for our clients. We look for people who take the initiative, like to solve puzzles, come up with ideas and become immersed in our clients’ business… always looking for better ways to do things.