MY SPACE – Satyajit Dutta, [email protected]
"After three days on the job, I was introduced to the Engineering Manager, Dr. Ed Baker who had 200 engineers working for him. He wanted to know which part of India I was from. When I told him that I was from Assam, he asked me in broken Assamese, “Tumar ki khobor?”
In 1963, I was campus-recruited to work at a multinational company one semester before my US undergraduate electronic engineering programme ended. When I met the recruiter, he refused to interview me as I was on a student visa and I was supposed to leave the country after my graduation. Next day, I met him again at the college cafeteria and he was having lunch. I asked him if I could join him. We talked a lot – about American culture, values, politics, etc. He was impressed that I had done so many odd jobs during the winter and summer breaks. Some of my odd jobs were as a waiter in a restaurant, a uniformed doorman at a fancy hotel, working in a hospital – experiences that helped me appreciate working class values. He was laughing when I told him about my first waiter job at a restaurant when I had dropped a hot bowl of soup on a customer’s lap.
By the end of lunch, he was keenly interested in getting me an interview with his company. He called up his employer and arranged it. So I took a free trip to the site and had several technical people interview me. I was offered a job as a junior engineer before I left the site.
When I joined the company after my graduation, I was the only Asian at the 500-people plant. After three days on the job, I was introduced to the Engineering Manager, Dr. Ed Baker who had 200 engineers working for him. He wanted to know which part of India I was from. When I told him that I was from Assam, he asked me in broken Assamese, “Tumar ki khobor?” I was taken aback. Apparently, he had lived in Chabua, Jorhat, during WWII and had spent more than a year there as a 21-year-old American soldier. After the War, he got his PhD and started working as an engineer.
When I told him about my father who was in WWII with the British Army, he embraced me as a young brother. Despite his busy schedule, he would come to my office to take me to the lab to teach me about new electronic equipment, to test the microelectronic circuits under microscope. The others at the plant were surprised that the big boss was so friendly with a junior engineer. After four years in the company, he left to join a university in the West Coast. He was a great mentor to me.
My immediate manager was Gordon (Gordy) who was a great person to work for. He took care of his employees like his own children. My office mate, Sam, was from New York City. Sam and I had lots of fun with Gordy. Once Gordy bought a big new station wagon for his family as he had four children. One day, during lunch break, Sam and I went out and filled up his station wagon’s gas (petrol) tank. Gordy then drove his car for miles without filling up. One day, he came to our office and took us for a ride. He was puzzled that his car did not need any gas. I asked him to open the hood and pointed out a few pipes under the hood; the car had been running on a mixture of air and water. Gordy was so excited that we went to the car dealer; the dealer thought we were crazy and told us to call the manufacturers – General Motors (GM). Gordy called GM but they hung up.
He gave us outstanding performance reviews every year and that was because on appraisal day, we would take him out for lunch and cocktails. By the time, he gave us the appraisal worksheet, he was probably half-drunk. Gordy passed away several years ago in Mexico where he decided to retire.
In 1966, I took a leave of absence from my employer to visit my folks in Shillong for a month. Instead of a month, I stayed back for three months, enjoyed my mom’s cooking and I even got married. Back then, the only way to communicate was through telegrams. By the end of every month, I sent a telegram to my manager – ‘Delayed for three weeks due to bad monsoon weather.’ Another one after three weeks, ‘Request extension.’ The last one was: ‘Getting married as per parents’ wish’.
When I landed back at the US airport with my new, beautiful bride, I called my manager Gordon, “Hey Gordy, do I still have my job?” Gordon replied, “Yes, yes, we were concerned about your safety there.”
Although I do not miss the high-pressured job, I do miss my colleagues, office politics, the folks who worked for me, and the after-hour cocktail get-togethers. It has been a joyous and very productive several decades of my life. But the years passed by all too quickly.
(The writer lives in Austin, Texas. He retired as a semiconductor microchip design engineer / manager and he has 30 US patents.)