Work Does Not Have to be a Four Letter Word
The Importance of Hobbies and Extra-Curricular Activities
I often meet people who talk about their dissatisfaction with work. I find this curious because I have always worked in industries, companies and products that match my personal passions. I ask them why they torture themselves in this way, and the most common answer is – they do not know.
Why can’t work and play intersect? Shouldn't this be very simple?
Maybe it's not so simple. But it can be - and should be - fun.
I have many personal passions, but consider electronics, radio technology, automobiles, mechanical devices and barbecuing/outdoor cooking my top five. I have had a fascination for wires and switches and meters and lights and sparks and fire ever since I can remember.
Magazine and Others
When I was a kid, instead of staying at home or sitting in the car when mom was grocery shopping, I would go with her, and stop at the magazine rack to read as many electronics and photography magazines as I could.
I became a subscriber to Popular Electronics magazine at about 10 years old. I still remember the time a salesman from the Cleveland Institute of Electronics came to our house. My mom answered the door. I thought it was funny seeing the salesman’s face when he found out the "sales lead from the magazine" turned out to be just a kid. I probably should have enrolled.
While in the eighth grade (12 or 13 years old), I won first place in the Science Fair physical sciences category by entering my “Photophone,” described in The Boy’s Fourth Book of Radio and Electronics, by Alfred P. Morgan. It used an International Rectifier (now Infineon) solar cell in the receiver. They no longer make solar cells.
Beyond Blinky Light Projects - Ham Radio
In high school, I met two guys that would become great friends. Bob Adams (now KA7CRE) and George Zafiropolous (now KJ6VU) were licensed ham radio operators. I met them in electric shop. All three of us were way beyond “blinking light projects” and made things like Morse Code practice oscillators and other things.
Before the end of high school, my family moved out of the area, but I kept in touch with Bob and George. I found a local ham radio operator who volunteered his time teaching Morse Code to people in the neighborhood. I rode my bicycle to his house, and Bob helped me learn the Code, a ham license requirement back then. Bob administered the Novice class exam for me, and he let me know that I passed. Unfortunately, although I had the ham radio license, I did not have any radio equipment to get on the air.
I decided to go to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Many years before enrolling, I noticed a very big ham radio antenna (four element cubical quad) on the roof of Boelter Hall, the engineering building. I had to go there to meet more ham radio guys – and get on the air!
The radio club at UCLA is officially named “The Amateur Radio Group of the Engineering Society of the University of California (ESUC) – W6YRA.” I operated the club radio station as much as possible. I was club president at one time. I spent so much time there, I got into academic trouble, but that’s another story.
My interest in electronics and ham radio continued, but my skills in the math department were disappointing. So I changed from studying physical sciences to the social sciences.
Work-Study and the Engineering Department
While attending UCLA, I needed money for books, tuition and rent. My college grant money was not enough to meet these needs, and my parents were not able to send any money my way. So, under a work-study program, I had some interesting on-campus jobs, including working at the Materiel Services Department for the engineering school.
Later, I landed a job assembling high voltage circuit boards for the physics department, using my electronics assembly and soldering experience. I think I was getting about eight bucks an hour for doing this. But it was so interesting and enjoyable, I would have done it for free – I valued the experience and resume fodder these jobs provided.
Getting a ‘Real Job’
After graduation, I became one of the statistical casualties of the times – an un-employed college graduate. Fortunately, my ham radio hobby paid off: I landed my first job out of college at the non-profit organization for ham radio operators in the USA: The American Radio Relay League (ARRL).
Combining my writing and editing skills with my ham radio experience made me a strong candidate for the position called Assistant Public Information Officer (later, I got a promotion, dropping the “assistant” part of the title). But I had to move from Southern California to Newington, Connecticut.
Working at the ARRL was fascinating, since I met and worked with all of the guys behind the ham radio articles I read ever since I was a kid. And – working at the NASA Public Affairs Office at the Johnson Space Center (Houston, TX) was my most memorable experience.
A Career Path
Not too long after that experience, ham radio once again influenced my work history. While attending an amateur radio trade show and meeting and talking to several people at various radio companies, I managed to come across an opportunity to work for one of the premier amateur radio equipment manufacturers. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was “networking” in my industry, and I enjoyed making new friends from all over the country – and even in different parts of the world.
There is no question in my mind that my writing, editing and ham radio experience helped me land the regional sales manager position at that company. Who wouldn’t take a job working in one’s most important personal passion? I loved the travel, meeting people and doing business with customers all over the country. Sure, there was a lot of stress, some of it good and some of it bad. But it is the same sort of stress experienced in any business and in any sales position.
While working at the radio company, more interesting opportunities came about – like appearing live on ABC News “NightLine” with Ted Koppel during Hurricane “Iniki” in Hawaii (1992). I provided live commentary about the disaster while listening to the ham radio emergency communications from the area using the company’s club station.
During job interviews, I often talk about my ham radio experience. This is especially effective when the company is electronics-related, and even more effective when the electronics technology is radio-related.
For example, I was in an interview with CEO Alex Lidow at International Rectifier. It was great to tell him my story about using International Rectifier parts in my projects, and winning first place in the eighth grade Science Fair. I landed the job, and it was a great place to work. I believe I still have the reputation of being the only “advertising guy” that actually used parts (MOSFETs, microelectronic relays, IGBTs and diodes) made by the company.
Another ham radio and career connection happened when I met the general manager at another semiconductor company during a radio club meeting. Once again, I did not know that I was “networking.” I was simply getting to know someone with similar interests, who happened to be in charge of an RF transistor company.
Advice and Encouragement
So whenever I meet someone with young kids in school, I tell them my ham radio, electronics and career path story and hope they understand the significance a childhood interest can become.
Electronics and ham radio was “it” for me, but the same thing can happen if kids are interested in mechanical things and gadgets. Or biological and life sciences. Or insects and bugs. Or programming on a computer. Or creating beautiful arts and crafts. Or mastering a musical instrument. Or becoming fluent in a foreign language. Or making something useful and selling the items to others.
It is never too early to expose and encourage young kids to interesting, positive and productive things to inspire a child’s future.
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