About James McNaul
James McNaul was born on August 20, 1933, in Madison Wisconsin. His father was an engineer professor and machine designer-he designed most United States car oil sticks. McNaul attended the University of Madison and obtained his bachelor’s degree in engineering in January 1956. Upon graduating, McNaul entered the Army Signal Corps, where he met his wife of fifty years, Lois, and resigned in the fall of 1959. He remained, as a civilian, in the labs until 1964. In November 1957, McNaul organized a systems-oriented conference at Fort Monmouth and hosted a classified and unclassified part. After he left the military, McNaul worked in the private sector and went to Stanford Sloan program for his Ph.D. Interested in professionalism, he focused his dissertation research on professionals in organizations.
The second president of the EMC Society in 1957, McNaul suggested IEEE become national and was an integral member in the creation of the EMC Society. This interview- part of the IEEE EMC project- concentrates on McNaul’s army years, his involvement in the nascent years of the RFI and EMC professional group and his thoughts on engineering educational programs and ethics.
About the Interview
JAMES MCNAUL: An Interview Conducted by John Vardalas, IEEE History Center, 16 June 2005
Interview #453 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
James McNaul, an oral history conducted in 2005 by John Vardalas, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.
Interview: James McNaul
Interviewer: John Vardalas
Date: 16 June 2005
Place: Reno, Nevada
Vardalas: This is part of the EMC [Electromagnetic Compatibility Society] Project. Thank you very much for the interview, Jim. Let me start with the obvious. When and where were you born?
McNaul: I was born in Madison, Wisconsin on August 20th, 1933 to a college professor at the University of Wisconsin. We always had technical things around the house and I was always interested in technology.
Vardalas: Did you spend most of your youth in Madison?
McNaul: I spent all of my youth there until I graduated and went to work. I was there until I was twenty-three years old. It was a great place to grow up. Madison was a wonderful town.
Vardalas: Tell me about growing up as a boy and what you recall.
McNaul: I was a university kid. My father did consulting work in addition to teaching and he had a drafting room next to his office. On weekends he would go into the drafting room. He would take me with him and I would wander around the mechanical engineering building looking at all the machines. I tried not to get into trouble but occasionally did.
Vardalas: Was he a mechanical engineer?
McNaul: He was a machine designer and did consulting work for several companies in Milwaukee. In fact he designed the machinery that made virtually all of the oil sticks for cars in the United States. Just three companies made all those.
Vardalas: That was production machinery.
McNaul: Right. And he taught machine design.
Vardalas: You were a university kid.
McNaul: People talk about Army brats; well, I was a university brat.
Vardalas: Were you precocious? Were you interested in this kind of thing very early in life?
McNaul: Yes. I was always interested in science. We had a very good school system. I went from 6th grade into junior high, which was a part of the high school. Junior high was on the first floor and high school was on the second floor, but they had a combined library. Immediately when I went into 7th grade I was introduced to this huge library that had just everything. I was a reader, so I was reading chemistry and physics books and trying experiments. About that same time my parents gave me a chemistry set and a physics kit for Christmas, so I was doing all kinds of things and smelling up the house.
Vardalas: Yes. Didn't we all do that?
McNaul: I remember once I found a formula in a schoolbook for explosive paper and I made a batch. It didn't work very well, but I did it in the kitchen sink. There were some little specks of it around and my father went over to scrape them off and it exploded under his fingernail. It smarted. However he encouraged me.
Vardalas: He did?
McNaul: Absolutely. He helped me.
Vardalas: Did he spend time with you?
McNaul: He spent time with me. If I needed some mechanical thing for a project or something, he'd go down to the university with me and get on the lathe and turn out whatever part I needed. I grew up in a hands-on learning environment.
Vardalas: I see. Were you a sociable kind of boy?
McNaul: I think probably not until I got into high school. I was more introverted and did a lot of reading. I had a few friends and we played and did the things kids do, but I didn't go out of my way for social activities.
Vardalas: Were in interested in any kind of sports?
McNaul: I managed a baseball team for three years. I was the center fielder because I couldn't hit worth a darn, but no, I was never big on sports. In university I liked shooting and was captain of the pistol team and got my letter that at Wisconsin.
Vardalas: Reading all this science and literature from an early age, did you see yourself going into science? Did you see yourself having a career in science when you were in high school?
McNaul: I think I knew I was going into some technology area from the first time I thought about it. I really focused on electrical experiments. I think I was probably one of the first people who bought a Heath kit right after the war. I had all kinds of Heath kit test instruments and everything.
Vardalas: When you think back, given that your father was a mechanical engineer, did you choose something new to get away from him? Why did the electrical aspect grab you?
McNaul: At that time, a night after the war, there was a lot in the literature, newspapers and books on the contribution of communications, code breaking, and science to winning the war. Computers were just beginning to come in as a way of doing things, although of course not in the sense we think of them today. I remember seeing an early analog computer. My father took me to see it right after the war at the electrical engineering department. It was a monster with wires and everything that took up a huge room. The professor there, who became one of my professors later, was telling us what it did. I was thinking, "How can a box do things like that?"
Vardalas: Now that you had the bug for science or engineering, what do you think about the education you got in high school? Did that help or hinder you?
McNaul: It was a good education because it was a broad education. We had a great physics teacher and a great chemistry teacher who let us do a lot on our own. If we wanted to stay after school and run some other experiments beyond the class work we could do that. This was a time when teachers came in at 7:00 in the morning and stayed until 5:30 or 6 o'clock at night – and made students stay if they weren't doing their homework. They encouraged me. I was awarded the Bausch & Lomb Science Award in high school. I didn't take the scholarship.
Vardalas: I got one too.
McNaul: Good. I think I was really encouraged, and I never even considered going anywhere but Wisconsin.
Vardalas: Why is that?
McNaul: I don't know. I guess because I felt so close to it with my father being there.
Vardalas: Did he encourage you to try elsewhere?
McNaul: Yes, he encouraged me to try elsewhere, and I said, "No. They've got a good electrical engineering department. I am going to go here." And that's what I did. However my father also encouraged me not to stick to just engineering. He really was an engineer's engineer. However working with other companies and consulting I think he saw that to really make it in engineering one needed a broader perspective. Being a teacher he didn't have to worry about that. He encouraged me to take all my electives in either English or speech. I took three speech courses and two or three English courses. I used up most of my electives, which were not very many, in that area rather than in taking history or other things.
Vardalas: Did you find that enjoyable or was it painful?
McNaul: It was painful when I started, but as I got better at it then it became a pleasure. I came to enjoy speaking and I still enjoy it. I think I'm a good speaker. I hated writing in high school. I hated English. I don't know whether I saw a need to take English in college or it just kind of came to me. Now I have written books and articles.
Vardalas: When did you graduate from the University of Wisconsin?
McNaul: January of '56.
Vardalas: Did you think of going to graduate school?
McNaul: I did, but at that time we were at the residue of the Korean War and the Cold War so I was in the Army ROTC for four years. I was in the Signal Corps specifically because I was in electrical engineering. At that time we had a two-year commitment when we got out. Due to my good grades I was offered a regular Army commission. I talked it over with my father and he said, "Well, if you are at all interested in that, what is an extra year going to cost you? If you decide to make it a career you are better off in the regular Army than a reserve officer," so I took it. That precluded me from going to graduate school at that time because I had to go into the Army. Fortunately, I got assigned to Fort Monmouth. We were considered a little different than just regular reserve officers in the Army, so we could talk to the career people in the Pentagon and they tried to accommodate our interests. I was commissioned as a second lieutenant.
Vardalas: How did you find that experience?
McNaul: I enjoyed it and I didn't enjoy it. I enjoyed the camaraderie and I enjoyed the paternalism of the military, and we all have a little bit of a feel for the ceremony. I still tingle when I hear taps. However it was very restrictive and our career paths really were not our choice. That's why I decided to resign my commission at the end of the three-year commitment.
Vardalas: You say your career was not your own choice. Do you think you could have pursued the kinds of technical things you were doing?
McNaul: Yes, but I would have to intersperse It with other assignments. The Signal Corps was considered a combat arm, so I would have had to have a required number of years of troop experience and would have had to go to various military schools. I could not stay technical.
Vardalas: Okay. They would have put you all over the place to broaden your experience.
McNaul: Exactly. It wasn't like the Navy. The Navy had a technical branch as opposed to the command branch where one could get up to Admiral I think in that technical branch. The Army did not have that. They had a Signal Corps, Corps of Engineers and one other I can't remember that were technical branches, but they were all considered combat. We had to follow this much broader career.
Vardalas: I see.
McNaul: I resigned my commission in the fall of '59 and stayed out at the labs as a civilian.
Vardalas: Okay. I see. Did you perceive any shift in how you could operate in these labs once you left?
McNaul: Not really. I have more flexibility in changing jobs. A person in the military can only go into positions slotted for the military. As a civilian one could move around anywhere.
Vardalas: What do you recall from when you first showed up in Fort Monmouth? What kind of place was it? Now that they are closing it down it's very important to understand what of place it was for electronics research and development?
McNaul: Let's separate it into location and activities. Monmouth was considered the garden club of Army bases.
Vardalas: Was it?
McNaul: Oh yes. It was right on the Jersey coast and in the middle of a very affluent nice area. It had a beautiful officer's club and golf course and other facilities. And a big history for an engineer – from telephony in the First World War. The museum there had old pieces of equipment that AT&T had designed and built for the military. It was a fascinating place. Looking at the labs at that time, the labs did more of their own work than most of the other service agencies.
Vardalas: What do you mean by that?
McNaul: They had their own engineers that were doing development, design and testing. The Air Force did most of their work through contractors.
Vardalas: They built in-house competence.
McNaul: Absolutely. The Army labs were a real storehouse of competence. They had talented engineers doing engineering work designing and building things. The Navy had that to a certain extent at Point Loma. The Naval Research Labs also had a lot of in-house competency. The Air Force took a different tack I think because they came along later and did most of that work through contract work.
Vardalas: I see. How did you wind up there? Did you choose it? Where else might they have sent you in the Signal Corps?
McNaul: I could have gone to a troop unit in Europe or I could have gone to several bases in the United States. I talked to the personnel officer and said, "I've just completed an engineering degree and I'd like to solidify that – get that down and understand it and progress in that area for a period of time before I go off in other directions." He said, "We are very agreeable."
Vardalas: It was astute of you to phrase it that way.
McNaul: That's the way I felt. I had spent four years working hard on my degree and wanted to use a little bit of it.
Vardalas: Based on that logic was Fort Monmouth the place you would want to go?
McNaul: Based on that logic it was the place to go. In addition I met Lois there when I first went to Fort Monmouth for training.
Vardalas: Oh, you went for training there first.
McNaul: Right. The officer's training was at Fort Monmouth.
Vardalas: Was she a civilian working on base?
McNaul: She was a civilian working on base, but I met her at a church function in red bank and we just got along fine. We met on June 17, 1956 and got married on September 22, 1956. It will be forty-nine years tomorrow we met.
Vardalas: Is that right? Does she know that?
McNaul: Oh yes. She knows better than I do.
Vardalas: What kind of work were you thrown into when you showed up at Fort Monmouth?
McNaul: The first assignment they gave me was in a test and evaluation branch that did mechanical and humidity testing of equipment. It was very important because of the military environment.
Vardalas: Called shake and bake?
McNaul: Yes, exactly. And that was way out of my area of expertise.
Vardalas: In what sense? Technically?
McNaul: It was more mechanical. That kind of thing was taught in mechanical engineering, not electrical engineering. After about two months there I went down to the personnel officer and said, "Look, I'm not making any contribution here. I'm learning things, bit it's not what I really want to bother learning. Can't you find me something else?" Fortunately the former Signal Corps ROTC commander, Lieutenant Colonel Emerson McDermott had been transferred there and was the security officer at the labs at that point in time. I was chatting with him and he said, "They've got an officer opening up in Project Monmouth and I think you'd do well there. I'll talk to the commander. That commander was Lieutenant Colonel James Davitt. So I transferred to that. That is really what started me on my brief career in EMC.
Vardalas: What exactly was Project Monmouth all about?
McNaul: Project Monmouth came about because the Army had these massive formations with more and more communications and radar equipment. They were concerned about how all this equipment was going to work together. They were concerned about what would happen as these were moved around and people are moved around and how they were going to coordinate frequency assignments so that they wouldn't just get babble. They needed to know how to really make this system work. Therefore they set up this major project called Project Monmouth. Military people were assigned to it and technical contractors would assign one of their engineers to Fort Monmouth for a two-year-period or whatever to work on the project. They had a lot of retired military involved in it as well. Remember, this was pre-computer. The idea was that the retired military would set up battle scenarios. The retired military would look at the Table of Organization and the Table of Equipment of the units in the field – what kinds of radars, what kinds of radios and how they are used. Then they would go through a battle strategy – how the military would evolve and under such-and-such a situation, how they would break up and move. Then the technical people would look at all of this equipment. They would look at the electrical and radiation signatures and the vulnerability of the equipment and then try to come up with a prediction of how well or how poorly such a scenario would work. They also looked at new technologies – tropospheric communication satellites and all other technologies that were being talked about as communication media and how they would fit in and impact this deployment.
Vardalas: I see. Do you remember the names of any of the outside contractors? Not the people but the companies.
McNaul: Raytheon and RCA were there. There were a couple of small companies like Filtron, which was in the interference business.
Vardalas: Were these basically eastern companies?
McNaul: Primarily, yes.
Vardalas: Were any of the California companies such as Hughes involved?
McNaul: No, it was primarily eastern companies. I would say that at that point in time the largest concentration of RFI work being done was in the East – Long Island, the Boston area and Philadelphia. RCA was in Philadelphia and there were a number of avionics companies out in Long Island. The Air Force had a big presence up in Hanscom Field in the Boston area. There was a pocket of RFI work being done in Chicago. There was industrial aircraft work in California.
Vardalas: What role were you assigned in this whole project?
McNaul: The project manager was Colonel Davitt. John Egley, whose title was chief engineer, did a lot of work on propagation. I think he was made a Fellow of the IRE shortly after that. I was called an assistant project manager or assistant project officer. I worked for Davitt. I worked with contractors and sort of coordinated their activities. That started me on my speaking career, because one of my job responsibilities was to make sure that all the other services and technical branches knew what we were doing so they could contribute suggestions and guidance. We made a lot of presentations around the country. We went to various military installations making presentations on what we were doing and attempting to get their feedback as to what they saw their needs as being and how it interacted with our needs. Immediately not only was I working with the technical people – which I enjoyed – but was also pointed toward the outside and doing what I call needs analysis. In other words, I was looking at the needs of others and trying to figure out how we could satisfy those needs. That is pretty much what I continued to do for the rest of my life.
Vardalas: Were you required in your role as assistant project officer to understand and make critical judgments technical complexities in the project?
McNaul: No. Don't forget I was a brand new shrove tail. I really wasn't, although I worked with the engineers a lot, and especially with contract engineers. It was more in trying to understand what they were doing and how it related to what we were supposed to be doing. In other words, trying to see if we were on the right track and whether the contractors were working on the right problems. In some situations I was a mediator between the retired military planning the scenarios and doing the war-gaming and the contractors who were interrupting what the effect of that war gaming would be on their equipment. Sometimes the two groups would not talk to one another.
Vardalas: It seems that you had to have acquired a certain amount of technical sophistication to do this.
Vardalas: When I had the interview Joe Fischer, for example, one of the things that came out was his belief that in this whole new area of EMC/EMI that was emerging. He thought that the nature and complexity of the problem required an interest and flare or capacity to understand more sophisticated mathematical approaches to things such as antenna theory. That all this stuff was far more sophisticated than the average problem than engineers normally faced. He told me it stood him in good stead that he liked to do physics and mathematics. It helped him understand these technical problems much more so than others without a physics and mathematics background. Did you find this to be the case in your dealings?
McNaul: I didn't find that. What helped me the most was my ability to communicate, and sometimes to communicate technology. I was not the technologist and I might not have been able to write all the formulas down on the blackboard, but I understood the technology and I understood its strengths and weaknesses. However I could talk about these things to the retired military people who were off in a different world moving troops around fighting a war. I could explain to them, "As you do this, you've got to keep in mind that you can't do things beyond what the technology is capable of doing for you." And I could explain that technology to them.
Vardalas: This is a very interesting project. Does this mean that the military planners or strategists had to reassess strategy based on the limitations of technology? Were they telling the technical people, "Give us this structure," or did it go both ways?
McNaul: It went both ways, but mostly it was trying to understand the implications of warfare. The military strategists were going to fight a war, and we had this table of equipment. This was the equipment that was assigned to our Signal Corps units or battalions and we were going to try and use it. Then the technicians would be saying, "You can't do that because there was not enough communications bandwidth," "The telephone lines can't be put up there fast enough," "Your radios are going to interfere with each other," or "You need such-and-such kind of capability." Now the strategists were not so interested in such-and-such a kind of capability but it gave us a way of saying to the Signal Corps, "Here are the technologies that need to be developed. Start putting some resources here to extend the technology in these directions." It was a go-around sort of thing.
Vardalas: Right. I see.
McNaul: And sometimes one might go to the military strategist and ask, "If you had this, how would it change what you would do?" They might say, "Oh boy, I could move tanks over here faster." Whatever.
Vardalas: I see. Do you recall vivid examples from early in this project where it became very clear the kinds of chaos that could be wrought with compatibility issues? Was there anything that really struck people, whether a particular piece of equipment or certain incidents?
McNaul: I think the biggest one was just plain old radio interference. The bandwidth in terms of radio frequencies that were assigned was still narrow. You get all of this equipment in a small area – a small area being a 20- or 30-mile front and there could be radio chaos. There could be interference where, "I can't hear the guy because there are three other people on the same frequency" and that sort of thing.
McNaul: And coordinating frequencies. The sort of thing for instance where the other guy can't hear me while I'm trying to tell him I'm changing frequencies so he can hear me. In the Army a lot of this used to be done simply by procedures: "If this goes wrong, then change the frequency to this," and the other guy has a book too and does this. However that procedure was so static that it broke down in very dynamic military situations where troops were running around and changing positions. Maybe one guy didn't know where the other guy was anymore. Therefore the procedural approach kind of broke down and ended up in communications chaos.
Vardalas: Was there an Army equivalent to the military technology developed in the Navy or the Air Force? In the Navy ships were being loaded more and more with all kinds of radar and communications, all kinds of things, and they had this huge and complex problem.
McNaul: In a very narrow environment.
Vardalas: The ship became a huge radiator. They had to worry about systems study and how this piece of equipment would interfere with this piece equipment. Did this appear in the Army at this stage?
McNaul: Yes. To my knowledge, Project Monmouth was the first system-oriented study of radio frequency interference. We were talking about a system – an Army group fighting in Europe. It was a system of a whole lot of interacting units. There were support units, combat units and everything else and all of them had different kinds of equipment and different communication needs. Up to that point most studies were designed to answer questions like, "How susceptible is this piece of equipment to interference? What are its radiation characteristics? What happens when you have two of these operating 50' apart?" This took a large geographical area and put a monster system in it – an Army group being a system of interacting parts – and asked, "What is going to happen? Can it function with all this new equipment?" In regard to loading things down the Army didn’t have the same problem the Navy had because for the Navy it was all in a compact ship, but the Army put more and more radios out there and depended more and more on radio communication. Due to the speed at which things were moving the wire lines couldn't keep up. Cable couldn't be laid that fast. They couldn't get it in and put in switch boards and all that kind of equipment fast enough.
Vardalas: There was also radar fire control.
McNaul: They added fire control to their mortars and other artillery, so there were all kinds of radars. We were at the point where all of this these things were going into the field and nobody exactly knew how it was going to operate as a whole.
Vardalas: You left the Army in '59. In the span between '56 to '64 can you discern a point where the thinking switched from being reactive to proactive? At what point did it switch to something more like, "Let's make sure in advance not to design anything that won't work"?
McNaul: That was probably in the timeframe around1960. Before that a lot was based on engineers designing something. They'd let a contract to RCA and RCA would develop a radio for use at company level in the back of a jeep. They would do all the testing based on specifications probably written by someone in Forth Monmouth. I think around 1960, when Robert McNamara became Secretary of Defense the Pentagon changed significantly. It became more needs oriented. The military would determine its needs and then the technology had to satisfy those needs – as opposed to the previous kind of thinking like, "Let's develop this really nice radio and give it to company commanders." It was driven more by need than technology, but it gave us an opportunity to better pinpoint our technology.
Vardalas: People slowly emerged who saw themselves as being skilled and providing competence in the area of EMC. I got the impression from talking with others that at a certain point they began to assume a central role in big systems projects.
Vardalas: Things evolved to the point that nothing was approved until the EMC people said, "Yes, this will work."
McNaul: Weapon system development became more important than component development in the '60s. A radio was not developed; rather, a communication system was developed to support an Army or battalion. EMC became a part of the project because of that. In designing a radio one worried about interference and spurious frequencies or power, but in a project to design a communication system for a battalion or division there are all of these worries and an EMC component became a part of the project. It was a "design in" sort of approach.
Vardalas: Do you recall any incidents in your work where you saw it contributing in a positive way? I'll give you an example I got from someone else and maybe this will spark your memory. With ships, which are very confined spaces, the naval architects and engineers had their idea of how a ship should be designed, where the weight should be and what should happen. Obviously they are going to put certain antennas lower down and others higher up. They forced the project through with the antennas built this way. They hadn't consulted anyone about the interference and after they spent this money they discovered it didn't work that well. They had to redesign the whole ship and spend more money.
McNaul: I was not that involved in any of these major projects. I was in the communication satellite area, but we were mostly worrying about things like radiation from ground stations, the ability to receive very weak signals from satellites and things like that. We had to avoid noisy areas.
Vardalas: Right. In '58 you were in the same group but were in Electronic Components rather than Project Monmouth.
McNaul: Right. They had a division at the labs that worried about components – everything from capacitors to transistors, tubes, klystrons and resistors. Semiconductors were becoming very important at that point in time and there was a big debate on how to move from individual transistor circuits to some kind of an integrated circuit and what that integrated circuit was going to be. They wrote all the specs for all of the military components. I didn't get into that, but that was a very important area. They made a lot of improvements. For example the Nike system was developed in the '50s. One of the problems with the Nike system was that a rocket might sit for months or years and not be used and then had to be ready to go in an instant. The question was how to have ultra-reliability. It was sitting there running hot, so its mean space time to failure had to be a very, very long time. They had to worry about how to get transistors, how to test them, how to package them to make them do that and how to improve battery technology.
McNaul: One thing on that project really struck me. The components division was doing a lot of the component testing, evaluation and improvement to make it fit for the Nike program. I saw huge spin-offs. Later when I consulted for Stanford Research Institute we had a contract with the government and one of the areas on which I worked was the spin-offs of military technology. I saw a lot of the work we did on the Nike program in terms of improving the quality and life of these components. It went right over into the civilian sector. We knew how to make transistors. Some civilian components would last a lifetime now, whereas before tubes were burning out. With the old tube televisions people were always running to the drugstore with their tubes to test them and fix the darn things. All that changed much because of work the military did to meet their requirements. It translated immediately to benefit other areas.
Vardalas: Yes. People forget that in history. They keep thinking it was private enterprise that drove that.
McNaul: No, it was government money that advanced much of the technology.
Vardalas: The dividing line when solid state began to be used as a serious contender was 1958. There were still some problems with germanium versus silicon and those kinds of things, but tubes were still being used.
McNaul: They were still being used.
Vardalas: There was a big concern about the reliability of tubes especially as electronics got more and more complex.
McNaul: This was especially true in nasty environments like rockets going off and space travel and all this kind of thing.
Vardalas: Were you involved in this issue about reliability and standardization of tubes across the U.S. and/or other branches of the military?
McNaul: At the labs and other agencies associated with the labs we wrote the specs for all the components that were used in the military. There were two aspects to that. One, there was standardization – which helped tremendously. The other was that it took a long time – months to a couple of years – to get a spec out that everyone agreed upon. Therefore it did impede technology innovation.
Vardalas: It did? I see. Solid state appears to have been a very strong contender while tubes still existed and were an old contender. Was much money being put into the miniaturization of tubes?
McNaul: Oh yes.
Vardalas: Were there a lot of mechanical or other problems in trying to shrink tubes down?
McNaul: Yes. There was a lot of concern with mechanical problems. The military likes things small. They wanted things that were going to be carried around in a jeep or in some guy's backpack to be as small as possible and very rugged. The tube electronics were shrinking. They went from big to miniature to sub-miniature tubes over a period of a few years. Tubes became more rugged and lasted longer. One could tap an old tube and it would be gone. However there was a debate in that semiconductors were obviously more reliable and longer-life, but there was a performance problem. As technology moved along in semiconductors they displaced tubes. This was seen in television sets. Tubes remained in tuners for a long time because they could get the frequency response that semiconductors could not get. Semiconductors moved into the audio portion first and then the intermediate frequency portion and then into timers.
Vardalas: Frequency response got better.
McNaul: Frequency response got better. It was a gradual displacement primarily through the '50s and into the '60s.
Vardalas: What is Project Advent?
McNaul: Project Advent was started as a joint military project to develop a synchronous communication satellite. I went there in 1960 as assistant technical director. It was a joint services program and the Advent Management Agency was the manager of this program. The Army's electronic labs was responsible for building the transponder to go into the satellite and ground stations; the Air Force was responsible for the launch and building of the satellite; and the Navy was responsible for shipboard terminals. All three services were working on it with the tri-service group, Advent Management Agency, as the manager and it was a management nightmare. The Air Force hated the idea that the Army was going to build a transponder to go on one of their satellites. The Army said, "Why can't we build the satellite? We're going to use it for our communications." This was during the '60s sentiment of "let's integrate the services." It was a mess, and we were pushing the envelope on the technology. It was to be a geostationary satellite with three-axis stabilization, and to be economically feasible it had to have a life of three or four years.
Vardalas: Was this the one that Hal Rosen said that he came up with the simple solution to make it spin-stabilized?
McNaul: That's it.
Vardalas: And they blew a lot of money on this.
McNaul: That was it. We were always behind. The Air Force kept coming back saying things like, "We've got all these technological problems on the satellite and we need a bigger booster. We've got to have $100 million more." Then the Army would say, "The ground stations are a lot more expensive than we anticipated. We need $100 million more." It was a management nightmare, but we did push the technology. I think everyone concluded that geostationary was the way to go.
Vardalas: Was the transponder in-house or through a subcontractor?
McNaul: Bendix did the transponder under contract to the labs. The Air Force used STL as the primary contractor for the design of the satellite. I'm not sure STL was going to build it, but they were basically the designers and the Air Force system house for that.
Vardalas: I had the impression when I interviewed Rosen that he said he had difficulty getting support from the government when he was trying to get their project across because Advent kept pushing and saying, "Don't go with these guys. Stay with us." Was this the case?
McNaul: Yes. It was not just the Advent Agency. It was also the Air Force and the Army. It was not so much the Navy. The Navy was mainly worried about ship terminals and didn't care what was up there, but it was mostly the Air Force and the advent agency saying "...that's the only way we can generate enough power and build a big enough satellite to put all this stuff in it." That's the way communication satellite finally evolved, but it took ten or twelve years before they had the technology to do it. Rosen pioneered the spin-stabilized satellite idea/ I give him and Hughes credit for putting their own money in it. They did their own development up to the point where they could show that it was going to work. Most people didn't think it would ever work. They raised all kinds of objections – that it was going to wobble, and the antennas could not be de-spinned and therefore not enough gain could be obtained on the antennas and so on. They finally took an end run – but not so much through the military.
Vardalas: Was this through NASA?
McNaul: It went through NASA. They convinced NASA that it would be worthwhile to put one up and see if it really could work. NASA came to us because we had all the ground station capability and said, "Would you like to work with us?" I was the assistant technical director, so I was made acting project manager to meet with NASA and write the program plan to see if we could get both NASA and DOD funding for it. I spent one summer flying back and forth to Washington working with the NASA people. We produced a plan that I signed off on, and our agency signed off on and pushed it up, and the DOD approved it.
Vardalas: Did you not feel that this was impinging on your territory and undermining what you wanted to do?
McNaul: A lot of people felt that way, but by that time most of us knew that we were so far away from perfecting this technology that it was going to be years and years and billions of dollars before the three-axis stabilization, the huge solar cells and all these things were going to work. Therefore I was very enthusiastic. I thought it was the greatest idea I'd ever seen. It was so elegant and simple. NASA believed in it, and finally I think we got all the people in our agency believing in it. The Air Force remained adamant against it, because they saw the perfection of the three-axis stabilization as being important to all their other projects such as their spy satellites. They really wanted to push that. The big commercial satellite company at that time was AT&T. While they liked the idea of three-axis stabilization they recognized it was a long way away, so they pushed a low orbit system where there would be many satellites.
Vardalas: We know what happened to that.
McNaul: The military built one that lasted about two years and that was it. Then they went to Syncom or a Syncom-like satellite. The low orbit was a pain in the neck. It required multiple ground terminals that had to be handed off as new satellites came.
Vardalas: They lost so much money on low orbit that they tried to resurrect it. Cell phones, right?
McNaul: It's the same thing.
Vardalas: Then you moved over to Syncom.
McNaul: Our agency took on the ground terminal work for the Syncom project, so I worked very closely with Hughes on that.
Vardalas: Were there any EMC issues in the satellite development that you can recall or was it straightforward in that regard?
McNaul: It was very straightforward. There were issues with the Rayleigh scattering for the big ground stations. These were 60' dishes with a couple of kilowatts with transmitter power, so there were a lot of concerns about that. The signal coming down from the satellite was very, very weak so that very low-noise front ends were needed on the antennas. And they were susceptible to outside interference. The other big issue was frequency allocations for these satellites – especially for the military. The International Radio Consultative Committee (CCIR), the international organization for frequency assignment, met in '62. Somehow I became the Army guru on frequencies, so I was selected to represent the Army on the U.S. delegation to all these meetings. We had a lot of bilateral meetings between ourselves, the British and Canadians, and we had meetings with NATO to coordinate military positions. I attended most of those meetings. I was also a member of the U.S. delegation to the CCIR Conference.
Vardalas: When you say frequency allocation, are you referring now to frequency allocation between satellite use and other uses?
McNaul: Right. In '62 there was going to be a major reallocation of frequencies because a lot of new technology had come in since the last one, which I think was right after the war. There was a lot of jockeying. The military wanted to make sure they got their frequencies and all the commercial communications people wanted to make sure they got their frequencies. Certain technologies like cell phones hadn't been thought of yet. The television people wanted to make sure they got their frequencies. This was a massive meeting of all countries with a couple of years leading up to the plenary.
Vardalas: As a side bar, were you part of any question of station allocations on the orbits and everybody getting a spot and making sure you had your piece of the sky?
McNaul: That was a different issue although there were EMC problems involved in that.
Vardalas: If they got too close to each other.
McNaul: Too close to each other would cause interference. Itwas related to it, but wasn't a part of this particular dynamic. We had many meetings and I did a study on the Rayleigh scattering because of the British concerns and got that put to bed. We went to Geneva for six weeks in the middle of the winter. It was one of the coldest winters Europe had ever had, so that was an experience. We were actually supposed to have gone to India, but the Chinese invaded Tibet right before that so India said they couldn't host us.
Vardalas: When so much Cold War strategy hinged on what would happen over the North Pole in terms of early warning and missiles coming in, this was an area of great concern. The Canadians were very concerned about it. The footprints of satellites are not as great when up to the North Pole.
McNaul: That's right.
Vardalas: Then you had the Russians launching Molina, which was a polar-orbit satellite. It had its problems but also tried to respond to this polar issue. Did the military ever think they should have something in that direction to take care of polar issues?
McNaul: They did. Most of the surveillance satellites at that time were low-orbit, and the technology was such that we didn't have ground stations all over the world to query them. The technology was pretty primitive. They took pictures. They had a film canister and they'd wait until they got to a place where we had some capability and the satellite would dump the film canister and a plane would get up there and catch it in flight.
Vardalas: Really? There were not any real time communications way up in the North Pole?
McNaul: They began to have that by putting in polar satellites.
Vardalas: Did they put them in?
McNaul: Yes, they put in polar satellites.
Vardalas: Oh, I didn't know that.
McNaul: That's why they went to Vandenberg, because it's easier to launch a polar orbit from Vandenberg than from Florida.
Vardalas: Was this a communication satellite?
McNaul: It was not a communications satellite but a surveillance satellite.
Vardalas: It was not a communications satellite.
McNaul: No, but the surveillance satellite had a lot of communications capability.
Vardalas: I see. All the remote-sensing satellites have polar orbits, so in that sense they go around this orbit.
McNaul: However we could put our ground stations up in Alaska and northern Canada and get data from them.
McNaul: The feeling on the communications side of it was there was nothing up there to communicate with anyway. There wasn't a density of communication.
Vardalas: What was the theory about the Russians putting up Molina, which was a polar communications satellite?
McNaul: I think everyone just thought of it as a gimmick. "We will do better with the low-orbit satellites as an interim," but what killed the low-orbit satellite was Syncom. It gave the capability of doing a synchronous satellite far, far earlier than anyone anticipated. Hughes was very good at extending the technology. Before long these things were huge. First of all, they found good mechanical ways of de-spinning the antenna. It was a little reflector that would spin in the opposite direction at the same speed as the satellite, and then they did electronic de-spinning of the antenna so more gain could be accomplished. That was one of the big objectives. With a spin-stabilized satellite a uniform pattern was necessary, because it was constantly turning. They had to find ways to get more gain out of the antenna, which meant focusing the beam in one spot. They were very clever in doing that. There are a lot of ways of doing that. Spin-stabilized satellites were the mainstay up until the early '70s.
Vardalas: Let me ask about EMC again as a group of people with a common interest. When do you recall people from different places realizing, "We all have a common interest. We should meet together at conferences"? What were the first EMC-oriented conferences that you recall?
McNaul: The pioneer, as I remember, was a conference in Chicago put on by the Armor Foundation.
Vardalas: Approximately what year was that?
McNaul: I would say they began in the early '50s. I gave a couple of papers there. There was another one on the West Coast, which was really not an EMC-oriented conference. It was Westcon and more component-oriented.
Vardalas: I know Westcon. Right.
McNaul: They had technical sessions on RFI, but were more focused on the component level – filtering and design and so on. There really was not much on the East Coast. There was a big group with Hanscom in Boston and Long Island with all of the aviation and avionics companies. RCA in the Philadelphia area and Fort Monmouth were doing a lot of RFI work. Since I was at Project Monmouth I had a far more systems-oriented view of the problem. We weren't out running field tests to see equipment signatures. We were looking at it from a system point of view. We ran a conference. We decided there should be a conference on the East Coast and I kind of took the lead on it. The conference was at Fort Monmouth in November of '57.
Vardalas: That's right in the middle of your first job there.
McNaul: Right. We had the unclassified part of the conference in Asbury Park and then the classified part at the labs.
Vardalas: I want to ask you about that next.
McNaul: It was a big undertaking, and I was basically the coordinator or planner.
Vardalas: In what way? Finding all the people?
McNaul: Putting out the call for papers, rounding up people to evaluate the papers as they came in, arranging the facilities and getting everything done. Fortunately I had the labs and the resources of Fort Monmouth behind me. It was kind of me that was pushing it, but Colonel Davitt was very supportive of doing it. The commander of the labs, Brigadier General Earl Cook thought it was a very good idea. He later became chief signal officer. It was a huge amount of work and it all came together. We published proceedings from it, both classified and unclassified. I think it was very successful.
Vardalas: Did you a good turnout? Was it fifty or a hundred people?
McNaul: We probably had 250 or 300 people at the unclassified session. We occupied a big ballroom in one of the tourist hotels in Asbury Park. We had maybe fifty or a hundred people at the classified session.
Vardalas: How did you separate these two things? I get the impression EMC was initially and for a while was driven by military needs and concerns.
McNaul: Yes, but a lot of what they did was unclassified.
Vardalas: How was this dividing line determined?
McNaul: Most of the classified stuff was related to specific military projects, whereas the unclassified was related more to components and technology of commercial interest.
Vardalas: Was there no fear that making this public would in any way undermine U.S. security?
McNaul: No. Classified technical programs were held by the Department of Defense in a lot of areas. It's just that all of the papers themselves all had to be classified, so they had to come out of a company or agency that had classification capabilities. I think all the attendees had to have a classification of up to secret.
Vardalas: This was the classified side.
McNaul: The classified side.
Vardalas: Did some of the people in these two conferences wear different hats?
McNaul: Yes. Some of them were working on military projects, had clearances and went to the classified session. Some of them did not and were working on the commercial side and didn't have or weren't interested in the military system aspects of it. They stayed in the commercial side.
Vardalas: Okay. I have also gotten the impression that it took a while before the imperative to look at EMC became a fixture in the commercial area because EMC was very expensive to do in the beginning.
McNaul: The military were clearly the leaders because they had the equipment density and the equipment variety that made EMC a critical problem for them.
Vardalas: In '57 when you did this first conference what possible interest did the civilian side have in this?
McNaul: Television was expanding.
Vardalas: And they had an interest in this?
McNaul: They started to have an interest in it because television sets were notoriously poorly built at a low cost and were subject to interference. Ham radio used to interfere with televisions terribly. If you were near a ham you might as well give up on your television when he went on the air.
Vardalas: Oh really?
McNaul: A lot of ham people didn't follow the regulations in terms of filtering and things like that, so they were putting out all kinds of spurious signals. I think probably there was interest in it with AM radio, because that was proliferating, and then of course it had propagation problems also. FM was coming on strong, which solved some of those problems, but it was much shorter range. Then television was expanding, and they wanted to go up into the higher channels. That raised all kinds of problems, frequency assignment and interference because there were other people operating in those same bands – appliances and so on. I think that was what was driving it on the commercial side.
Vardalas: Thinking back to this first conference, were there people from the commercial side who were there just to listen and learn? Or were they doing research and giving papers?
McNaul: I think it was both. They were from companies that were getting into problems and concerns, so they would send some of their engineers to learn. Most of them were probably from companies that were working somewhere in the area. I think we had eight or ten papers from people at RCA. There were a lot of university papers, because universities were doing a lot of propagation work and a lot of propagation studies.
Vardalas: Did you run this conference every year or was this a one-year shot?
McNaul: This was a one-year shot. We talked a lot about making it an annual thing. It almost killed me. However that's when I started getting interested in the IRE sponsoring a conference. It was still the IRE before its merger with the ASEE. They use to call it a professional group rather than a society. I suggested that we make it a nationwide thing and come up with an IRE [sic; IEEE?] professional group on RFI that can take this over. I thought it would give us a lot more exposure for the communication in the field.
Vardalas: I can see different people working in various areas of electronics, with each individual tapping into EMC on his own and saying, "This is a sidelight of what I do." Did you perceive at some point along the way an identity emerging where people started to think, "I am an EMC person"?
McNaul: In the '50s we began to have groups within companies that were the RFI specialists. That was the three-man group down in the corner that people called and said, "Would you come up and spend a little time with us and show us how to do this?" when equipment was being built. It just grew as the complexity of the equipment and environment in which it was operating grew until EMC became but an equal with all the other technology areas as a separate identifiable technology and skill.
Vardalas: You were still a small group.
Vardalas: Do you recall the pangs of birth? How was the EMC Society formed? Was it straightforward or was it a political battle to get it?
McNaul: I don't think it was a political battle. I'm trying to think, because that was a long time ago. I guess I took the lead as the guy who was going to push it, but several of us at the labs felt it would be a good idea. One of our retired military was Chris Engleman, a naval captain who had been active with the IEEE and I asked him whether the IEEE would be interested in something like that. He suggested I call Larry Cummings. I'm not sure what Larry's position was in the IRE. He was part of the permanent staff. He was the most helpful, accommodating and useful resource in the IRE I had ever seen. His attitude was always, "Is there a problem? Let's solve the problem." In the beginning he said, "You show us that there is enough interest around the country and we'll talk about it." Our conference showed that there was enough interest, because people came in from the West Coast, the Midwest and East Coast. It really was a nationwide conference. The Armor Conference had been going on for several years and it attracted people from all over the country. There was that evidence. In addition, we got some of the contract personnel to go back to their companies and get support built up in the companies for the idea. It didn't take long. I think things were moving in three or four months.
Vardalas: Did you become the first head of the EMC Society?
McNaul: I was chairman of the administrative committee, which in effect was the president, but was I the first?
Vardalas: You are listed as number one of two. I'm not sure this list is accurate. I have a list of everyone that I should have brought with me.
McNaul: I would like to see that.
Vardalas: I'll email it to you. I'm sorry. I should have had it with me.
McNaul: I'd like to take a look at that. I think might have been the second one. Ralph Showers was either the first or third. I don't remember.
Vardalas: What were the administrative challenges in keeping this thing alive and vibrant?
McNaul: It was run by the committee, which used to meet in New York once a month or every six weeks. The early problems were just administrative – making the charter and getting the IEE to approve it; drumming up people; getting the word out to get membership; getting a publication going. We moved fast to get out a journal. We also set up an annual conference. I started getting very inactive after my year as chairman of the administrative committee. I was moving off into other areas. The work was just dog work – getting the paperwork done, getting out the announcements, getting a way to sign up members and getting the publication going. Ralph Showers was the first editor if I remember correctly. He was a big help to me. I was not very deep into the technology of EMC whereas he was, so he helped a lot in terms of identifying key people in technology and in judging papers or getting some of his colleagues out to write papers for us. I can't remember whether he was the first president or I was the first and he was second. It was something like that.
Vardalas: Looking at the list in my mind I see you as second.
McNaul: I think I was second. That was about '57. Somewhere I have all my old calendars.
Vardalas: I'll send to you the whole list.
McNaul: I would be interested in seeing some of those names. The first five names would probably bring back a lot of memories. Cummings facilitated everything for us with the IEEE – which was actually still the IRE at that time – and was extremely helpful.
Vardalas: From the time you realized that these issues of interference were critical issues in the development of complex weapon and electronics systems in general up until '64 when you decided to leave the area and go into other things, were you as a group who were managing this topic or in the field concerned about how the next generation was going to be trained in this area? People kind of cut their teeth as they went and flew by the seat of their pants.
McNaul: Oh yes.
Vardalas: Was there any concern about university education and trying to get EMC programs started?
McNaul: I think it was discussed. The universities didn't show a lot of interest.
Vardalas: To this day I can only think of one university that perhaps has a course in EMC.
McNaul: Ralph Showers was at the University of Pennsylvania and this was his area of expertise, but I don't think they had a minor in it or anything like that. And I don't think any schools do today. The thinking is, "Get your basic engineering degree and then this is an area of specialization you might want to get into when you start your career." I don't even know of any master's programs in it.
Vardalas: Learn on the job in other words. Okay. At the time the field was still really young and you weren't worried about the next generation.
McNaul: You have to look at where it started. It started with a piece of equipment radiating stuff it was not supposed to radiate. Therefore it got into putting in capacitors and filters. Then component manufacturers started coming around and building band pass filters and tunable filters and so on, and it got more and more sophisticated at the component level. Then people started doing more propagation studies and signature studies. The military said, "When you design a piece of equipment for us, that equipment has to meet this radiation standard" or signature standard. Therefore people started thinking about it less from a component level and more a black box, and then more on the level of a system component. It involved a lot of different areas of technology. I think that's a point that people have made. It's from capacitors over here to whole massive communication systems over here with different aspects of the same problem.
McNaul: It would be hard to put together a program devoted just to that, but I think most basic electrical engineering curricula go into aspects of it. Like a lot of areas, it's one you kind of put together when you get on the job.
Vardalas: In retrospect can you think of anything else about the birth of this profession or sub-discipline? Does anything strike you or stick in your mind about the process that we might discuss?
McNaul: The only thing that struck me at the time – and I haven't thought about it since – was how very much of this was happening in an isolated sense. Every company had people working on the problem. Every company that designed or built electronic equipment had to face the problem and had some people that were experts and devoted their work to this area. We have a friend that retired five or six years ago who spent his whole career designing filters and equipment so that it would not radiate anything it was not supposed to radiate. It was his whole career. He never thought of himself as being a part of a system. He had specs to build the equipment and that's what he did. It's so broad and there are so many people in it. I think that's one of the reasons the professional group was successful even though it was small. A lot of these engineers suddenly discovered, "My God, there are other people out there doing this."
Vardalas: When did you find each other?
McNaul: I think the IEEE professional group was the one thing that made it go national. Before that there was no single place where people could talk about it or get literature on it. The IEEE Proceedings once every few years might have an article on some aspect of RFI, but there was nothing going out constantly. It's a highly technical aspect of RFI. Trade journals probably had more on it – not technical, but describing the problems of RFI. I really felt the professional group would, and I think it did, fulfill a major need. It's not a group with 10 million members, but it's a bunch of specialists that come together and our equipment would not work without them.
Vardalas: I gather from this whole story that the spark was the military – the spark and fuel in the beginning.
McNaul: I think that's true. The military realized its importance. They were the biggest operation and had the biggest problem. They were the ones that began to move to a system view of the problem. That's when it was seen that there were many components to this problem.
Vardalas: Right. Now let's move on to your migration away from this into organizational theory. Looking at your résumé, you started industrial management while you were working there. You went to Stevens Institute, but I see the big change was when you started at Stanford. What made you switch over?
McNaul: Stevens Institute was a half a change. It was kind of bifurcated in one area. Because it was an engineering school, it was highly technical and we started with mathematical statistics and not just statistics. Everything had a very high technology start and then went more into the application and business aspects. That intrigued me and I really enjoyed that. I began to learn solutions to problems I was facing in my work for which I had not had training.
Vardalas: I see you undertook this at the same time that you moved into the U.S. Army Satellite Communication Agency.
McNaul: I was a busy guy.
Vardalas: What prompted you to do this? Do someone at that agency said, "Try this"?
McNaul: No. Another person at the agency had started going to Stevens a year before. He was a good friend, and I started talking to him in a general sense about what he was doing. What he described got me to thinking, "Geez, that's something that could help me." I was dealing with the Pentagon. I was the outside man in the agency. I went down to the Pentagon and fought budgets and programs and things. I interfaced with NASA all the time. I went to Europe and gave talks to people. I interfaced with the British. I was dealing with contractors. I was running a $10 million program they called a basic research program McNamara instituted. Every government project had a percentage of the budget go to technology advancement. You had to determine what your future needs were on that project and then you had to develop technology to work toward satisfying those needs. I was in charge of that program. I had various contracts out there and was dealing with the contractors and negotiating budgets and schedules. I found that 15% of my time was in technology and 85% of my time was dealing with management, budget, personnel, compromise and negotiation kinds of issues in a complex organizational environment. I was flying by the seat of my pants, as was everyone in that agency. No one had ever done anything like this before. I have always believed that you start with theory and then you put it into practice. That's the way I think and that's the way I taught school. Therefore I said, "I've got to get educated." I finished my master's and at the same time another friend, from Project Monmouth, had been accepted the year before as a Sloan Fellow at Stanford. He stopped by the house one time as he was going through town and described it. I said, "That's just exactly what I'm looking for," so I applied. I got accepted as one of six Ph.D. students in the Stanford Sloan program. That changed my life. I have always been a technologist after that, but it's understanding technology and explaining and using technology.
Vardalas: How many children did you have when you went back to school?
McNaul: Two and seven-ninths.
Vardalas: What does that mean?
McNaul: Lois was seven months pregnant. It was tough on her.
Vardalas: I know there was a cut in revenue, but it was also a different kind of lifestyle.
McNaul: It was a different kind of lifestyle. We moved from a comfortable house in the New Jersey suburbs to a graduate student apartment on the Stanford campus. We had two bedrooms with three kids, since the third was born right after we got there. It was very tough on Lois. I was off studying. I would ride my bike off in the morning and come back at night. That's when I developed my insomnia. This is a complete sidebar. With three kids, it was tough to study at night. After dinner I'd spend time with the family. I'd go to bed early and get up in the middle of the night and go down and spend two or three hours studying. I still have that habit of waking up in the middle of the night and doing things.
Vardalas: You don't get much sleep then.
McNaul: No. It's better now that I don't have to get up at 6:30 or 7:00 every morning. However it was a complete change. It was a psychological change because I was back being a full-time student. It wasn't part-time. I did some consulting work on the side to earn extra money and then during the summers. I was exposed to a whole variety of new ideas. Stanford Business School at that point was just reaching the peak of its reputation. I found several interesting people in psychology and sociology that worried about formal organizations, and that really got me interested because of all of the conflicts I saw in organizations. I got interested in professionals. I considered myself professional, and I found there was a pretty good body of literature on professionals and organizations and the conflicts and the combinations that happen, so I made that an area of specialization.
Vardalas: What was the subject of your thesis?
McNaul: Professionals in organizations. I actually did a study of two groups. One was an engineering group at Hewlett-Packard and the other was a group of research scientists at Syntex. I compared their attitudes toward professionalism and how they interacted within their organizations. I developed what I call the Professionalism Scale of Attitudes. I found that the engineers tend to be lower on the professionalism scale. They are still professionals but lower on adherence to the value system. The scientists, mostly Ph.D.s, were much higher on the scale of professionalism and were socialized more to the professional value system. I found that the engineers had a much more diverse communication pattern. They interacted with a lot of people outside their peer group. The scientists communicated primarily within their peer group and did not communicate well with other people in the organization.
Vardalas: They have their own language.
McNaul: Their own language. It suddenly struck me that was similar to a university, coming from a university background. In the university there are the faculties fighting for resources and people. And it's similar to the military. The military is a closed society. The university is a closed society. And one has to go through rites of passage to get into them. Professionals go through rites of passage. Scientists have a lot to do to get into a recognized scientific group. Engineers have rites of passage.
Vardalas: That's very interesting. Did you come across the question of whether the people see themselves are professionals or employees in large organizations or corporations?
McNaul: It's a very tough thing. The organization wants them to be employees. They fight back. The higher their level of internalized professional values the more they fight back. That's when they cluster together. It becomes "us against the system." Organizations don't do a very good job of assimilating them. In many cases it becomes an adversarial relationship. They tolerate each other and they battle each other. They end up with compromises and standoffs and, "Okay, you leave us alone enough and we'll do our thing, and we leave you alone and won't harass you" kind of thing. It's a very dynamic picture.
Vardalas: As an historian I was considering that there were certain times, in the '30s in the United States, when engineers looked at the Labor Movement with some sympathy.
McNaul: I think they still do.
Vardalas: A lot of software engineers in industry see themselves as being exploited, so their professional patina disappears and they see themselves as being workers or being exploited.
McNaul: The aircraft industry is an example. I don't know whether you have seen the pictures from during the war. A drafting room as big as a football field. Row after row after row of drafting tables. Those were engineers. It is hard to think of yourself as an engineer when you are an ant in an anthill. You're not the Queen ant. You're just a worker ant in the anthill. There was a lot of unionization of these types of engineers after the war. That is still going on.
Vardalas: There is an interesting book, Engineers Revolt, about this whole pressure in the '30s and, "Do we identify with the labor movement or are we professionals who are above the labor movement?"
McNaul: A part of that is that engineering came out of the practical sciences. I think a lot of that was that the professional value system was probably not really taught in engineering schools until after the war.
Vardalas: Do you notice any difference? The origin of professionalism was independent contractors.
McNaul: Independent contractors and a value system oriented to themselves and their needs.
Vardalas: And a legal status.
McNaul: Yes. In certain professions a legal protection.
Vardalas: That's how it started. Civil engineers were the ones that were so professional, so they have to sign off on a project as being safe, with their names on these projects.
McNaul: Civil engineering came from the military.
Vardalas: Right, but electrical engineers no longer have that sense of, "I have to sign off" or "I am responsible for this."
McNaul: I think the professional engineering thing, which was going to be the salvation of engineering, has fallen off. I don't think many people go for professional engineering certification anymore, except in certain industries where you have to have that title in order to sign off. Construction and things like that.
Vardalas: Okay. It is also tied very much to the rising complexity of systems design by engineers who will take all the responsibility for that piece of the system. For example it there are complex software reliability issues. If an airline crashes—
McNaul: Yes. Think of an airliner. Look at the responsibility.
Vardalas: However no one seems to sign off on it.
McNaul: That's true, except the FAA eventually has to approve of all the stuff that these people have done.
McNaul: I think an example is my father. He was born in 1893 and his father, who was an Irish immigrant, was a chief carpenter for some of the mines in Butte, Montana. My father didn't want to go into mining and my grandfather didn't want him to go into mining, so he became a machinist. He was a journeyman union machinist. He didn't start university until he was twenty-eight. Finally he talked it over with his father and said, "I want to become an engineer." There was nothing in Montana, so my grandfather pulled the money together and sent my father to MIT. He graduated from MIT as a mechanical engineer. However he had that machinist background, and that was always a part of what he did. He wanted to be around machines.
Vardalas: It goes to the subject of what engineers build. This professionalism, "If I build something what will it contribute to society? Have you noticed a difference in how engineers view this? Like we just said, disciplines within engineering vary. Do you think it has any relation to the kinds of things they build and the level of abstractness or level of minuteness? For instance a microprocessor designer or a circuit designer versus someone building bridges or cars or designing structural things.
McNaul: There are several differences in engineering education and practice over the past years, and they are somewhat conflicting. I think engineering education is moving more into multidiscipline studies. I have seen that in just about every university at which I have looked. You can get an engineering degree at Stanford, but there are more and more joint degrees between engineering and medicine and engineering and business. They become more multidisciplinary even though they have to get a good engineering background. The other thing is, I think there is a higher level of professionalism being taught in the schools. Not professional value system as a course, but I think the professional value system being reflected in the general content and way of teaching. When my father went to school I'm sure professionalism was never mentioned. When I went to school profession was an occupation. Now I think the calling aspect of a profession is more a part of the curriculum. Not calling in the religious sense, that one is doing something special and that there are responsibilities that go with that. Ethics, if you will, is being taught. Ethics was never taught when I went through engineering school. I guess everyone assumed we knew right from wrong. Ethics as in the complexity of a society and the responsibilities as one goes in with one's expertise. I think the first thing in the Hippocratic Oath should be given to every student in college. "First of all, do no harm." I mean that's it. If we all operated just with that one point of ethics this would be a far better world than it is today.
Vardalas: I see.
McNaul: I think engineering is more of a profession now than it used to be. I think it is being taught as a profession more than it used to be as a part of the value system of the teaching, and ethics is becoming more important.
Vardalas: In this professionalism in the new sense of responsibilities and ethics to go with it, have you found that engineering training – as opposed to other professions such as scientists and doctors – that of this process is being able to communicate with non-technical people and explain difficult issues and not dismiss non-technical people?
McNaul: No, I think that is very underplayed. In some of the multidisciplinary programs that is an important part of it, such as engineering and business. I guess 30 to 40% of people that go back for an MBA are engineers. They see the MBA as a way out of a narrow engineering career and more into a business career. Those people have to learn to live in two worlds and translate between the worlds. I guess for one doing joint engineering and medical it's a different sort of a problem, but it's the same thing. The doctors speak one language and engineers speak another language.
Vardalas: I thinking especially about a variety of very sensitive social issues where there are saying to the non-experts, "Accept what I say. I'm the expert." Then the layperson says, "Why? So what?" In a lot of biomedical and ethical issues and engineering issues, do you see this as being part of the training they should be getting?
McNaul: I'll call them ethical issues for lack of a better term. I think they are popping up all over. We are becoming a very polarized nation. A lot of it is along religious lines, some is along social lines, but each of these religious and social areas has its own set of values and its own accepted ways of behaving and ways of enforcing that accepted behavior. As they start interacting in a complex society there is going to be conflict. There is no easy way of resolving it.
Vardalas: For example microwaves and health. High tension energy-wise and health, take that example. Engineers dismiss people as kooks because they're not knowledgeable in the area, but at the same time they are not able to get their message across because they start with the attitude, "You're stupid. I know, and that's the end of the story." Do you see that as an issue in the training of engineers?
McNaul: I think it's very much of an issue. When I went to the university it was up to me to broaden myself. The university didn't encourage it, but I had nine or twelve credit hours my first year that I was expected to take non-engineering courses. History? Great, I love history. Speech? Whatever. It would be good if there was some form of introductory education that says to an engineer, "You are part of a broader world – in the micro-sense of where you are going to work, in the more global sense of where you are going to live, what political system you are going to live in, and you are going to have to live in more than the engineering world. You are going to have to live in a bigger, more diversified world than you probably want. As a part of your university education we are going to help you understand and do that. You're going to take a history course or communications or you're going to interact. We have a joint program with such-and-such school." I really think the engineering profession and all technical professions would be better off in the long run if they did more of this.
Vardalas: I agree with you. They have such a powerful impact on society that it is almost part of their ethical responsibility to understand what it is and what role they are going to play.
McNaul: Right. Engineers have done a lot of harm. Engineers have done a lot of good. Depending on one's moral perspective, some of that harm might have been intentional. "I'm going to develop an atomic bomb." It was a terrible thing, but it was a necessary thing. However a lot of that harm is unintentional. It's the unanticipated consequences of what we do that really get us in trouble. The better educated we are the more we can anticipate those consequences and mitigate them.
Vardalas: This has been a fascinating interview.
McNaul: I'm not sure we spent that much time on EMC.
Vardalas: Your career left EMC fairly early, but since you were the second president we had to get you on record.
McNaul: Well, I'm still kicking around here.
Vardalas: Thank you very much. I appreciate it very much and we'll send you a transcript.
McNaul: Okay, good.