Oral-History:Joseph V. Lillie

About Joseph V. Lillie

Joseph V. Lillie received the B.S. in Electrical Engineering (1974) and the M.S. in Telecommunications (1997) from the University of Southwestern Louisiana. He worked in telecommunications engineering and management for forty-six years. Lillie was employed by BellSouth Telecommunications from 1973 to 2002. During those years, he held positions as a design engineer, a planner, a support manager, an engineering manager and a planning manager. After retiring in 2002 he served as a member of the BellSouth Louisiana State Staff providing engineering and construction support. In 2003 he joined NorthStar Communications Group as the Director of Corporate Quality. In September 2005 he returned to BellSouth for seven months to contribute to the Hurricane Katrina restoration project. Between 2010 and 2018 he performed internal quality audits to the ISO9000, TL9000 and M-1003 standards.

Lillie began his membership in IEEE as a student. Since that time, he has served in numerous IEEE positions at the section and region, and international levels, including as Region 5 Director (2000-2001) and several region 5 committees. He has held numerous board positions, including the IEEE, MGA, Awards, Foundation, and IEEE USA Boards. He has also served as Treasurer for the IEEE, MGA, IEEE-USA, Foundation, Consumer Electronics Society, Smart Village and Lafayette Section. He has been a member of the IEEE Finance Committee for fifteen of the past eighteen years.

He and his wife, Debbie and I have been married for almost fifty years. They raised two children, who are both electrical engineers, and have five grandchildren. In this interview, Lillie talked about his early home life and education, and its influence on his career path, his respect for the work of the Foundation and its staff, his involvement with numerous areas of IEEE. He spoke with pride of his family and his children’s early careers in engineering. He also offered advice to young professionals.

Interview Topics

  • Involvement with the Foundation
  • Smart Village
  • IEEE Service and Advantages to Membership
  • Involvement in MGA
  • Service to IEEE and working through ‘Retirement’
  • Life and Work at Bell South
  • Early Life
  • Conclusion: IEEE

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ 07030 USA or ieee-history@ieee.org. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Joseph Lillie, an oral history conducted 26 July 2018 by Lisa Nocks, Ph.D., Historian, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.

About the Interview

Joseph Lillie, an oral history conducted 26 July 2018 by Lisa Nocks, Ph.D., Historian, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.

Interview #819 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Interview

INTERVIEWEE: Joseph Lillie

INTERVIEWER: Lisa Nocks

DATE: 26 July 2018

PLACE: Piscataway, NJ

Involvement with The Foundation

Nocks:

Okay, Joe. I would like to ask you about how you got involved with the Foundation, and at what point – basically, questions about your involvement and how you feel about the establishment of the Foundation, as it’s coming up to its fiftieth year.

Lillie:

Yes, that’s good. A good organization, and it’s a way to give back ̶ and give back more than just financially. I know without people giving their financial commitments to the Foundation, we can’t do the things that the Foundation does, but it also takes the labor of people giving their skills back to the organization, so all that’s good. How did I get involved? Thinking back, there’s one name that comes to mind, Dave Connor. I don’t know if anyone has interviewed Dave Connor yet. Dave Connor was the Foundation treasurer, at the same time I was the IEEE treasurer. I’m actually IEEE treasurer now, but this is my second go around that. I was the IEEE treasurer in 2005 and 2006, and at that point Dave Connor was the Foundation treasurer. We had an agreement we would sit on each other’s finance committee meetings.

So he came to the IEEE finance committee meetings, and incidentally that’s still going on today, and then I went to the Foundation finance committee meetings. And that got me, I guess, in line to be Foundation treasurer and this, I guess, was the 2005 or ‘06 timeframe, I’m going to get mixed up on the years here a little bit. So I kind of stayed involved with Foundation finances a little bit, and then I don’t remember, but someone, one of the directors I believe, for some issue resigned from the Foundation and I was asked to replace him and I guess by the 2007 timeframe.

Nocks:

And so, aside from the treasurer position, working for the Foundation, how do you interact with the staff of the Foundation, with the different sections and. . . ?

Lillie:

Well, I guess, you know, I was one of the few people that had the privilege of actually being on the Foundation board and the IEEE board at the same time. I’ve actually been challenged by people that’s potentially a conflict of interest.

Nocks:

Yes?

Lillie:

But it’s not. As long as you’re up front about it and that’s what I’ve always wanted to do.

Nocks:

Yes.

Lillie:

The fact that I was on both boards gave me access to volunteers at a level perhaps that simply being on the Foundation board wouldn’t give me access to those volunteers. Near the end of my term on the Foundation, I actually was the MGA vice president, Member and Geographic Activities, in the year in which we went from what was [called] regional activities to Member and Geographic Activities, so I was able to ̶ I was asked to manage that transition. But again, that gave me exposure to people all over the world that were interested in utilizing the, basically the funds of the Foundation the way we were managing things back then.

Nocks:

Yes?

Lillie:

So it was, it was a privilege and an honor and made the job a lot easier, having the dual role.

Nocks:

Who makes the decisions or suggestions about what kinds of projects the Foundation has to fund?

Lillie:

Well, my first involvement with the Foundation and the way we did things then, and the way things are now is not the same.

Nocks:

Okay ̶

Lillie:

Actually, while I was on the board we made that transition basically going back to the 2007 timeframe. We just utilized the grant process. We would publicize the fact that we have funds available, and anyone could apply for, for a grant ̶ and then we have a grants committee that I did serve on a couple of years ̶ review all of those applications, rank them, look at the money available and hand out money.

Nocks:

̶ but where did the grant applications come from? Was it from the member organizations?

Lillie:

Grant applications came from all over the world, from a variety of organizations, not just IEEE. A lot of these applications had no linkage to IEEE. When you read the grant application, someone wanted to do something, they were usually related to STEM ̶ to science and engineering, math, technology. They were usually related to that issue.

Nocks:

Okay.

Lillie:

However, they came from organizations and groups of individuals that had no linkage with IEEE, and to be honest with you, that concerned me a little bit.

Nocks:

Yes.

Lillie:

Because we’re IEEE and in order to get the full recognition for what we’re doing, plus the linkage with the organization. To me that’s important if, if we’re going to put our treasure into something we should expect something in return, and, and as a minimum, the opportunity for the local membership to participate in that activity is, is the first thing we started looking for in return. In other words just the fact that someone in, and I’ll just grab an example, in Turkey, a local section in Turkey can participate in a program that received a grant from the Foundation is the good-enough linkage for me, because then we have the ownership right there on the ground and to me that’s what’s important.

Nocks:

Can you think of a memorable project that was funded by the Foundation that you feel really had an impact?

Lillie:

Well, I’m going to back up a little bit more in time, because, I’ve told the Foundation board that I’m one of the individuals who went to the Foundation, before I was on the board, requested money, had it denied, went back and requested money for a different project, had it accepted, and then actually went back and gave some of the money back because we didn’t spend it all.

So back in the early days of me getting involved at the board level, I was involved with IEEE USA in what we called the PACE conference, Professional Activities Council for Engineers. We had an annual conference and we were trying to bring young professionals to that conference. So I was able to go to the Foundation and get money to support travel and registration for young professionals to attend that conference. So now that puts us back into the 1990 ̶ I guess, let’s say, around 2000 timeframe, so yes, that was one where I really saw how the Foundation can benefit the membership by, by allowing young professionals, (we called them GOLD at the time,) Graduates of the Last Decade, we now call them young professionals. But a very good program that we worked with the Foundation on.

The first year we tried to do it, it didn’t work because we weren’t prepared; therefore we gave the money back. And then of course went back the next year and said, let’s try this again, we’re going to get it right this time, and the board was very accommodating. But that was when we actually had the opportunity to go to the Foundation board and make our case. That exists today, again a little different, with the signature programs today, the board has basically limited the number of projects they’re going to fund, and select those projects and then put a lot of effort into those individual projects.

Nocks:

So how did that transition come about? From the way that the Foundation provided funds early on to how that moved into the signature programs?

Lillie:

Well, from, from my perspective, part of it was because we did not have that linkage with IEEE. You had these random projects that on their own weren’t necessarily bad projects. They just didn’t fit in to the overall mission of IEEE. They may fit into the overall mission of technology and education, and all that’s good, but they weren’t really IEEE, and I think that’s important. And really my time on the board I was trying to better solidify that linkage between IEEE and the IEEE Foundation, and I’ll give you some examples of things we did as we go along here.

Nocks:

The vision of the Foundation in general is like the mission of IEEE membership in general to serve humanity.

Lillie:

Yes, for the benefit of humanity.

Nocks:

So do you see a change in the way that membership funds the Foundation from the inception of that that mission statement to today?

Smart Village

Lillie:

Well, I guess I’m going to get to a specific example, and we always do hear about Smart Village. I don’t know if you know it, but I was the finance chair for Smart Village for three years. And I actually would probably still be in that position except when I became IEEE treasurer, the workload didn’t, wasn’t … we have a lot of volunteers, so it’s always good to spread the workload. But if you look at specifically the IEEE Smart Village of all of the projects I worked on, that’s one project, you know we talk about for the benefit of humanity, we actually delivered; we actually deployed the equipment to light up a village.

And it doesn’t get any closer than that. If you’re talking for the benefit of humanity, it’s real, and it’s there, and humanity has seen the difference. And so that’s without the signature program I don’t know if we would have gotten there, because the grants that we were given were not of the magnitude that we could not only deploy one of these, but deploy a dozen of these projects in villages around the world.

Nocks:

How many villages, do you know offhand, how many villages you’ve served so far?

Lillie:

Well, that’s the data I should have researched before I got here today, but it’s in the, I would say in the 16 to 20 range that we have sustainable projects. See, that’s another thing with individual grants. They’re not sustainable. You know, if I get $25,000 to do something, and it’s good, and, but how do I do that tomorrow? Where do I get the next $25,000? And what we’re trying to do with Smart Village and what the signature program has allowed us to do with the long-term financing, I’m saying long-term, three to five years here, is to develop these projects to where they’re sustainable. We want people to make money on Smart Village, and we want them to put that money back into the village. And now you have electricity, let’s go to clean water. And now you’ve got clean water, let’s go in the classroom and let’s improve what’s in the classroom, let’s give, bring technology into the classroom, and then into hospitals and all those … it grows.

Dean Kamen, someone that I met once, made a lot of money on technology, and has given a lot of it back, and he made a . . . he was on a mission at one point to develop a box that produced clean water.

Nocks:

I’ve heard of that.

Lillie:

A three … a 3x3x3 box, and what he found out is, he needed electricity to run the box, okay? And that stuck with me, and that, and when Smart Village, when I heard of what was going on with Smart Village, I said, that’s the stuff we need in front of Dean Kamen’s clean water box. And that can do it. So.

Nocks:

It seems to me that there’s been more of an idea that the world is a bigger place than just the developed cities and communities, and that not only can you help these villages, but that they can bring some kind of contribution to the rest of the world . . . they ̶

Lillie:

Right.

Nocks:

̶ have the fundamentals. So do you have any stories about, about that yet, or are we still too early?

Lillie:

Well, the idea in Smart Village is that, okay, you’ve got electricity, and then what is that village … what was that village producing before they got electricity, and can we help them produce that? It might be something as simple as beads, necklaces. It might be something very similar, some kind of small products. I guess can we get to the point where, where these villages maybe start producing some of the components that are required for other villages to have light? If you look at the video that National Geographic did on Smart Village, and you look at them putting the light kits together, can, can one of these Smart Villages start producing those light kits? Not necessarily producing the components, but you have the labor to put those components together, to make it a working light kit, that we can then deploy, that makes it easier when we go to that next village.

So I think there’s a lot, but what, what’s important is that we, we don’t allow, or we don’t let electricity change who they are. We need to make electricity available to where they can be better at who they are. So what we really need to encourage them to do is, is do the assessment in their village, what are they good at, and let’s get better at it by them making those decisions, not us. So I think there’s a lot of things that when we travel around, you can see just crafts and some of these villages are known for some of these simple crafts, and can we help them continue to produce those crafts, produce them better, and then spread them around the world. So.

Nocks:

Sure. And it changes even though you say, well, we don’t want to change their culture, we want to help them to survive in their culture that just the existence of electricity when it was first developed changed the length of the day ̶

Lillie:

Right.

Nocks:

̶ the length of the workday … and the way the people interacted with each other. Are there any other projects that you see having made that kind of change where that, if members give more to the Foundation that you’d be able to do this pet project that you think ̶

Lillie:

Yes, you’ve got the EPICS program that I have not been involved in, but other than to see it from a financial status. EPICS has been around longer than the Signature program has been around. EPICS was something we were funding on a one-by-one basis through grants. But now it’s one of the, at least it was, I think it’s still one of the Signature programs, and it’s a way for us to help out on the education side.

So, I think, I guess the best way for me to address it is to say, I think the Foundation board has done a very good job in identifying key programs that we can then spread worldwide, instead of trying to spread small grants worldwide that are really not sustainable, to take a limited number of programs, get it to where it’s sustainable, and then spread it worldwide in a sustainable environment. So that’s I think the biggest success I see on the Signature programs that are moving forward now.

IEEE Service and Advantages to Membership

Nocks:

Thank you. I would like to take that and move into the story of you and your involvement in IEEE in general. Let’s talk a little bit about how you think IEEE has changed, aside from these Foundation programs, how it has changed during the last 25 years or so.

Lillie:

Well, excuse me, I’m thinking back now, my, my first position at a board level was on the IEEE USA board, it was 20 years ago, and so that begs the question why am I still sticking around.

Nocks:

Right.

Lillie:

I guess two reasons. One, I was fortunate to get involved at that level, when I was younger than a lot of other people involved, and my company allowed that. I was working—

Nocks:

(Interposing) What company did you work for?

Lillie:

I was working for a company called South Central Bell at the time when the divestiture hit and we were broken up, we were actually combined, South Central Bell was combined with Southern Bell to make Bell South. And the company was real supportive of my IEEE involvement. So that made a difference, that allowed me to participate in IEEE’s functions when I should have been at work. And I remember having a conversation with my boss, and I said, “Look, I’ve got a cell phone, I’ve got a pager, and I’ve got a computer”, and that was when they were separate devices, okay? And I said, “So, there’s no reason for you to think I’m not at work when I’m at an IEEE meeting. So you don’t care, it shouldn’t matter to you where I am, what should matter to you is that when you need me, I’ll answer the phone.”

And that’s the way we operated and that worked for all of us, I think. So it did, I was able to give my time to IEEE, but there were several times I stepped out of meetings to take care of a business issue in the hallway. And I can tell you, the person I was talking to, other than my boss when he called they had no idea where I was. Sometime I wasn’t even in the United States; that shouldn’t, that shouldn’t have mattered to them. You know, I can remember checking engineering drawings in my … doing my, my office work sitting in an airplane on my way to China, and land in China and the report I developed transmitted back, and then all the answer I got was, you sure are working late. You know, they didn’t know I was on an airplane. It didn’t matter; it didn’t matter.

Advice to Young Professionals

Nocks:

When members join IEEE early in their careers, is there a way for them to kind of make their way into positions like board positions or is that something that came through the support of your company, or how does that happen?

Lillie:

Well, I will tell you it was easier for me because my company supported me. Now we don’t see quite that level of support today unfortunately, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. There are some companies that are very supportive. What I try to tell the young professionals is, utilize IEEE as a way to improve your non-technical skills. I thought, it’s fun to talk to college juniors and seniors, and I remind them that when they finish college, they’re leaving with three documents, they’re leaving with a resume, they’re leaving with a diploma and they’re leaving with a … I’m going to forget what the third document is, I’m pulling a political thing, but they’re leaving with these documents, okay.

Nocks:

Right, right.

Lillie:

But those only open the door for them. The next thing is for them to ̶ a transcript is the third thing. So, a transcript, a resume and a diploma. That gets them their first job. Once they get the first job, I’m not saying throw those documents away, but that’s not the source of their advancement. The source of their advancement is the way they develop in their, their first job, their second job, their third job. So they need to identify the non-technical skills that they need to advance personally, and that’s what I encourage them to do. So it’s IEEE can give them that opportunity. They can get involved at the local section in leadership positions, and they can develop better communications skills, better presentation skills, better skills, and all that helps.

Nocks:

And I’m assuming that that membership also creates a community within the job location, right?

Lillie:

That’s correct. So you want to know what’s changed in IEEE in 20 years? We’re not a local section any more, we’re a worldwide section. Because I can get on, into IEEE Collabratec, I can get into other IEEE databases, and I can find members all over the world. I can find conferences all over the world that I can review the proceedings from the conference, the papers from the conference, and I can see what happened at that conference, even though I’m not there. Twenty years ago I really couldn’t do that as easy as I can do it today. So there’s no excuse now for someone to say they don’t have access to information, the information is there.

IEEE explore is everything, everything we’ve done in electrical engineering for the last 100 years is basically documented. So there’s no reason now to say that we don’t have access to the info. And we don’t necessarily, we don’t have to travel to get it, it’s at our fingertips. Now there may be some fee to use it we shouldn’t expect it to be free, because it costs to do these kinds of things. And that’s what IEEE is doing though, it’s making that information available worldwide.

Nocks:

I’m wondering about whether it makes it easier for people who are downsized from one job to make their way into another area, just because they’re IEEE members.

Lillie:

Well, I tell students and recently-graduated students, when I was hiring people, now maybe I was the only one in the world that did it, when I was hiring people, of course we still had paper resumes, and I’d collect them. Some of them came in email, but I would, I was encouraging them to “get your resume into the smallest piece of paper that you can where it makes sense,” because if I get 20 resumes,

I don’t have time to read 20 resumes. So what did I do? I went straight to activities, and the ones that had IEEE, they went in one stack, the ones that didn’t have IEEE, they went in a different stack. And then, once I had them divided, I took the IEEE ones. If I found the person I need, I’m finished. That’s the person we hired, okay? And so if you’re involved in IEEE, you better put it on your resume. And you better be honest about it, because in the interview I’m going to find out if you’ve been honest about it. I want you to really be involved as a student in IEEE, because it’s going to open doors for you, guaranteed.

Nocks:

What, what kinds of skills would you have looked at on those resumes aside from IEEE membership?

Lillie:

Well … involvement in other things, are they involved in the community? Are they … you know, the technical piece is important too, what, what courses did they take? But a lot of kids ̶ I call them kids because they’re younger than me ̶ what’s their mission on their resume? And I tell them when I’m … you don’t have to have the same mission, there’s nothing wrong with linking your mission you’re trying to with the job you’re applying for. There’s nothing wrong with that. Do some research. But so does that person, does that resume tell me that that person matches up with our organization? You know, what are the courses they took? Telephone, we’re looking for communications courses, is that mentioned on there? But also their involvement, are they interacting in the community, not just in IEEE, be it your church, be it your social gatherings of other … those things are important because that’s the full person. I expect them to have the technical expertise, that’s why they have a degree.

Nocks:

Right.

Lillie:

That’s expected, okay. It’s a piece that make them the whole person that I was looking for from those resumes. IEEE was a piece. I looked at the rest of it too, but I’m looking for the full person.

Nocks:

Would you say that if you were at an IEEE event and you knew that your company was looking for someone that you were . . . you kind of played scout among the young participants?

Lillie:

Sure, I’d ask them for their resume. And some of them had it. And I encouraged them, if you’re going to a conference, get your resume down, you can get it down to one page. You can play with the fonts a little bit and you can get it one page. But you can tweak it, depending on what event you’re going to. But have a copy in your pocket. You know, I’ve asked these kids, students, “where’s your resume?” And sometimes they pull it up, and they say,

“well, I didn’t know you’d ask me for it.”
“The next time you will. You know, I’m trying to help you, I’m not trying to hurt you. I want to hire you. But this is a two-day conference, so can you come back tomorrow with a resume?”
“Yes sir.”

Don’t just … yes, that’s what I want. I want them to … because I’m not going to hire everybody.

Nocks:

Sure.

Lillie:

But I want them to be ready for that opportunity.

Engagement at IEEE Events

Nocks:

I was just wondering if there are any stories that spring to mind about unexpected kinds of encounters at IEEE events over the years?

Lillie:

Well, there’s one that stands out, and we were in India, and there were, I was the MGA VP at the time, and the president of the IEEE was on the trip and there were like three or four other board members, and we were invited to go to a section meeting ̶ I’m sorry, a student branch meeting, where they had an event planned with an invited speaker, and they wanted us to be there and actually say a few words. Well, the night before we got the word that this was a religious person, and the question came up: is this appropriate? And then I can tell you that other board members said, we have to cancel out.

And I said, wait a minute, we don’t have to support what the religious person is, is going to deliver, but these people invited that person, that’s important to them, okay? It may not be the same in a different country, but in this country, these are the students, if we turn our back on them because of the people they want to listen to, then we’re not allowing them to get the full benefit of education. So we went. Interesting, what did the religious speaker talk about? Challenged them, that we’re . . . in developing new technologies, to assess the potential misuse of that technology, and to design that misuse out of the product. And I’m saying, man, what better message, what better message can you ask anyone to deliver? You know, make the world a better place by developing new technology, but make it a better place by making sure that technology is not misused, right on.

You know, I learned that day, and I’ve given the talk since based upon that you can actually divide a person into levels. Here you’ve got a political level, you’ve got a religious level. We operate at the technology level, and that’s what brings us all together as IEEE, the fact that we share technology. All these other things exist, we have different views on everything, but we don’t let that bother us. We operate on this technology level, and that religious person taught me that that day. I got more out of it than those students, I think.

Tech Ethics

Nocks:

So that sort of leads to the question of how tech ethics came out of the standard association, in other words, the ethically aligned design program.

Lillie:

Right.

Nocks:

What do you remember about how all that got started up to you?

Lillie:

I don’t have a lot of recollection of how it got started, but I will tell you that ethics is always a tough issue, and it’s tougher on the younger individuals. And that’s why it needs to be discussed and talked about, because sometimes they take direction without assessing if that direction is the right direction, and that’s what I’ve always asked these young kids. Let me tell you, I’m talking about young kids, I have two kids, they’re both electrical engineers. So I’m a little bit prejudiced when it comes to electrical engineers as kids. So anyway, I had to get that in, my son and daughter would be proud of me today. But we need to discuss ethics with these younger, younger people.

I’ve spoken at conferences where ethics was the topic, and what I try to do is, is let them know that it might be ethics to a certain degree some people say, you’re ̶ you’re either ethical or you’re not, and I’m saying, you can train yourself to be more ethical by paying attention and making decisions that lead us in the right direction.

And you know, I’ve had people challenge me, well, what if I work for a company that’s doing something that I think is unethical? I said, well, then, then very professionally, you have an obligation to make your leadership aware of your concern. And the next question is, well, what if they don’t want to do anything different about it? I said, then you have to make a decision. You have to make a decision, is that where you want to work or is it … if you’re comfortable working there knowing that’s the way they operate, that’s a decision you have to make.

But also if you’re not comfortable working there, then understand that it’s your decision to go elsewhere, and make a difference elsewhere, because apparently you can’t do it where you are if you can’t change. It’s tough, it’s really tough, you’re putting bread on the, you’re putting food on the table for the family, and we need to assess it, and we need to help these students learn that they need to be paying attention, because compliance is acceptance, if …” I shouldn’t do it just because everybody else is doing it, I ought to be doing it because it’s the right thing to do.” And what I always tell them, “think about it, if you think it’s not right, it’s probably not right. Now you don’t, probably can’t prove it, but think about it, and do some research, and always stay professional. And then you always are going to win” . . . so. . .

Nocks:

At IEEE events, conferences and so forth, is that now more and more part of the discussion, that designing things that might have a detrimental effect on, on the consumer?

Lillie:

Well, ethics is discussed more than it was 20 years ago. Unfortunately, you look at, in some people’s mind, the iPhone is causing problems. It is. And unfortunately, I even see that in my grandkids. You know, they’re using iPhone, and it’s hard to get their attention sometime. Well, does that mean we shouldn’t have iPhones? You know, we have to teach people how to use iPhones. I get accused of that myself, that’s why I set my iPhone aside before we started today, so I wouldn’t play with it. You know, we have ̶ but we have to be aware of that, and the more we talk about it, the better off we’ll be.

Nocks:

Yes.

Lillie:

Habit is something that we can easily fix, but we have to know it’s a habit first, and admit to it. But okay, but of course ethics is a lot bigger than that, when you’re looking at the impact. But when a company has to shut down, is that ethical? I was hearing a story yesterday on the radio, I’m sorry, about Bethlehem Steel going way back. You know, they were employing 35,000 people in a town of 70,000; 50% of the community worked for Bethlehem Steel. And then they shut down. Was that ethical? Well, it was a business decision, but what got us to that point, there’s a lot of background stuff. But okay, so now to technology.

We need to be just a little bit cautious, and back with that religious person who told us just assess the potential misuse, because that’s where the ethical issue comes in. If I know the product can be misused, if the technology can be misused, how do I manage it such that I get that misuse out of it? And that’s, I think, the challenge, because you, you don’t want to, you don’t want to not develop new technologies, simply because they might be misused. But can we deploy them in a way that we can limit the misuse? You’re always going to misuse it, somebody will always figure out how to misuse something, but can we minimize that? And that’s the challenge for all engineers, I think, all, all researchers and developers, minimize the bad impact.

Nocks:

This is a conversation that’s been going on in robotics for a little while, but it’s changed over the years, because in the early days you had to, you know, ethics and safety had to do with making sure that a person didn’t get hurt from the way that the robot worked.

Lillie:

Right.

Nocks:

But now there are standards being developed to make sure that people don’t mistreat or misuse the robot.

Lillie:

Misuse the robot.

Nocks:

Because they’re going to be interacting within their homes and so forth.

Lillie:

Right.

Nocks:

So that’s why I was curious what the conversation is within IEEE about how much time people spend on that, and is it something where people are going to development companies and saying, this is a fundamental part of your job.

Lillie:

Yes, I can’t really speak to how much of that goes on, but I can tell you, you can read articles that it’s happening, and every now and then there are presentations that … I don’t go to a whole lot of conferences but there are issues, there are opportunities for those issues to be discussed, yes.

Involvement in MGA

Nocks:

Would you like to talk about your involvement in MGA and I understood that in the, what was it, 2000, between 2006 and 2008, the change of the name of the organization to adapt to the changing ̶

Lillie:

(Interposing) Yes, the change was actually led by Pedro Rey, who was my predecessor in the position. Pedro is a good friend, by the way, from San Juan. He and I served as regional directors together, so our first time on the board was in 2000, 2001, and we were director-elects together, and that’s when we really got to know each other, and then as directors together.

I seemed to always be one step behind Pedro, and if you can be one step behind somebody, Pedro is the right guy. I followed him as IEEE treasurer, and then I followed him as MGA VP. He was the last vice president of regional activities, and during his tenure in that position he basically re-engineered regional activities. And, the regional, remember when geographic activities was born on January 1st, 2008, and that was when I took over as vice president. I got to implement what Pedro envisioned, and I did work with Pedro on putting the package together and negotiating that through the various pieces of IEEE.

So why did we make the change? Member engagement was the key piece. We needed to focus more on the member and provide opportunities for the member to better engage with IEEE and with other members, and that’s what we were trying to accomplish. Some people will tell you we’re not finished with the transition yet, we’ve made some strides, we’ve made some changes but it’s really never going to finish, and we will always be looking for better ways to engage with members and that’s what we continue to do today, and that’s what MGA is continuing to do.

Collabratec is one of those products that we can … that’s been created to help that engagement, I called it linked-in for IEEE. We need to continually assess if that project, that product, is delivering what it was intended to deliver, and look at that, and we’ll continue to do that. That’s just one example, the other thing is better reporting of the section and regional activities. Getting rid of some of the paperwork requirements and mechanizing some of that stuff. And we continue to do that today. vTools is a product that quickly came from that transition, tools that the sections and societies, chapters can use to better manage their business. Online voting of section leadership and that kind of stuff. Pieces that come out, documentation of meetings. So again it’s been continuing to evolve, but that’s what we started in 2008, when MGA was born.

Nocks:

What are the challenges for MGA that you see, or the pieces that still have yet to be put in place, let’s say?

Lillie:

Well, membership is, is always a challenge, how do we grow the membership, how do we deliver that content to the member? And deliver it, how do we meet their expectations of what IEEE membership is? We’ve done lots of surveys, there’s lots of diversity with 430 thousand members in 160 countries worldwide lots of diversity. So the expectation level is different. I was able to lead a session at sections congress in Sydney last year where we had programs at the section level. How do sections develop programs for delivery at the section level?

So what I set out to do was ̶ we have small, medium and large sections, so we went after the Santa Clara Valley, which is one of the largest sections in the world and then they were also the winner of the largest section the previous year, so that’s why they were picked. The small section was Argentina, and the middle section was Brisbane, Australia, or Queensland, Australia, which is in Brisbane. So we were able to bring those section leaders together and they had never met, so we did everything by conference call and email and video conference and put the presentations together.

But it was really rewarding to see the different approaches they take, from the size of the section and the geography of the section. You know, the section chair from Australia explained, holding a section meeting in places that don’t have electricity. And Silicon Valley is sitting right next to him, you know?

Nocks:

Right.

Lillie:

They’re on the same panel; and then the guy in Brisbane is saying, “I never really realized this diversity, you know?” But you look at all of the diversity aspects, it is difficult to meet expectations of every member. So that’s the challenge for MGA, is to sustain membership, grow membership, and meet the expectations of the diverse communities that we serve around the world.

Nocks:

You must have a lot of support from your family, because you are gone a lot. Do you want to talk about that?

Service to IEEE and working through ‘Retirement’

Lillie:

So my wife will tell you I work for IEEE, my neighbors think I’m an employee of IEEE, the TSA people at my local airport in Lafayette, Louisiana think I work for IEEE. But I volunteer for IEEE, and it’s been very rewarding and again I was fortunate, I had that company support in the beginning, and then when Bell South was reducing the head count, they had an offer on the table that I elected to take 16 years ago, and when I went home and told my wife that I was going to retire, she looked at me, she says, “Oh, you’re stupid.” I said, “I guess so.” But I said, “I didn’t sign the papers yet.” But anyway, we talked about it. The kids were both out of college ̶ I mentioned two electrical engineers, did I tell you that?

Nocks:

Right, you did. That you did!

Lillie:

So the two kids were out of college, they were on their own, and I said, let’s go do something different. And what it’s really done is, it’s allowed me to give back to IEEE, not from the financial piece, but from the time piece and it’s very rewarding for me to actually see the changes that we’ve made at IEEE that I’ve been able to be a part of. Not a part of everything, but I tell them that I sit on the finance committee and we approve their budgets, so that makes me a part of everything.

I want to support the staff and the volunteers, because that’s what it takes to get something done, and that’s what my objective is. And at the same time, I want to make sure that we’re getting the bang, the right bang for our buck, and that’s important that we manage this ̶ the business piece of IEEE ̶ in a way that we can be as productive as we can be for the volunteer piece of IEEE. So that part’s very rewarding.

After retiring 16 years ago, I’ve been working ever since ̶ I’ve had various part-time jobs, some of them are full-time jobs. One thing that happened after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, I actually returned to Bell South and spent seven months in what we refer to as the war zone, where the eye of the hurricane came through in Louisiana, seven months with 14 days off, and all the non-off days were 12-hour days. We worked a lot, we did a lot of good work, I was able to lead a team.

I was an outsider, I was from 100 miles away. I knew the locals because I worked with all of them, but I went back to work for Bell South for that seven months as a, what did they call it, temporary full-time. It was more than full-time, because 12 times six or seven is a lot of hours. It was rewarding, because we had a mission. The mission was to rebuild the telephone network that was gone, and we rebuilt it. We had problems and we overcame those problems, and it’s again very rewarding to be involved in something like that. Very emotional to see what happened, very rewarding.

Nocks:

Were there people, other than all the gentlemen that you mentioned earlier?

Lillie:

Dave Connor.

Nocks:

Yes, that was it, and from the Puerto Rico ̶

Lillie:

(Interposing) Pedro Rey.

Nocks:

Pedro. Are there others during this time that you have stories about that stand out about your work with IEEE?

Lillie:

You know, a lot of the staff people, a lot of this didn’t rotate around finances. Somehow I got involved in IEEE finances, and I served in various financial positions in IEEE, but the staff, Dick Schwartz was the CFO back when I was the treasurer before, and Tom Siegert in that position now, it’s a pleasure to work with those people. And that’s the primary contacts I’ve had with MGA, Cecelia Jankowski, excellent to work with.

CJ and I actually were volunteers together before she was an employee of IEEE. I worked for her for a little while, when she chaired a committee that I was on and we had stories about that that we tell every now and then. But they’re all good, it’s fun. This goes way back into the late 90’s, when again, I think she was working for Grumman Aircraft and before IEEE opened up. I remember when she applied for the IEEE job that she has now. Okay, I’m … there may not be a lot of us, but I remember that. But she’s a good friend and very good to work with.

The staff at MGA, they’re all good to work with the finance staff, Linda Teal actually on the plane yesterday flying over, someone sitting next to me was from Maine with IEEE and he says, “Oh, do you work?” I asked him if he was, and yes, and he says, “Well, do you work for IEEE?” and I said, “Well, sort of.” He says, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, I’m the treasurer.” And he said, “Well, do they take care of you when you go to New Jersey?” I said, “I think so.” And about that time I get … the plane hadn’t left yet, about that time I get an email letting me know where we’re going, we went to dinner last night with the, with the group. So yes, it’s fun.

You know, it, it’s hard to single out the ones I’ve mentioned are good friends, but, but they’re dedicated employees of IEEE, and that’s what comes first, and I want to support them to where we can be successful together. And then working with the volunteers, there’s lots of volunteers other than the ones I mentioned, that I’ve worked with all over the world. I’ve sat on several awards committees, where we get to pick some of those people who receive the medals. But even more important than that is seeing all of the nominations for the various awards.

There’s a lot of good people in this organization, it’s a shame we can’t award them all, they’ll get their award. Some of them are not looking, they’re looking, the reward they’re looking for is the satisfaction of volunteering, and that’s the approach I think we should all take if we’re in this to get an award, then go work, go someplace else. If we’re in this to get satisfaction in delivering something better, making for the benefit of humanity, then that’s what we all ought to be working for, and that’s what I’m working for. The other stuff just happens.

Nocks:

Well, you mentioned proudly that you have two children who are electrical engineers, ̶ one you already talked about your experience with Bell, them allowing you to participate in IEEE; but I guess I’m thinking about when you were in the position of your children just getting out of school, and just looking for a job, what was it like in those days, and how is that different from what their experience is?

Lillie:

Well, I’m going to back up a little bit more than that.

Nocks:

Okay.

Lillie:

My wife was fortunate, she still works in the school ̶ elementary school our kids went to. So she comes home one day and she says, “The teacher asked your daughter, first grade, ‘what does your dad do?’ ‘He’s an engineer.’” “What does an engineer do?” “He goes to work every day, talks on the phone a lot, puts his feet up on the desk and goes to lunch.” So I thought about it, I said, “Done; she’s got it nailed.” You know, that was my typical day. I was in management, but now she’s an engineer. And that’s what brings it home. It worked. My son surprised the heck out of us when he told us he was going to major in electrical engineering. But they’re doing well, they’ve had a good background, good education. I always tell Com, are you surprised? I’ll mention the company name, you can edit it out if you want they work for the A companies, my daughter works for AT&T and my son works for Avaya, and they’re both closely related to the old AT&T.

You know, I started on the AT&T medical plan and I’m retired on the AT&T medical plan, so we made full circle. Both of them were born and paid for by the AT&T medical plan and now that’s where they’re working, because Avaya is a derivative of Lucent, which came from the old telephone company. It’s amazing, they’re doing fine, they don’t ask me for money, that’s good, they’re on somebody else’s payroll, that’s good, and so … and we have five grandkids.

So but how they got there, I don’t know. My daughter in her college yearbook, she was in a sorority, and she was their sweetheart, and in the yearbook it’s … they asked her the question is, “What’s a girl doing in electrical engineering?” and her answer was, “my daddy made me do it.” She wanted to be a high school … she wanted to be a math teacher, wanted to go into math education. And I said that’s a good career. But she was ace in math, it wasn’t a problem, I said, “You ought to start in electrical engineering, you can take more math in electrical engineering than you can take in math education. And if you don’t like the engineering you wind up doing, then you can always go be a math teacher. “ And I’m not trying to belittle math teachers, I’m just saying that, and she’s happy with what she’s doing now, she’s managing project managers, turning up cell sites all over the state of Louisiana.

Nocks:

So ̶

Lillie:

(Interposing) But I’ve got to tell you about my son.

Nocks:

Okay.

Lillie:

He’s a director over sales engineers, so he’s got half of the United States that he travels around, basically the Mississippi River west, and travels around, not every week, but meeting with customers, the large retailers you can figure out who they are, and anyone that has a call center, and peddling their products and they’re apparently good products because for some reason people buy them. So it worked good.

Life and Work at Bell South

Nocks:

So now, you went directly to management from grad school?

Lillie:

No, I wound up with Bell South, the first position, or South Central Bell, and the first position was referred to as design engineer. So we were designing the telephone plant from the switch to the customer, everything between the switch and the customer, so ̶ the cable. But when I started it was copper cable. We had a copper analog network, and during my 30 years we transitioned to a fiber digital network. And the transition was gradual, but we got there. And it’s not all fiber yet, you still have a lot of copper analog that’s still working just fine, but the digital stuff works a lot better.

Nocks:

Sure.

Lillie:

So, yes.

Nocks:

Did it seem when you … people first started making that transition that it was kind of science fiction-y, or was it so gradual that ̶

Lillie:


(Interposing) It was a challenge for us, because of the copper analog network is basically a band pass filter. So, so you’ve got the resistance and the capacitor and so the cable itself, and we add these inductors to build the band pass filter. And what’s going through there is voice frequency 400 to 4000 hertz, I guess, if my memory is correct, okay. So, when you move to digital, that doesn’t work real good, because those -- we need high frequencies to go through. So what we had to do was remove the inductors, and then put repeaters into the network, and that’s what we did over time, gradual, short routes, skinny routes, in that a whole lot of capacity, and then once you built a lot of capacity in there with basically key ones on copper, then we go and put fiber in. And I can still … I wound up in after design engineering into the planning group, and then we did some long-range planning in the – I guess it was the mid-80’s, and I was actually doing long-range planning for the city I live in right now.

So I can ride around and I can still see the stuff that we anticipated 30 years ago, and some of it is there now. And I know the infrastructure that was built because we proposed it and we built it, basically the piping systems the telephone company is still using today, and some of the fiber ops we put in. So it’s rewarding to live in a community that I did the planning for.

Nocks:

Sure.

Lillie:

And again, I see that what we … and we made some mistakes, but that was a long time ago, that embedded money is helping the telephone company today. And really all of the communications companies, because they’re all using that infrastructure that we built; so.

Nocks:

That’s true. I’m wondering when you went back to work for them to rebuild after Katrina, were the areas that you worked in still using the old copper?

Lillie:

Yes, so what happened was ̶ and again, we’re talking about the distribution network, again, between the switch and the customer. When it was still a copper network and of course it all got destroyed, or big portions of it got destroyed; now what the headquarters people, I can remember them coming to the office and talking with … and these are people I worked with for years . . . and they came in and they said, “since we’re replacing everything, we just want to replace it and build fiber to the home.” And I can remember looking at them and saying that’s good.

But in that three years I had left Bell South; I worked on some fiber-to-the-home projects. Verizon had a project called FiOS that they started deploying, and I led a team out in California that was doing some of the design work on, on fiber to the home. So I had a little bit of knowledge of what it took to get it done, and I looked at the people and I said, “we can do it, but we need the equipment.” Because it’s not the same equipment. So I asked them, I said, “when will the equipment get here?” And they said, “well, we’re working on that.”

So I said, “here’s the deal: we’re going to design the network using the copper design, and when the equipment starts to arrive, we’re going to make the transition. Everything is going to happen fast. So you go work on the equipment, and while you’re working on getting the equipment, we’re going to work here, we’re going to rebuild; we’re going to provide service to the customers. Now, what we are going to do is we’re going to design it in a way that it’s going to be compatible for the interim.”

So we made some design changes, and it was fun because … but what was good was, I had worked elsewhere to see how they were doing it elsewhere. Not all telephone companies are the same. The same rules, but you apply them in a different way. So, we’re ̶ we’re still waiting on that fiber equipment to show up. It never showed up, and we restored a couple of hundred thousand phones using the old copper method, because people wanted communications, they didn’t care what the medium of delivery was. They wanted communications.

Nocks:

Yes. And they would have been ̶ still waiting for it?

Lillie:

They would still be waiting. And to be honest with you, AT&T is just now moving more toward fiber to the home. Verizon was further advanced in deploying that fiber to the home than AT&T was, and both of them are doing it now, but there is a lot of areas that are still not on the books, both for Verizon and AT&T for fiber to the home. It’s a long-term issue, it doesn’t happen just because you want to do it, all the pieces have to fit in place.

The main message I was trying to deliver to our headquarters friends is, it’s hard to change technologies in an emergency, and I had lived through that. The New Orleans area was lucky weather-wise, they had not had a major hurricane in twenty-five years, maybe even thirty years. In Lafayette, we had a couple of them. Hurricane Andrew hit us in 1990, I guess it was. And we went through that, and I learned a lot in that experience that I was able to apply in New Orleans and the restoration piece.

Look, I wasn’t doing the work, I was just overseeing the work. But you need a plan. And you need to be firm, because you’ve got a lot of people with ideas, and you want to listen to all those ideas, but at the end, you need a plan, and it needs to be consistent, and that’s what the restoration … that’s what I think I brought to the New Orleans north lake shore area for Hurricane Katrina restoration, was the ability to get people to understand that we’ve got to have a plan, we’ve got to work together and get it done. It was fun. It was challenging, but it was, was rewarding, very rewarding.

Nocks:

I can tell, just listening to you.

Lillie:

And just to close that loop, I stayed on with Bell South another seven years, working from my home part-time, updating the databases for the disaster that we did in the databases relative to trying to restore stuff, restore service, but not getting everything in line. And I spent seven years straightening that out, which was fun. From home.

Nocks:

Do you think that those experiences working with the rebuilding after Katrina, that that influences your thinking about the kinds of things that IEEE does when it goes out to serve humanity?

Lillie:

Yes, because we need to consider the impacts, the uncontrollable impacts. You know, we’re going into these villages and we’re, we’re giving them electricity. Well, we don’t want that electricity to go away, because that’s going to hurt them more than if they never had it. So we have to make it sustainable, that’s why it’s important, that’s why going back to this, the grants, those grants were good, but they were not sustainable. What we have now is moving us into this sustainability, and that’s what’s important, because again, once they would turn the lights on, they’ll live without it, but once they’ve got it, then they, they need it back.

Nocks:

Yes, and some of these places are places that are earthquake-prone.

Lillie:

That’s right.

Nocks:

Mudslide-prone or both.

Lillie:

So I can’t tell you that we’re ̶ that we can design all of that into it, but we need to react when they need some help.

Nocks:

Yes.

Lillie:

To make sure that we … it’s as important as, it’s perhaps more important to keep the original ones working than it is to develop, deploy a new one. Because again, they’ve got it, their life is now based upon having electricity, and if you take it away, it’s not going to be a good place. You can kill the community. So sustainability is very important.

Nocks:

I just wanted to …

Lillie:

Yes, it’s … you’ve got a few more minutes.

Early Life

Nocks:

So I just, I’m happy to go back further and ask you, how did you decide to become an electrical engineer in the first place, to choose that as a career?

Lillie:

Yes, my dad was an appliance repairman. Everybody, pliers and chewing gum. It was . . .

Nocks:

Yes?

Lillie:

And . . .

Nocks:

(Interposing) And that impressed you?

Lillie:

Growing up, he was repairing washing machines and stuff like that, and I have an older brother who is also an electrical engineer.

Nocks:

Wow.

Lillie:

No, we’d tear stuff apart, take a motor apart, you take a mechanical relay apart, and start thinking about how it works. You know, it’s one thing to throw a light switch, something simple like a light switch, how does it work? Okay, well, nobody had to teach me that. I just knew it. Okay, but you tear relays apart, you tear motors apart, and you tear washing machines apart, and you start looking at how it all fits together. Well, it didn’t just happen, it happened because somebody made it happen. So that it got me interested in engineering, and I’m not sure why it was electrical other than my dad was an electrician and an appliance repairman. Everybody thought my dad was … you know, we were in a small town in south Louisiana.

Nocks:

Yes; he was the expert, right?

Lillie:

He was the only guy in town, well, let me take a chance here, I’d tell him, I’d tell my friends he was the only sober appliance repairman in town. And I went with him on a lot of jobs behind some other people, and he never liked to do that, but he did it, because those were his customers. You know, I learned a lot about customers.

Nocks:

Yes, yes.

Lillie:

How important that is, and quality, and commitments, giving your word.

Nocks:

Being reliable.

Lillie:

Be reliable, there wasn’t … he worked every Saturday, and unfortunately he went to work on some Sundays, not because he wanted to, because he had to, because that was a good customer, so. But anyway, that’s what started it all and the other thing about education, it was important to my parents.

Nocks:

Yes?

Lillie:

And there were seven of us. Five of us finished college. UL, University of Louisiana, Lafayette, where we all went to school has the Walk of Honors. There’s a brick, basically every time you get a diploma there’s a brick on the walk. Well, we’ve got ten bricks.

Nocks:

Wow.

Lillie:

So I’ve got two, because I’ve a master’s from there; my older brother has two; he has his undergraduate and his PhD in computer science from there. And then one of my sisters has a brick, and my two younger brothers have bricks, so now we had seven bricks. My son-in-law, my two kids, my daughter-in-law, we’ve got 11 bricks.

Nocks:

That’s great.

Lillie:

And we’re working because the grandkids, the oldest one is 16, he’s starting to talk college. He lives in Texas but he’s already figured he can go to the UL in Lafayette without paying the out-of-state tuition since his parents finished there. So he’s got that lined up, he’s interested in gaming, and computer science and they’ve got one of the best programs in the country. So, and there’s always electrical engineering. I keep teasing him, I said, Nate, you know any electrical engineers? “But of course, you and dad, and Nan and lots more.” Okay. So anyway.

Nocks:

That’s great. When you were going to school, before college, did they have classes that you could take in electricity, basics, that sort of thing?

Lillie:

Not really, we learned that from Dad. I went to the Catholic school from first grade through twelfth. The school I went to through ninth grade closed for economic reasons after ninth grade then, so I went to a different high school. I was the only one in my class of thirty that wanted to go into that other school. The good news is it will be coming up on a fifty-year reunion, and I’m getting invited to both of them.

Nocks:

Wow.

Lillie:

We go to … we, my group that I actually finished high school with, there were forty-three in my high school graduating class, and we kind of started getting together recently once a month for dinner, and one of the guys in my class said, “I have a friend that I’m going to invite.” Well, it’s a guy I went to school with for the first nine years, so it’s a small community but anyway it’s a … anyway, but you know, it was a Catholic education, nuns disciplined us, we deserved everything we got, plus more. Like, we got accused of something once we didn’t do, and I can remember the nun saying, well, I’m sure you did something we didn’t know about, so it … now we’re even. You know, I’m sure she was right.

But anyway, a lot of the fundamentals, you know. I never made good grades in English, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t drive it into us. I made better grades in college in English than I did in high school, because it was easier, Okay? Math was never a problem. As a matter of fact, I took a test when I started college, and they gave me credit for algebra and trig, having never taken them. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a trig class in my life, but I made A’s in calculus in college, okay, because ̶

Nocks:

(Interposing) That’s one that’s tough for students.

Lillie:

Yes; Yes. But the fundamentals of mechanics, I guess, and engineering were not taught to us in school, we had to ̶ we had all the stuff, the extra course we took in school was religion, because we went to a Catholic school, okay, but you know, that taught us a lot about life, and again, math, when I was in school, you wouldn’t have dreamed about taking calculus in high school. But I did take a computer science course in high school, we actually went to the university, it was only about four miles away from my high school. So we went, and actually this Dr. Oliver who taught us that course is one of the pioneers in computer science. So you look back, we didn’t know it, this was back ̶

Nocks:

(Interposing) That was pretty innovative for that time.

Lillie:

This was fifty years ago.

Nocks:

Oh.

Lillie:

Fifty years ago we took a, while in high school, a group of us went to a course on computer programming. It was on Fortran, but he started it off by teaching us flowcharting. And that, I still flowchart stuff today because of that. Now once I started college, I took that same course again, of course it was easy, but now I was getting credit for it. They didn’t give us college credit for the course, they perhaps should have, but it was better off that we went back and took it again. The same teacher, Dr. Oliver again. But again, he’s a pioneer, UL in Lafayette had one of the first computer science courses in the U.S., and again that was a priority they made back then everybody’s got it now.

Nocks:

Everybody thinks of MIT and Carnegie-Mellon.

Lillie:

So, so let me tell you about that. My older brother who joined the Air Force, finished electrical engineering, joined the Air Force, got a master’s at Georgetown in … I can’t tell you what his master’s is in. But then he’s in the Air Force, he’s a captain in the Air Force and he finds out they have this program for a PhD in computer science. So he starts researching, there’s only two choices, MIT or this little school in south Louisiana.

The only two places the Air Force was going to support an Air Force military going for a PhD, so of course he went to that little school in south Louisiana, which is where he got his undergraduate degree. So he spent three years at home while in the Air Force, working on a PhD, which he did get from the university. But that’s how good the computer science program was in the year probably 1985-1990 timeframe. And again, they started that computer science program fifty years ago. It’s actually been fifty-three years, because they just had the celebration a couple of years ago on the campus.

Nocks:

So I bet that when you were a kid, because you learned things from your father and he was known in town for being able to fix things ̶

Lillie:

Right.

Nocks:

̶ that your friends and classmates, if they would run into something breaking . . . . . “Oh, ask Joe, he can fix it!”

Lillie:

The best story is my kids going, staying with their grandparents, and my daughter says, “Grandpa,” she says, “it’s fun to go just to see the stuff you have in this house.” And not a whole lot, but little things that made life easier for him, that other houses … look, we had a water fountain in the house when I was a kid, because there were seven kids, so it made it easier for Mom; she didn’t have to wash all these glasses all day long, okay? We were seven kids, nine and a half years apart, so we were, a lot of us had, and we always had, everybody always had a friend, so there were fourteen of us all the time.

Anyway, but back to the school stuff, it came together because the education made sense that that’s how you figure out how to make this stuff work, because you learned the fundamentals. It’s not learning, now it seems like now they skip some of the fundamentals. But why do we take all of this math? We take all this math so we train our brain to understand that; why do we take physics, so we train our brain to understand how this stuff works. And I think that’s a little bit lacking today, I’m just relating that to what my grandkids are learning in school, and I try to do homework with them, and it’s not always easy, because I’m looking at a math problem, and I’ve got the answer, and they’re going through it and I don’t get there the way they got there, no, we get to the same answer, we just do it … anyway.

Nocks:

Yes, yes. So do you have any advice for your children who are now already in the field? What it would be?

Lillie:

Stay focused and work hard, because that’s what it boils down to. You know, because remember, you’re working for your family. So keep that focus, that it’s not just a job, it’s a career, and that’s what’s important. You know, my son changed jobs not too long ago, started off working for a company called Anderson Consulting, which then became Accenture, which was the luckiest thing they did was to change their name before the Enron deal, but anyway, so Accenture, and Accenture is still around, a very good company, and he got … he enjoyed working there, but an opening came and he changed jobs.

And the other day he was talking to me, he said, maybe I need to go, maybe I need to look at a different job. And I’m saying, “think about what you’ve got, think about what you’re leaving. And if you want to change, that’s fine. But do you like what you’re doing?” “Yes, I like what I’m doing.” “Everything?” “Yes.” “Well, so tell me why you want to leave?” So he says, “that’s why I don’t like talking to you.”

No, but he knows he can come to me, and I’m not going to tell him what to do, I’m going to help him analyze the situation. Similarly with my daughter, there was a job opening at Bell South, and she was working for, remember I told you, the A companies. So we got, we’ve got Anderson Consulting, we’ve got Accenture, we’ve got Avaya. My daughter went to work for Alcatel, out of college, and ̶

Nocks:

(Interposing) Now which one are they? They’re ̶

Lillie:

(Interposing) They’re now Alcatel Lucent.

Nocks:

Ah, okay.

Lillie:

Okay. So she went to work for Alcatel, and then all of a sudden there’s some job openings at Bell South, she calls me and says, “why didn’t you tell me Bell South has job openings?” I said, “I don’t tell you where to go to work.” She says, “well, you think they’re going to hire me?” I said, “I’m pretty sure they’re going to hire you, but you’ve got to apply for the job.” “Well, are you going to help me get the job?” “No. Because you don’t need my help, you don’t need my help.”

I did call, I did make a call, because I was obligated to do that. But not so much from her, but I wanted the guy who was doing the hiring to make the linkage, because if I didn’t tell him that, he might hold that against her. Because I know the kind of guy he was. A good guy, but anyway, so I made the call, and the thing worked out fine. But it’s like he told me when I called, they said they already were not hiring. My cell phone is the one that’s beeping.

Nocks:

Oh, okay.

Lillie:

I’m sorry.

Nocks:

No, that’s all right. That’s all right.

Lillie:

It’s probably getting a text that I’m not answering.

Nocks:

I didn’t want to interrupt, because these are great stories.

Conclusion: IEEE

Lillie:

You know, I worked with Karen [Galuchie] before she was the Executive Director there [The IEEE Foundation] so Karen I worked with a lot. And I probably should have mentioned that when I was mentioning people earlier. That’s why you always get in trouble when you start mentioning, and you leave somebody out. No, the whole Foundation team is good to work with. And then let me … I worked with the awards board, because I’ve been on the awards board, so I’ve been on the USA board, the MGA board, the Awards Board, the IEEE Board, the Foundation Board.

Nocks:

So I just wanted to ask you ̶

Lillie:

(Interposing) I guess I’m a junkie (laughs).

Nocks:

(laughs) One more question about IEEE USA: Has the relationship between the regions changed in terms of how they interact with each other, how decisions are made overall? Anything?

Lillie:

I think what IEEE USA has done recently is make some of their products available outside the U.S., and that’s helped. Some of the regions have tried to replicate what IEEE USA was doing, and when I realized that was happening, I actually can remember talking to Chris Brantley and saying, we’ve got to figure out a way, and actually some of the people under him, we’ve got to figure out a way to make that information available, but at the same time to respect the people that paid for it.

So you’ve got the balance there, so some of it, they rebranded, some of it they left the USA brand on it, with the understanding that, hey, this is USA material, but you’re welcome to use it. I know some of the region 8 people used some of the professional development stuff. So we’ve got to continue to expand that relationship, grow that relationship. I’ve been on several committees that looked at reorganization of the various boards of IEEE, and one piece is always, how does USA fit in, and my approach is to take what USA is doing and look at expanding it to the whole world.

Some of that is happening now separately, like public policy is now a European public policy group that’s taken what the USA has learned, what IEEE USA has learned, how you can influence public policy, and trying to do that in Europe. So we’re making some progress there. That’s good. You still have some disconnect between USA and MGA on some of what happens, and actually a bit of duplicated effort in some senses in sections, and we need to continue to work on that to make that better, because I think it will only help the membership.

Nocks:

And it’s a tough job because what are we up to ̶ just under half a million members worldwide?

Lillie:

Yes, I think 435 is the last number I heard, and I’m really, really running out of time here.

Nocks:

All right, well, I want to thank you very much, it’s been very helpful.

Lillie:

It’s been …

Nocks:

And?

Lillie:

I just wanted to tell the story.