There weren’t any jobs. Nobody came to NDSU in early 1972 looking for engineering graduates. Well, the CIA was looking, and I talked to them, but they decided I wasn’t cut out for that business. I had a brand new degree in electrical engineering and nobody wanted me. The lack of job opportunities drove me to one of the best decisions of my life. I applied for and received a scholarship to go on to graduate school. It wasn’t much of a decision: unemployment or a full ride to graduate school.
The job market totally turned around in the next year. By the spring of 1973 there were dozens of companies interviewing on campus, looking for freshly minted electrical engineers. I was a candidate for a Master’s of Electrical Engineering, and had a good GPA, which made getting interviews and site visits relatively easy.
Many of the companies I talked to don’t exist any more. Who remembers Collins Radio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa? They didn’t make me an offer, which was probably a good thing. A company in Boston did make an intriguing offer. The Route 128 area was rich with dozens of startup companies. But it was too far from home, and the cost of living was far higher than the Midwest jobs I was looking at. Let’s stay in the Midwest, eh?
I’d been on several interview trips by the time the Texas Instruments people called me down. I’d already pretty much made up my mind where to go, but this opportunity was quite the plum. Some real possibilities. The clincher came when I figured out a way to visit my family in Denver on their ticket. I signed up and started making plans. Two things worked in my favor. I knew a young lady who worked in a travel agency, and all the airplane tickets were paper.
A little larceny can be a good thing. We found flights that would get me from Fargo to Denver on a Friday afternoon, I’d enjoy a weekend with Mom and the brothers, then take off for Dallas Sunday afternoon. Interviews occupied Monday, then it was back home.
Normally the interviewing company wouldn’t pay the extra cost for a weekend layover, but since I knew the travel agent, and she knew how to arrange a paper ticket to look right, TI was happy to pay the entire ticket. We used two paper tickets for the flight, one for the outbound two legs, and the second for the return flight. The second document showed the full ticket price, and that’s the one I used for reimbursement. I had to talk a little fast, explaining that there were some connecting flights to get out of North Dakota.
The TI job was interesting, but working in Dallas, Texas was clearly not for this Dakota boy. I kept on interviewing. The final employment decision was a lot more difficult.
IBM in Rochester had several jobs on offer. Three separate managers at IBM interviewed me. The interview trip went well, and I felt good about the possibilities. One of their jobs seemed made for me, another was intriguing, and the third was just not right; I did not want to work in manufacturing test engineering. As I left the IBM plant on the afternoon of the interviews I told the HR manager that I’d turn them down if they offered me the job in manufacturing.
Then I went to Univac in Minneapolis. Their interviewers really bowled me over. They knew how to sell a job to the new kid. I thought their jobs were exciting. The people were fascinating. They took me out to lunch at a wonderful place. I could handle this job.
Both Univac and IBM came through with job offers. Even though the Univac job offer was exciting, Judy and I struggled for a long time over which job to take. Univac offered more money. Living in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul sounded thrilling. IBM’s job would be a fun challenge, too, and Rochester was just the right size for these Dakota children. Univac had some military contracts, which I didn’t especially care for, but that division hadn’t interviewed me. IBM had some government connections, but nothing very military. We went back and forth on this for days.
In the end, I decided that IBM matched my needs better than Univac, but neither one had a strong advantage over the other. I didn’t really want to do anything related to military machines that rape and pillage.
Univac had made the first offer. They made it tough to say no. Really enticing, but I paused and waited.
IBM called a couple of days later.
You can guess which manager called me with an offer. Manufacturing engineering. The one I had decided not to take! That made it easy. I turned them down immediately.
“Wait,” he said. “I’ll call you back right away.”
Within the hour another manager called with an offer on my second choice and I eventually accepted. Not many people I worked with at IBM had turned down a job at IBM.
Forty years later it looks like I made the right choice. TI is a shadow of its former self. Univac disappeared from the scene in the eighties. I don’t even remember the name of that company in Boston. IBM managed to stay relevant until after I left.
We’ve made a lot of life-changing decisions. Most of them just happened, like the decision to go to graduate school. Others, like choosing between Univac and IBM, were gut wrenching. Would I be right to guess that it really didn’t matter which job we took? That we’d have made a good life out of either? There’s no question that it would have been a different life at Univac, but we would have enjoyed either ride.
Our life at IBM and Rochester has been darned good. Fun, too. I’m grateful to have had so many opportunities to make the right choice.