When I retired, there were a few questions that everyone seemed to ask: how did I feel about stepping into retirement (frankly, terrified) and what was my first project going to be (the rebuilding of my dilapidated well house). Yet, there was one question that genuinely made me pause and reflect deeply on my career: over all these years, what achievement was I truly most proud of?

Looking back over so much time and so many events, early in my career, I transformed a “non-functional” prototype processor into an adapter card that enabled hundreds of hobbyists to experiment with Motorola’s latest processor in their home computers. It didn’t hurt that this put my design weeks ahead of our engineering consultant. My little triumph even found its way into the pages of Dr. Dobb’s Journal of Computer Calisthenics & Orthodontia.

And then, there was the sweet success of funding my Corvette with the royalties from my first commercial software. Or perhaps the innovation of weaving an element of AI into the second iteration of that software. Achieving neural net implementation in assembly language, now that was definitely a highlight. But still, that wasn’t my pinnacle.

There was my short involvement as a movie consultant. Hmm, I never met any of the actors and I count myself fortunate that my name doesn’t appear on the credits. Definitely not counting that as a career highlight.

What about the time I stepped into an unexpected adventure, rescuing a fellow engineer who found himself in a tight spot in Italy? It sounds more thrilling than it was—he was simply under pressure from an Italian company to fix a problem with one of our products before they’d let him leave. I managed to solve it over a weekend, which was a boost for my ego and greatly appreciated by him, yet it hardly feels like my greatest accomplishment.

Or possibly the time I led an engineering team to tackle a problem that had baffled the Air Force for over two decades. Our success was crucial to fulfilling a NATO treaty, making it an interesting chapter, but not the crowning achievement of my career, and it’s something I can’t fully discuss anyway.

It was in pondering these questions that I had my “ah-ha” moment. My career is filled with noteworthy accomplishments, yet all of these achievements seem modest in comparison to the pride I feel for the engineers I had the opportunity to mentor over the years. It’s not that these engineers wouldn’t have succeeded without me, but I’d like to think that I played a part in their current success. The guidance, inspiration, and challenges I provided helped to bring out the best in them.

Thirty years from now, all of my designs will have been superseded by newer technology. Technology has already made my software obsolete. However, the bright spot in this is knowing that those engineers I’ve mentored will continue to inspire and guide the next generation. While my designs may not last forever, the impact of my mentorship will.

This might be why so many teachers are willing to face challenges like lack of discipline, low wages, and difficult parents, all for the chance to make a difference in the lives of a few exceptional students. My respect goes out to all the teachers who remain committed to their profession.

Reflecting on my career, I’ve been fortunate to work with many incredibly bright and motivated engineers. Ask me again, and without hesitation, I’ll tell you that my greatest achievements are not the projects or the accolades, but the engineers I’ve had the pleasure of helping and encouraging to become better at what they do.

© 2024, Byron Seastrunk. All rights reserved.