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First-Hand:A Career at Bell Laboratories

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Philip Sproul

I attended Iowa State University (ISU) for two reasons: I could afford it (almost), and it was a well recognized engineering school. I was one of about three in our electrical engineering class of thirty-eight students interested in communications. As a result, I got a lot of attention from the only professor in this field.

I worked in the summer between my junior and senior year (1936) as a construction worker for Northwestern Bell in Des Moines. Jobs were few and far between in this depression period. In early 1937, I was interviewed by a Bell System team, recruiting for the first time in many years. Bell Laboratories had never recruited ISU before. I had never heard of Bell Laboratories. However, the head of the electrical engineering department told me about it and said that was where I should go and that I would get an offer. I did, accepted it and retired in 1980 after forty-three years.

In my sixties, BTL got out of the ABM business and a mass transfer to Bell System work took place. After resisting a transfer to another state, I was assigned to a software development department. Here I developed requirements for revisions of the system, from contacts with the AT&T and operating companies, estimated the economic applicability of the software to the entire Bell System, etc.

Although I retained my supervisory position, I was not allowed to manage a group, although my immediate supervision assigned one to me at one time. Apparently, my resistance to moving so near retirement (four and a half years) did not sit well with my vice president. Nevertheless, I received some of my best raises in this period and invented a variation of the system which was widely used.

I was ready for retirement. Following retirement, I worked part time in my own consulting business for five years. I am now relatively inactive. During my last four years, I felt some discrimination because of my age. However, it did not affect my economic well being, so I put up with it. I had some fine associates at all levels and would live my life over as an EE.