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Oral-History:Jerome Suran

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In Chicago. In their Communication and Electronics Laboratory in Chicago, Illinois. At that time I became engaged to be married. We decided that it was very expensive to live in Chicago. We could not find a really good place to live in post-war Chicago.  
 
In Chicago. In their Communication and Electronics Laboratory in Chicago, Illinois. At that time I became engaged to be married. We decided that it was very expensive to live in Chicago. We could not find a really good place to live in post-war Chicago.  
  
We also wanted to be closer to the parents, so we looked East for a position. It turned out that [[General Electric (GE)|General Electric]] had a very interesting one, I joined a [[Transistors|transistor]] group in which I really wanted to be. I thought, "This is the technology of the future." I joined Dick Shea’s group at [[General Electric (GE)|General Electric Company]] in Syracuse, New York. I told my wife at that time that I was only going to stay there about five years at the most because I just wanted to see how big companies do things and I wanted to get immersed in this new technology. I thought then maybe I would start my own company. After ten years she said, "We ought to move into a house because we're going to be here for a while," and I stayed with [[General Electric (GE)|GE]] for thirty years.  
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We also wanted to be closer to the parents, so we looked East for a position. It turned out that [[General Electric (GE)|General Electric]] had a very interesting one, I joined a [[Transistors|transistor]] group in which I really wanted to be. I thought, "This is the technology of the future." I joined [[Richard F. Shea|Dick Shea’s]] group at [[General Electric (GE)|General Electric Company]] in Syracuse, New York. I told my wife at that time that I was only going to stay there about five years at the most because I just wanted to see how big companies do things and I wanted to get immersed in this new technology. I thought then maybe I would start my own company. After ten years she said, "We ought to move into a house because we're going to be here for a while," and I stayed with [[General Electric (GE)|GE]] for thirty years.  
  
 
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'''Vardalas:'''  
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Okay. And it was my pleasure, and thank you for the time and thank you for coming here.  
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Okay. And it was my pleasure, and thank you for the time and thank you for coming here.
  
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[[Category:People and organizations|Suran]] [[Category:Engineers|Suran]] [[Category:Engineering profession|Suran]] [[Category:Engineering education|Suran]] [[Category:Qualifications|Suran]] [[Category:IEEE|Suran]] [[Category:Governance|Suran]] [[Category:Prominent members|Suran]] [[Category:Educational activities|Suran]] [[Category:Standards|Suran]] [[Category:Components, circuits, devices & systems|Suran]] [[Category:Solid state circuits|Suran]] [[Category:Transistors|Suran]]

Revision as of 16:14, 5 August 2013

Contents

About Jerome Suran

President of the IEEE in 1979, Jerome Suran earned a BSEE degree from Columbia University in 1949 before embarking on a 34-year career in electrical engineering, 30 years of which he spent at the General Electric Company until his retirement in 1982. Suran was awarded an honorary doctorate by Syracuse University in 1976 in recognition of his work in transistor and integrated circuit technology and for the development of the G.E. implantable cardiac pacemaker. He is currently senior lecturer emeritus in the Graduate School of Management and in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of California, Davis.

In this Interview, Suran discusses his career and growing participation in the IRE and AIEE, and IEEE. In particular, he addresses the debates in the Institute in the 1970s over transistor standards and educational policy.

About the Interview

JEROME SURAN: An Interview Conducted by John Vardalas, IEEE History Center, 15 January 2009

Interview #484 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

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, Rutgers - the State University, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. 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:

Jerome Suran, Electrical Engineer, an oral history conducted in 2009 by John Vardalas, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEW: Jerome Suran

INTERVIEWER: John Vardalas

DATE: 15 January 2009

PLACE: at Jerome Suran's home in El Macero, California

Early Life and Education

Vardalas:

Thank you so much for agreeing to participate in this interview. The purpose of this interview is to explore your work and involvement at IEEE and your participation as a volunteer. Before we do that a little contextual information would be useful. Would you say something about your family background and your education?

Suran:

I grew up in the City of New York and was born in 1926. My father and mother both came from what was then Austria-Hungary. They were both non-professionals. My father was a tailor and my mother was a seamstress. I had a sister. We grew up in Astoria-Queens. I went to Stuyvesant High School in New York City, which was a scientific school. From there I went to Queens College.

About halfway through my freshman year at Queens I decided to enlist in the Army. This was the time of the Second World War. It was 1943. The Army offered a specialized training program. The deal was that you went to a college of their choice to learn engineering of one form or another. At that time I was interested in chemical engineering. I don't know why, but for some reason I wanted to become a chemist. I decided to become a chemical engineer with Army training. I was sent to Syracuse University for the Army Specialized Training Program Reserve. After about eight months the Army decided they needed infantry more than they needed engineers and discontinued the program. I was then sent down to Camp Walters in Texas for infantry training and then to Camp Hood in Texas for further infantry training, and by the time the Army sent me to Europe it was just about November 1944 when I landed in England.

On December 17th the Battle of the Bulge started. My Division was committed to that and went through combat in Europe until the war was over in Europe, in May of 1945. The plan was for my particular unit to be sent back to the United States, reorganized and then go and be part of the invasion of Japan. Fortunately for me, though not fortunately for the people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the atomic bombs were dropped, the war was ended.

When I returned to the United States after the Army tour ended I decided to continue my education at Columbia University under the auspices of the GI Education Bill. Therefore I was able to go to Columbia, where I got my Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering degree. By the way, as a matter of side interest, Dwight D. Eisenhower was my Commander-in-Chief in Europe, and when I was at Columbia he was President of Columbia University. I saw him there as well. Then later he became President of the United States of course. I had Eisenhower as part of my chain of command for many years.

Vardalas:

Do you recall why you switched from chemical to electrical engineering?

Suran:

During the war I became interested in radar. I saw some of the radar installations in Europe and for some reason chemistry suddenly became a secondary interest for me. I decided the electronics looked like a wave of the future – especially the stuff I was seeing in radar and fire control and things of that sort.

Working Engineer

Vardalas:

I see. In what year did you graduate from Columbia?

Suran:

I graduated in 1949 and continued taking graduate courses there at night. I started working for the J.W. Meeker Company. It was a small kind of entrepreneurial company. Its major product was to control the porosity of paper and plastics TO further air transmission. It was rather interesting that the first paper that I wrote in engineering was on porosity control of paper or plastics. I was using Bernoulli's Theorem instead of Ohm's Law. My first paper was published in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

Vardalas:

Was what you were doing like process control?

Suran:

Yes. Process control is what we would call it today. The Meeker Company lasted for a couple of years. It was basically obsoleted by new technology. The company folded and I decided that I probably needed more experience in working with other engineers in more sophisticated areas. For example when I joined the Meeker Company right out of college, my title was Manager of Engineering/Vice President of Engineering. It happened that I was the only engineer, but it looked good when we went marketing this technology. Then I joined Motorola and stayed with them for a year, When I was at Motorola one very significant thing happened in my life. We received a sample from the Bell Telephone Laboratories of the first transistors. It was the early point contact transistor. It was packaged in a little can and was sealed in beeswax. It was a very delicate thing to handle. A fellow named of John Doremus and I developed and demonstrated the first transistor amplifier in Motorola.

It was an audio amplifier. It was a terrible amplifier in terms of electrical characteristics. It was noisy, the point contact transistor was fairly unstable and had a negative resistance, and for all practical purposes it was not a very successful demonstration but it was a first. I got really interested and intrigued in transistors at that time. I started reading a lot of what was coming out of the Bell Telephone Laboratories and decided that I needed to rev up my education on quantum electronics to understand some of the physics of the transistor. Therefore I took some quantum courses at Illinois Institute of Technology just to be able to understand some of the physics that was being published on the transistor.

Vardalas:

Where were you located?

Suran:

In Chicago. In their Communication and Electronics Laboratory in Chicago, Illinois. At that time I became engaged to be married. We decided that it was very expensive to live in Chicago. We could not find a really good place to live in post-war Chicago.

We also wanted to be closer to the parents, so we looked East for a position. It turned out that General Electric had a very interesting one, I joined a transistor group in which I really wanted to be. I thought, "This is the technology of the future." I joined Dick Shea’s group at General Electric Company in Syracuse, New York. I told my wife at that time that I was only going to stay there about five years at the most because I just wanted to see how big companies do things and I wanted to get immersed in this new technology. I thought then maybe I would start my own company. After ten years she said, "We ought to move into a house because we're going to be here for a while," and I stayed with GE for thirty years.

Vardalas:

Before we move on, would you give a brief list of your positions in GE?

Suran:

Sure. Dick Shea, who headed the Advanced Circuits Group at GE made me a Project Engineer because I came from Motorola already having transistor experience. Eventually I took his place as Manager of the Advanced Circuits Group. Arthur Stern was at GE by the way in parallel with me at that time. He became my boss when I became Manager of the Advanced Circuits Group.

Vardalas:

I see.

Suran:

When Arthur left for bigger and better things at Martin-Marietta, I took his position in GE. Then I was promoted beyond that to the Manager of GE's Electronics Laboratory in the early '70s. At the end of the '70s I was promoted to a position called Staff Executive-Technology for the Technical Systems Sector of GE. It was the high-tech part of General Electric and involved businesses that included the Jet Engine Department and all of the electronic divisions of GE including computers, medical systems and so forth. That was at Headquarters Operations, and my job there was planning the technologies that were going to impact General Electric products. I introduced the strategic thrust that GE should be making in those technologies in order to keep it a leader in the field that it selected for its major businesses.

Vardalas:

How did you feel about leaving the bench and not doing product development anymore but working instead more in policy and this kind of thing?

Suran:

I resisted it at first. Arthur Stern is the one who pushed me into management. I was having so much fun and so much pleasure on the bench so to speak that I did not want to get into the administrative problems. He kind of gave me a pep talk and said, "You know, you could do more as a manager. You have a lot of people reporting to you, you have more resources, and you could really create a lot more things that you could as a single engineer or even as a Project Engineer.” He convinced me that I would have more impact in engineering if I were to take this managerial position. Once I did I got interested in management. You really have to take your kicks in a different way. Instead of seeing things that I myself created I began to see things that my team created. The teams that I put together could do a lot more than a single engineer could.

Vardalas:

When did you retire from GE?

Suran:

I retired in 1982.

IRE and AIEE

Vardalas:

Let’s go back to the beginning. When did you first join IRE and at what position?

Suran:

Shortly after I joined Motorola, I decided I needed to keep in touch with technology. I joined mostly to read their journals and keep in touch with the fast-moving field of transistor technology. I thought I needed to join the professional societies. I joined both the American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) and the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE).

Vardalas:

Why?

Suran:

Motorola was primarily in communications, but people were beginning to talk about using electronic controls and power. AIEE was covering that field. I wanted to maintain a broad interest and a broad look at what was going on in both electrical and electronic areas of the profession, so I thought it would be best to join both.

Vardalas:

You had a foot in both camps then. Do you recall if you had an initial impression of how these organizations worked differently?

Suran:

When I initially joined AIEE and IRE I was simply interested in getting the publications. I was interested in the technical side. I was not interested in getting involved in any of the administrative stuff. It wasn’t until I joined General Electric in 1952 that my boss Dick Shea encouraged me to get interested in committees in the IEEE. I first become interested in the local section activities and became the Section Chair of the Syracuse Section of IEEE. The thing that got me interested in the Section is that GE’s major operations in electronics was centered in Syracuse and we had well over 10,000 people in Syracuse completely devoted to the electronics industry. W.R.G. Baker had established that at GE and he was a moving and very active figure in IEEE, so he encouraged the engineers to get involved.

`Vardalas:

Was the Section essentially dominated by electronics people from General Electric Company?

Suran:

That's right. Therefore it was very natural for any engineer working in the Syracuse area to become involved with IEEE Section. At the time that I became Chairman of the Section I think we were celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the transistor assembly. One of the things I did was invite Bill [William] Shockley to come up and talk about how the transistor was developed. He had become a controversial figure because of his involvement with IQ studies and a lot of his ideas were kind racist in tone. For the first time I realized that when you invite someone of that stature to a organization like a Section Meeting in a place like Syracuse, New York, it's going to attract a lot of public attention. And he was not attracting public attention because he was the co-founder of this transistor technology but because of his racial views on IQ.

I called him and asked, "Please talk only about the technical aspects of how you got involved in the discovery of the transistor. Please do not mention any of the other things that you are now interested in relating to IQ." When he came to Syracuse he had police protection because his appearance caused demonstrations. I had not foreseen that when I invited him. I was thinking strictly of the transistor technology. At that very early time in my IEEE career I learned that we had a public image as well as a technical image and both had to be considered in any of the so-called managerial activities relating to IEEE.

Vardalas:

Did Shockley stay on the message?

Suran:

Shockley stayed on message in the presentation to the technical group. It had a huge audience. We had police protection in the hall where he gave the presentation. After the presentation he was invited to be interviewed by some of the local television stations, and there he did not stay on message, but he kept his promise to me by staying on message when he gave the talk at the IEEE Section.

Vardalas:

Was the Section the first involvement you had?

Suran:

The Section was the first involvement I had in IEEE in terms of administrative involvement.

Vardalas:

From speaking to Arthur Stern I gather too that he and Baker really encouraged AIEE or IEEE involvement at General Electric.

Suran:

They did.

Vardalas:

Did Motorola have a similar philosophy?

Suran:

Motorola encouraged its engineers to write papers, and specifically to publish in IRE. One of the reasons for this was that their reputation was enhanced whenever a Motorola engineer published a paper. However I did not feel that encouragement as much at Motorola as I did when I joined General Electric. Baker was very much involved and he encouraged professional involvement.

The 410 Committee

Vardalas:

Tell me about what you thought of the 410 Committee which dealt with standards and how you came to it.

Suran:

I came to it after I joined General Electric. Dick Shea asked me if I would be interested in representing GE on this Transistor Committee. Remember that this whole group was involved in transistor technology. We had a very interesting charge at GE, and that was to transistorize every product that we thought we could in which GE had an interest. It was a very broad charge. Shea was interested in maintaining contact with the entire field and wanted people from his group involved in IEEE activities related to the transistor technology.

Vardalas:

Do you recall the mandate of this committee? What was it charged to do?

Suran:

It was a very interesting charge in a sense. It really did have a charge. I think 410 was basically set up to advance the interests of IEEE in this new and exploding technology and to try to come up with standards relative to the technology in this early stage. In a way it was set up sort of as a standards activity and some of the things we debated in 410 initially was how best to represent transistors. Eventually there was so much contention on all sides that the best answer to that was, "Whichever is the most convenient way." We also had to come up with names of new devices that were being invented almost all the time at that time. At GE we discovered what was later called the unijunction transistor. I was involved in that. It was discovered kind of accidentally, because at that time we were interested in tetrode technology, seeing if we could apply the equivalent of tube tetrodes to transistors. We wanted to see what would happen if we applied an electric field across the base region of a transistor. Our device people made tetrodes configurations and one of them happened to be a device that had four contacts wherein the collector contact was accidentally open. However we didn't know that.

It effectively had two base contacts that were supposed to supply the electric field across the base region, and an emitter junction. That device, as initially biased, turned out to oscillate. We couldn't understand why it had this hysteresis effect when one looked at its d.c. characteristic. We wondered how we were getting this thing to oscillate, and finally as we analyzed it we found that the collector was open. When we put a collector voltage on it nothing happened. Now we had a device that had two bases and an emitter. It acted like a thyristor in vacuum tube technology. It became a GE product, but when we started publishing about it through IEEE we called it a double-base diode. In fact it was an active device with three terminals. It was not a diode. One of the things that this committee decided was that it ought to be called a unijunction transistor.

Vardalas:

Oh, okay. You said this committee's official charge or mandate was just standards. In practice, what was going on in this committee?

Suran:

In practice we decided to invite anybody that had anything interesting to say into the committee in order to discuss transistor developments and transistor technology.

Vardalas:

It sounds like it was good technology diffusion with a lot of sharing of ideas.

Suran:

Yes, that's exactly right. I was there officially as a GE representative, but one of the very important effects of that committee on my life personally was that we had everybody with whom we were competing on that committee and talking pretty openly about technology. It made me realize that competitors are not the enemy. In fact, competitors help develop the entire field or entire technology. They had different resources than we had at GE and they were developing a broader field. All of this was important to the profession.

Vardalas:

What would your superiors say if they knew how openly you were exchanging information?

Suran:

I never kept that from them. Remember that my superior was Arthur Stern and he was involved in these activities as well. I don't think we ever violated anything that could be called antitrust law or anything of that sort. We were talking about technology and standards and what's happening in the technology and in which direction it was going to go. We talked about how it was going to replace vacuum tubes and where the boundaries might be between vacuum tubes and this other technology. Then it turned into integrated electronics. The transistor was the basis for integrated circuits.

Vardalas:

At some point I'd like to pursue the technical aspects that came up with this committee because you raised an interesting point about vacuum tubes and transistors and how you design with each and how people discussed this. We'll come to that perhaps in another interview. When AIEE and IRE merged did you have any specific thoughts about the value of that, or did you give it any thought?

Suran:

I thought it was very valuable and an important to do, because we were converging into the same technology fields. For example in the late '50s companies like GE and Westinghouse became interested in the use of transistors in power applications. At that time what we called the hook-collector transistor was developed which became known as the silicon-controlled rectifier. By the way, IEEE battled with companies like Westinghouse and GE on the terminology of this thing called a silicon-controlled rectifier. It was not a rectifier and yet it was not a diode. In fact it was a three-junction device and a transistor. We called it a hook collector transistor because of the electronic nature of it. If you plotted the electronic voltage across the junctions, the potential profile had a hook-like appearance.

Vardalas:

When you said IEEE battled to which IEEE organization are you referring?

Suran:

It was basically the 410 Committee and the Circuits Committee, of which I was also a member. We wanted to call this device a transistor but it never got to be called a transistor because both Westinghouse and GE, which were the major manufacturers of the device, called it a silicon control rectifier. It was interesting. The reason they did not call it a transistor was because both companies had a power unit and a transistor unit and it was the power part of the companies that wanted control of this new transistor device. Therefore they did not want it to be called a transistor. They already were manufacturing power rectifiers.

Vardalas:

Oh, I see.

Suran:

This was a standardization battle between the profession and industry, and industry won.

Vardalas:

Most or many of the members of this committee were from GE and Westinghouse. It's interesting because it was in a sense battling itself.

Suran:

That's right. We lost the battle internally in our own companies.

The IEEE Merger

Vardalas:

You thought that AIEE and IRE merging was a good idea. Did you come to any conclusions before the merger as to the nature of these two organizations? Did you see them as being very much the same? How were they organized?

Suran:

They were organized differently. We knew that we would basically have to have a different organization to accommodate both IRE and AIEE. Jim Mulligan was a driving force in the combining of these two. I thought it was easy to do. We would just have a Power Division, so to speak, and an Electronics Division, and the two of them would be combined under one flag called the IEEE. The two divisions could maintain their own publications in their fields just like they had. There might be just one masthead publication and not two, but these were details we didn't think too much about at the time. We were more interested in the fact that there was beginning to be an overlap between transistor technology, what I would call electronics, and electronic controls which were beginning to feed into the power systems. The two fields were emerging and converging and I thought that they would be better served under a single organization and would be more powerful, would have more members and be able to do more things.

Vardalas:

IRE had more technical divisions than AIEE. If I understand correctly, IRE was composed of a lot of highly technical groups.

Suran:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Whereas AIEE only had one: power.

Suran:

Yes, but again, power was beginning to absorb a lot of the electronic control and the technologies seemed to be converging.

IEEE Leadership

Vardalas:

You spent approximately five years on the IEEE Executive Committee, the IEEE Board of Directors and the IEEE Strategic Planning Committee. You did other extensive volunteer work we'll get to later. How did you get on the IEEE Executive Committee and why did you choose to do that?

Suran:

I became interested in national activities. As I said, the 410 Committee, which was a part of the Circuits Committee, became very active. We were kind of in the right place at the right time. We were early in the transistor business. Let me just say one more thing about 410. It became the Program Committee so to speak for the International Solid-State Circuits Conference.

Vardalas:

Right.

Suran:

Therefore those of us who were on 410 eventually became Chairs at various years of the International Solid-State Circuits Conference. Practically all of us who were on 410 became Chairs in this major conference. Thus we all began to get higher-profile reputations in the field. I suppose it was from these reputations that we were appointed to higher committees in the IEEE. One of these was the Executive Committee.

Vardalas:

At the time you joined the Executive Committee, what was the nature of its activities? Do you recall?

Suran:

I think it was primarily studying the business of this combined organization to try to solve some of the problems that occurred from their having merged. We tried to come up with organizational concepts that would apply to what was now called the IEEE.

Vardalas:

Do you remember some of these?

Suran:

No, I really don't. That was pretty far back.

Vardalas:

Okay. That was the charge of the Executive Committee. What about the Strategic Planning Committee? What are your memories of that?

Suran:

After my Presidency in the IEEE I became a member of the Strategic Planning Committee. It usually consisted of ex-Presidents of the IEEE and had support from the IEEE staff. It was expected that if you had been the President of IEEE you had an overall view of the entire organization and that strategy ought to be directed at the entire organization and not just in a specific part of it. They thought that people who had served on the Board of Directors had that overall view.

Vardalas:

What about the Board of Directors?

Suran:

The first time I served on the Board of Directors I was effectively elected a Vice President and became Vice President of the Publications Board. That was, essentially, my first official position on the Board of Directors. I was also part of the Executive Committee of the IEEE then as a Vice President. Just a year before I became Vice President was when the newspaper The Institute was established. One of the major issues was, "What should be the function of this newspaper relative to the masthead publication?" The Spectrum was the masthead publication. I argued very strongly for the Editorial Board of the Institute to have a kind of independence. At that time the IEEE was being criticized pretty heavily for a lot of things by newspapers that were independent of the organization itself, such as the EE Times.

The EE Times published a lot of things about IEEE and ran issues that annoyed the Board sometimes, but I thought that if we had our own newspaper we would have an editorial staff that was kind of committed to the IEEE but that they should also have an independence. If they wanted to show both sides of an issue they should show both sides of the issue – as these issues were discussed on the Board of Directors. We had some people on the Board who thought that The Institute should be a house organ. Those are my words, okay? They felt it should be directed completely by the Board. Since the Board of Directors appointed the editors and they also had the power to fire the editors, these editors could not be completely independent of the Board, but I thought they should have editorial independence. That was one of the major issues in the IEEE Board and in the Publications Board at that time.

Vardalas:

Was it difficult to convince the Board on your position?

Suran:

Yes, it was, and I think for a long time we had editors that were independent, but when I look at how The Institute has evolved now I think it's become more of a house organ.

Vardalas:

Oh, really?

Suran:

Yes. Both sides of the issues needed to be considered. One of the things I learned by the way in serving on the Board of Directors was that a lot of these issues that I had very strong opinions about when I came into the Board were much more complex than what I had thought, and if you wanted to do things you eventually had to compromise.

Educatiuonal Issues

Vardalas:

Were there any other big issues that you can recall that hit the Board during the time of your participation?

Suran:

Yes, there were a lot of issues. One came out of the Educational Activities Board, which I was Vice President for later. One of the major activities was deciding whether we should have a professional degree or the four-year engineering degree. There were a lot of people that felt at that time that one really could not get a good handle on engineering without five years of college. Therefore we talked about the need for a five-year professional engineering degree and that anyone wanting to be called an engineer should get that rather than having a bachelor's or a master's. Both industry and a lot of our members were against that. A lot of the members were against it because if they could not get an engineering degree in four years that would mean that they would have one year more of college and they would have to sacrifice one year of salary. In a way it was like today's problems where a lot of college graduates have had to take on huge debts in order to get their education. It wasn't as great of a debt as what we see happening today, but it was a loss of one year of salary. However many questioned whether that loss of salary would be worth the extra year.

Vardalas:

What was industry's argument against it?

Suran:

Industry preferred four-year graduates that they could then train in their own fields. The big companies could do that. General Electric for example had an awful lot of training programs and courses available within the company. They even had something called the ABC Courses which were like getting a master's and almost a Ph.D. by going through three years of courses while one was working in the company. Graduates of the ABC Programs were treated and paid as though they had Ph.D.s.

Companies like Bell Laboratories and Westinghouse could afford that kind of thing. Small companies could not. Then eventually engineers began to transfer between companies. Just to backtrack, when I joined General Electric one could make a career at GE, and I did. There was no particular concern about whether the education that I received within General Electric would be recognized outside of the company. On the other hand, most engineers wanted a master's degree or a Ph.D. degree from universities and these would be transferable to any place they worked, which was useful as the engineering force became more mobile. I guess there was also a dichotomy between the west coast and the east coast. On the west coast engineers were mobile. Most of the Defense industry was concentrated on the west coast. A major contract would end at Lockheed let's say and another would be given to Boeing, and engineers would move from company to company.

Suran:

They felt that masters and Ph.D.s were more valuable than having education certificates from single companies. That led to another major problem that the Board considered and the Board decided to lobby for portable pensions for engineers. That was a major problem at the time I was President and at the time I was on the Board of Directors. As I said, engineers in the defense industry moved around from one defense contract to another. The fact that engineers lost pension rights when changing companies became a very serious issue.

Vardalas:

What kind of debate did this raise within IEEE?

Suran:

I think it probably raised a lot of debate in terms of industry versus the engineering employees themselves.

Most industries I think would have taken a position at that time that portable pensions were not in their interest. On the other hand engineers felt very strongly that portable pensions were in their interests. It depended upon where you worked. It was not that much of an issue for those who worked for companies like Bell Laboratories, GE or Westinghouse where they felt they could make a career within their companies. But for engineers who worked in the defense industry, where contracts moved from company to company and the engineers followed. It almost became an east coast versus west coast issue.

Debates and Controversies

Vardalas:

I had not realized that. Was there also a debate within the new organization of IEEE whether the IEEE should have a non-technical focus to its mission in addition to the technical?

Suran:

Yes. That's right.

Vardalas:

Would you say something about that?

Suran:

For this reason we established the United States Activities Board. We decided that because IEEE wanted to maintain its transnational or international character as a technical organization, but at the same time we wanted to provide services for American engineers who were interested in these kinds of issues. But these were not issues of interest to the foreign members. We thought that there should be a Board that was dedicated primarily to the well-being of U.S. engineers.

Vardalas:

Okay. I see.

Suran:

A lot of foreign countries had their own organizations that did that same thing for engineers in their countries.

Vardalas:

While you were on the Board and this non-technical versus technical was being discussed, was there ever an issue of this was a kind of a management versus employee kind of thing?

Suran:

Yes. When I ran for President of the IEEE I ran against a petition candidate. He had run several times before as a petition candidate and his views were quite different from either the Board's view or my view as an engineer. I think his view was to convert the IEEE into more of a union to protect the rights of what he called working engineers. One of the major wedge issues HE developed was that it was working engineers versus all the other engineers. My opponent defined the non-working engineers as anyone who was involved in engineering management – like I was at the time – or academic engineers who worked in academia, the professors of engineering. Therefore there was kind of a dichotomy driven by mostly my opponent's views that working engineers were not being considered very heavily by the management of IEEE. Examples he gave were that we were not active in lobbying for portable pensions, lobbying for engineering salaries or lobbying for more support for engineering people in general. He was also against foreign employment. We had engineers that got their degrees in the United States and worked for companies in the United States who were foreign nationals.

Vardalas:

What was this gentleman's name?

Suran:

Irwin Feerst.

Vardalas:

Was this debate that you were having before or after IEEE USA was created?

Suran:

Feerst ran for President of IEEE three to five different times. He became what I call a perennial petition candidate for IEEE. I have forgotten the number of signatures one needed to get on the ballot to run for President by petition. When I ran for President and my predecessors and successors ran for President there was only one Board-nominated candidate. The petition candidate, Irwin Feerst, ran against most of us for four or five years.

Vardalas:

Was there any attempt to get the views, if I can use the phrase, the engineer on the street about this debate? What was the feeling of the membership itself on this issue?

Suran:

One of the things I had to do when I was nominated for President by the Board in 1979 was promise that I would actively campaign. That meant that I would debate Feerst on these issues across the United States.

Vardalas:

Oh wow. Tell me about that.

Suran:

When I debated him in Boston, Massachusetts the big issue was about foreign engineers. I debated him in Atlanta in Region 3 of the IEEE and in every region. I debated him in Long Island, Chicago, Texas, Seattle and California. And at that time a lot of engineers in California were losing jobs because there was a major trend in the Defense industry to cut down, and I felt sure that I would lose Region 6 in the campaign because Feerst got strong sympathetic and empathetic support for a lot of the issues he raised, such as that the IEEE should act more like a union to protect engineers' jobs. I debated him in Seattle and in Los Angeles where defense cutbacks were the most severe at that time.

Vardalas:

That was a vigorous campaign.

Suran:

It was a vigorous campaign. I had to put a lot of time and travel into it and the IEEE bore the expense of both of us for these debates.

Vardalas:

Do you think in retrospect that it was good for the organization to have these debates although it created a lot of tension and conflict? Was it good for these issues to be put out there?

Suran:

Yes. I think it was very good for the organization to have this debated out and to have these issues brought to the members directly. I also debated him in my home territory in Syracuse, New York by the way. He was kind of a funny guy. Socially he was very charming and very nice, but when he got up to debate and put on the hat of an IEEE President candidate, he became pretty nasty.

Vardalas:

Did that surprise you?

Suran:

No, because he had done this to my predecessors time and time again. I knew that he would do this. For example he wrote a letter to the CEO of General Electric saying that I was using General Electric money to campaign and that this was both unfair to him and unfair to the company. I had to then explain to my Chief Executive Officer at General Electric that this was not the case and that the IEEE was paying for our debates. When I became the nominee for President of IEEE I had a discussion with the CEO of GE and told him that it would be very time-consuming and that I would spend a lot of time on IEEE matters. I also explained to him that there were be times when I would have to take positions as an IEEE President that may not be the same positions that GE was taking on certain issues.

Vardalas:

How did he react to that?

Suran:

He said go ahead and do it and he understood and he thought it was important that I get involved. However when Feerst told him I was using GE money for campaigning, this was a personal attack.

Just an explanation to the CEO as to what was going on and how these debates were being funded was sufficient. My successor as President of IEEE was Leo Young – or first my successor was Ivan Getting and then it was Young. At any rate, Leo Young eventually ran and became President of IEEE. He was a petition candidate for Vice President and he was my Vice President when I was President. He and I got along very well. He was employed by the Naval Research Laboratory and when he ran for President, Feerst pulled the same trick. He informed Leo Young's boss at the Naval Research Laboratory that Leo Young was using taxpayer money in this case – because the Naval Research Laboratory was a government agency – to run for President of IEEE. For Young that was much more serious, because when you bring that charge into a government organization then immediately a committee has to be established to investigate it. He caused a lot of problems for Leo Young.

Committee and Board Work

Vardalas:

Let's come back to your Presidency. I want to finish up on your committee and Board work. Would you say more about your involvement in PUB services? You came back to PUBs services several times in your involvement with IEEE – in the '70s, '80s and '90s. Your role in the Institute being instrumental in that.

Suran:

I was on the Spectrum Editorial Board for example. The kinds of things that happen when you are on the Spectrum Editorial Board is that you adjudicate complaints of members who submitted publications THAT didn't get published. When publications are rejected it hits both the egos and the sensibilities of those who submit the papers, so there was a lot of explanation as to why papers were not published. Members complaining about that kept us on edge. We had to have pretty good reasons as to why we did or did not put papers into print.

Another thing we had to do was make sure that the peer reviews were good. Generally we always had peer reviews of these publications. When a publication was rejected it wasn't because the Editorial Board rejected it; rather, it was because peers in that field did not think the paper was publishable.

Vardalas:

You served for three years on the Nominations and Appointments Board. Did that have any vivid memories for you? No. Okay. Is there any other Board or committees work you want to bring up before we go to your Presidency?

Suran:

Yes. I think one of the interesting committees on which I served was the one that came up with a Code of Ethics for the IEEE. It's not listed in the official publications. I think it might have been a regional activity.

We met a lot in Boston, however, so it had to be a national committee. Ethics were becoming more and more of a consideration as the IEEE got into more activities. There were ethical concerns about people like myself serving in managerial positions at General Electric and also serving on committees and Boards of the IEEE and whether or not I could maintain an arm's length distance between the interests of the IEEE and the interests of a private company.

Vardalas:

What was the alternative?

Suran:

If you had asked Mr. Feerst, my opponent in the Presidential election, he would have said that people that served as managers in major companies should not serve in managerial positions in IEEE. He felt there was no way of controlling that conflict of interest except by not being a member of a company.

Vardalas:

How about taking a leave of absence and getting no money?

Suran:

Taking a leave of absence or not being in a major managerial position. He ran his own consultant company, so he also had a basic conflict of interest. The only way his condition could be satisfied was that an engineer working for a company should not have a managerial position if he or she ran for office in the IEEE.

Vardalas:

Do you think on the flip side of that that the weakness of the argument is that you lose all this experience and talent that you have in managerial positions?

Suran:

Absolutely. Not only that, but you lose the influence that managers could have to help the IEEE. I think that was a wedge issue though. He tried to differentiate between the different levels of engineers — working and managerial or academic. One of the things this led to in publications was that one of the major criticisms of IEEE publications, especially the Transactions of the IEEE, was that it was too technical, too specialized and that the interest and needs of "working engineers" were not being addressed by the technical publications of IEEE.

Vardalas:

What kind of publication would have suited their interests?

Suran:

I think the argument was that the IEEE publications were too theoretical and should be more applied. We always tried to balance that. I was on the editorial staff of a couple of Transactions including the one on circuit theory. Circuit theory is a lot of theory. As a matter of fact the title says it's a theoretical publication. The applications usually come later. People come up with a theory on how circuits operate and a way of analyzing circuits and then the applications follow. The argument was that the Transactions for example should have more applied papers and less theory.

Vardalas:

Was there any role played by academic engineers in this debate?

Suran:

The argument was that the academics were the ones that were controlling publications. Their papers were the ones that were dominating the publications in the IEEE. We tried to get applications engineers from industry to write more applications papers. The reason they didn't was because patent considerations prevented them doing that.

Vardalas:

Let's continue on. Another important area we have not yet talked about is the Educational Activities Board in which you were involved.

Educational Activities

Suran:

Yes. I was Vice President of Educational Activities for one year. And the major issue at that time was a split between industry and academia. Industry kept complaining that the curriculum for engineers didn't involve a lot of practical courses in which engineering industry was interested. For example, one of the major accusations about engineers coming out of college was that they didn't know how to speak well so that others could understand them or write well and didn't know anything about how industry measured financial performance. The industry people in IEEE wanted more curricula courses in engineering to teach engineers how to speak and write well, and most of all they wanted engineers to be taught what the economic facts of life were so that they wouldn't design stuff that had little market acceptance. Consequently we had a challenge between academia and industry here on how to design curricula for engineering courses.

One of the things I did as Vice President of Educational Activities was put together a committee consisting of engineers from industry, particularly managers who were doing this complaining, and academics who were in charge of writing the curricula for engineering courses. The academics challenged the industry people by saying, "Look. You want a four-year course and we can only accommodate this much in four years. You tell us what to take out and put in the courses that you want and let's see if we can jointly come up with a curriculum that makes sense." The interesting thing about it was that the industry people didn't want any of the engineering technology courses taken out. They could not agree on what should be taken out in order to put in these other courses that industry thought was more practical training for engineers. Consequently it resulted in kind of a stalemate.

Vardalas:

It seems like a perennial problem.

Suran:

It's a perennial problem, and as the technology gets more complex, sophisticated and broad in scope it is becoming even harder. I don't think the academic side was against extending the engineering degree to five years, but the industry side was against that. With a five-year degree some of the courses industry felt were more practical could have been included. That issue was never resolved. However the Educational Activities Board did tend to diffuse the dichotomy between academia and industry.

Vardalas:

Oh, because they talk to each other now.

Suran:

Yes. They talk to each other now. And industry sort of threw up its hands and agreed that they didn't want any of these major technology courses taken out in order to put in speaking courses. Then they said, "Well, maybe we have to do that when they come into industry and teach them more economic designs and teach them more writing and things of that sort."

Vardalas:

Along these lines, in these larger multinational companies, very often engineers rose to the top. I've heard that today it's harder to find engineers who have the background to rise to the top because of they are lacking the background they need. Has this changed for the worse today?

Suran:

I don't think so. I heard that same thing thirty or forty years ago.

Vardalas:

Is the reality the same today as it was then?

Suran:

Yes, I think the reality is about the same. We would like to maintain an education within a certain length of time and we can't teach everything. The attitude I had when I was a Manager at GE and hired young engineers was that we would write them off for about a year so they could get some practical training in how to apply what they learned within the company. We taught engineers how to write technical reports that other people could read, and I think a lot of engineers actually were good speakers; they just didn't have the practice. We gave them the practice by letting them conduct seminars or courses within the company.

Vardalas:

Are companies willing to invest a year or do they want people who are instantly ready to go?

Suran:

I think everybody would have liked engineers coming in that were ready to run as soon as they hit the GE floors, but the practical matter is that can't be done. Some accommodation time has to be provided. Large companies probably can afford to do it more than small companies. Small companies are the ones that want engineers trained specifically to become designers almost from the time they get employed, whereas large companies are more willing to give new engineers a little break – in time anyway. It depends on the economic situation as well. When times are good companies are willing to give more slack; when times are bad companies want efficiency and productivity right away.

Vardalas:

Have you seen IEEE's position on this evolve over the years or is it still a stalemate as to what to do about this?

Suran:

I think it is still a stalemate as far as academia is concerned. Now I am on the academic side and I hear the same arguments from industry, that we ought to be teaching engineers how to be better speakers, how to design with economics in mind and how to write readable reports. It's the same argument and we still have the time limit. No one is willing to say that the engineering degree should be a five-year program. And I think with today's broader technology it would probably have to be a six-year program if it were to take into account all of the things that industry demands and engineers ought to know and in which they ought to have experience. I think the equivalent of a bachelor's thirty or forty years ago is a master's degree today.

Vardalas:

Do you think there is any possibility of a five-year degree or even a six-year degree ever happening?

Suran:

No, I don't think so. Students in college these days are dealing with a lot of debt in the form of student loans. It is burdening them. Thirty years ago the argument was, "Does it pay to get a master's degree when that means losing one year of salary?"

Vardalas:

Versus the long-term salary gain.

Suran:

That's right. Today the argument is, "Does it pay to stay another year in college and rack up more debt in order to get an advanced degree?" It's the same argument but turned around with a little different spin on the economics.

Vardalas:

Were there any major issues the Educational Activities Board faced?

Suran:

That was the biggest one. I only had one year on that Board, and in that time the committee was set up and we came to an amicable stalemate.

Vardalas:

That was an accomplishment.

Suran:

Yes.

IEEE Presidency

Vardalas:

Let's move now into your Presidency in the IEEE. It looks like it was quite an intense campaign from what you said.

Suran:

Yes it was. It took a lot of time. I had to explain to my bosses in GE why I would not be around very much. I also told them about the possibility of conflict of interest. As IEEE president I would have to speak on behalf of the interests of IEEE. Later on I’ll give you an example of the kind of conflicts that arose.

Vardalas

I'm sure you developed a platform of some things you felt had to be changed or built upon. What things did you want to accomplish?

Suran:

To begin with, I thought the IEEE should maintain its technical reputation and technical job. That technical job was through publications, providing the latest information to members about what was going on in their respective fields. As these fields became more specialized, more Transactions were being developed. One of the big problems the Board always had was how to financially support new publications in new fields. One of the things that always comes up is, "Do we have enough money to do everything? Should we concentrate in more specific or broader areas in order to serve the membership?" There were always these financial concerns about how to best serve the members and financially support publications and conferences and so forth.

When I was President a strong feeling was developing that we needed to pay attention to what this petition candidate was saying. Engineers also had a concern also about what came out of Washington, D.C. in terms of pension regulations, support for research and development and in terms of support for engineering education. We had to become more of a lobbying organization. I think that was a beginning where we began to establish a Washington, D.C. locale in order to lobby. It was in that general area of time – and not just when I was President of IEEE – that we decided to have a United States Activities Board that specifically served the economic interests of American engineers and not just technical interests. The IEEE began to broaden and adapt to that philosophy

Vardalas:

Was part of this also to broaden its political influence?

Suran:

Political influence was important to get things like portable pensions. Another major concern we had was the understanding of technology by the public. We felt that the professional organizations in technology were not doing a good enough job in convincing the public about how important engineering was as a profession and what a profound effect it was having on everyone's lives. We wanted to make sure that somehow the IEEE became engaged in the public understanding of technology. That in turn would lead to public support for some of our lobbying activities for engineers.

Vardalas:

What about this idea about getting politically involved in debates with the FCC and various regulatory bodies? Today for instance there are issues about high-transmission wires being dangerous to health. There are many health issues.

Suran:

That was all part and parcel of it, and our intent was in a sense very narrow. That was to make sure that the public understood how important engineering and engineers were to the economic life of the country – and for the economic life of the world. In the 1970s a lot of the fruits of transistor and integrated circuit technology were beginning to explode. The personal computer came along in the 1970s and we were beginning to get mobile phones, though not as small as what we have now. Of course television and radio were well established, but integrated electronics was the driving force that led to a lot of new consumer gadgets and instruments that later became very popular, including of course the Internet.

Vardalas:

Was this expanded role for IEEE beyond the technical resisted? Were there those that said, "Let's not go there"?

Suran:

Yes, there was a strong opinion in IEEE that we should not get involved politically. The implication was that if we were to get involved politically we would effectively be taking sides and that if we were taking sides we would somehow become losers as well as winners depending upon who was elected and whose ox we gored and so forth.

Vardalas:

Was there a regional split in this thinking? Did Europe think differently from the Americans for instance?

Suran:

That was another issue in my Presidency. It was becoming apparent that the international parts of IEEE were growing faster than the local parts, and especially in the Far East. One of the questions was how much additional involvement we should have from foreign nationals in the governance of IEEE. On my Board we had a person from The Netherlands who became the Treasurer of the IEEE. We had more and more involvement of women in engineering, and that was drawing a kind of different view as well. We had some vocal women on committees and on the Board of Directors of the IEEE who felt that women had been highly discriminated against in the engineering professions and questioned why women were not more involved in engineering. We were never successful in getting more than 20 or 30 percent of women in engineering classes. There was a lot of concern over the gender issue. There was also a lot of concern about whether IEEE should become more or less transnational. The term transnational was used rather than international because we didn't have countries represented on the IEEE Board; rather, we had regions. We had the European region, the Asian region, a Far Eastern region and so forth. We did not have specific countries represented.

Vardalas:

Was that acceptable to the regions?

Suran:

Yes, that was acceptable to the regions. I think in a way the IEEE was coordinated in the United States between regions in the United States. I think a lot of the foreign members of IEEE liked the fact that when we had a European region it caused a European Council for example to get together to discuss IEEE policies. And it involved lots of countries and not just a single country. Therefore it had more of a professional character than a national character. There were a lot of interests European engineers had that were different from the interests of American engineers relative specifically to economic interests. However in terms of technical interests we all had the same interests. It did not matter whether an engineer was in Japan, Germany. France, Canada or the United States when it came to technology. We were kind of interested in the same things.

Vardalas:

Looking back, were you satisfied with what you accomplished during your term as President?

Suran:

One of the problems with the IEEE Presidency is that it is only one year. You really cannot accomplish very much. You become part of an organization that has an evolutionary direction and carry out that evolutionary direction if you are President. For example when I was President and one of the big things was the transnational growth of IEEE. We recognized at that time that we needed to encourage the growth of IEEE sections in places like Japan and Europe. We needed to pay more attention and get those people actually involved in the management of IEEE. Therefore we began to see more and more people from those countries become Board members. We had a person from the Netherlands as Treasurer. We also began to get more Canadians active in Board memberships. The IEEE evolved into that position. Each President and each Board was part of that evolutionary trend.

Vardalas:

Do you think there will come a day when there will be a non-U.S. or non-Canadian President of IEEE?

Suran:

Sure. No question about it. We have had women who were Presidents too, and we are effectively evolving as a transnational organization. I think it is the technological aspect that ties us all together. Each country has its own economic aspects and its own problems that are different from one another, but in terms of technology and how technology affects life and all of these environmental issues are all transnational in scope; they are not just national.

Vardalas:

Did I understand you correctly? You feel that many dramatic changes cannot be made as a President because it is an evolutionary process into which you step?

Suran:

You either slow down that evolution or speed it up. That's about all that you could do in one year. In my memory there was one outstanding issue during my Presidency, and it was a nuclear issue. In 1979 we were pretty much being influenced by the Power Society of the IEEE on the Board. They had a representation on the Board that United States should put more money into research on nuclear reactors. At the time I agreed to testify to a Congressional committee on the importance of more R&D funds going to the development of nuclear power in the United States. In 1979 there was an incident at Three Mile Island where we had a release of radioactive materials into the atmosphere. I think that was completely overblown by the media. People began to fear nuclear power. Therefore one of the debates we had was whether or not we go ahead with this testimony. I argued that we should, especially at this time, because we could correct a lot of misinformation that some of the newspapers were printing. The newspapers were saying that this small emission at Three Mile Island had a deleterious effect. The Board agreed that we should go ahead with this testimony. As the President, I was commissioned to provide the testimony to this Congressional committee. I went to Washington about three months after the incident at Three Mile Island to speak about nuclear power. A conflict of interest issue arose due to my being an Executive at General Electric.

Vardalas:

I can see that happening.

Suran:

General Electric was in the power industry, and at that time GE was de-emphasizing nuclear power. Specifically, they wanted to get out of nuclear power because they felt that it was becoming too hot a political issue. Therefore GE did not want to get involved in that business. It had contracts to maintain nuclear rods example for a lot of atomic power plants that had already been built and it would honor those long-term contracts, but they did not want anyone at GE to emphasize nuclear power. This was primarily due to the public relations aspects. Before I went down to Washington I got together with the CEO of General Electric and told him, "I'm going to testify to Congress on behalf of nuclear power." I told him I knew that this was not the current GE policy but that I was wearing my IEEE hat. I told him that I was going to emphasize that I was wearing my IEEE hat and that I was reflecting the position of IEEE only. He was okay with that. I went down to Washington and gave my testimony, and a lot of the Congressmen came up to me later and said, "It took a lot of courage to do this and I'm glad somebody did" and "I'm glad that IEEE took this position." None of those guys would state that publicly however.

Vardalas:

Abandoning of the energy research would seem a bit foolhardy now, given that it was an alternative to fossil fuels.

Suran:

That's right. Had we put a lot more research into nuclear at that time I think we would have a pretty good handle on this carbon problem. At any rate, that was one of the exciting things that happened during my Presidency. Another interesting thing that happened was that there were a few newspapers, especially one in Virginia, that headlined or put on the front page, quote, "GE Executive testifies for nuclear power." Before I began my testimony I made it very clear. I said, "You should also know that I am an employee of the General Electric Company, but my testimony is not the position of General Electric. I'm testifying on behalf of the Institute of the Electrical and Electronic Engineers as President of the IEEE and only in that capacity." I emphasized it about three or four times. But still the media reported me as GE Executive. It is hard to present a position of separation when there are perceived conflicts of interest. I was being careful about it, and felt that it was reported inaccurately.

A Learning Experience

Vardalas:

The time it took you to campaign plus the time and devotion it took for you to perform your duties as President of IEEE took away from your job. Did it have a deleterious effect on the company for which you worked? Did any of the company's projects suffer? Was it worth the sacrifice?

Suran:

I had the support of GE management to do this, but in effect I was not active in GE affairs during that time span that I was so active in IEEE. My participation in IEEE also involved going overseas. I did a tour of Europe where I visited Czechoslovakia, spoke with the President of the Academy of Science of that country and tried to get relations going there. Hungary wanted to establish what they called a John von Neumann Computer Society as part of the IEEE in Hungary. We spoke to the leaders of that group over there. At that time both Hungary and Czechoslovakia were under communist domination. And it was especially interesting to speak to the Hungarian section. They wanted very much to become affiliated with the IEEE but also had the official national position that they did not want to lose sovereignty to any international group in a technology as important as computer technology.

There were a lot of underlying international issues that from a President's point of view were very interesting to address and it was very interesting to participate in that. At the same time I felt we were doing a lot of good because eventually Hungary came in with a section of the IEEE. I went to Asia for two major purposes. One was to convince the Chinese to pay IEEE royalties on the publications they were copying from IEEE and publishing. They were effectively pirating IEEE publications. I think we made progress there. Then I went to Thailand to establish a section of the IEEE there. This international interaction took a lot of time, travel and energy and was solving or trying to solve issues that were important to IEEE. In a way this was important to the world too because we were beginning to initiate a lot of international discussion on major issues that involved all of the countries involved and not just the United States.

Vardalas:

But it took you away from your career at GE for nearly two years.

Suran:

It effectively took me away from GE for a year and a half.

Vardalas:

Were you worried about being away from the Palace, so to speak?

Suran:

Despite the fact that I had official Palace sanction to do it, I knew that I was not effectively, fully and enthusiastically involved in a lot of GE activities and that, in effect, my career was delayed by that amount of time. Yes, that was a sacrifice. On the other hand, from a personal point of view I got a lot of satisfaction out of doing the IEEE job. First of all after running for President of IEEE I felt that I could run for any national office. I learned a lot about electioneering and how to treat diverse and contentious issues.

Vardalas:

That was something you could take back to GE.

Suran:

Yes, I could in a way. One of the interesting things I learned was the importance of Robert's Rules of Order in conducting a contentious Board. With an IEEE Board you are basically running contention with a bunch of volunteers. Volunteers are different than paid professionals. Managing at GE I always wanted contention in my staff. My favorite expression was, "If everybody thinks like me then guess who's redundant?" I wanted a lot of different opinions. It was always understood that we would have fierce and emotional arguments sometimes within a GE management team, but that eventually the decision would be the Manager's. Once a Manager made that decision everybody fell in line or left. It was pretty authoritarian in that sense. Whereas within the IEEE that was never the case. You could have contention, have a vote by the Board and come up with a position, but a lot of people would say, "I'm going to make sure when I go back to the regional activities we don't have to live with this decision." In a way it was like tenure in academia. And these were volunteers and they could say "so fire me," you know.

Vardalas:

Obviously there was a bit of sacrifice on your part in terms of delaying your professional advancement. Do you feel however that IEEE, besides what you just mentioned, helped you in any way when you went back to GE, be it through contacts you made or otherwise? Did having been President of IEEE give you a certain advantages when you returned to your career?

Suran:

Yes. The advantages were many. I learned a great deal, as I said in, in how to handle contentious issues. Most of the advantages were in people that I met. I met people across the United States and all over the world who could be helpful in my General Electric career in the long run. However, it turned out that a couple of years after I ended my Presidency in the IEEE I decided to leave GE and go into academia instead. The fact that I knew a lot of academics as a result of my IEEE experience was very helpful in transitioning that career. I didn't have to say, "Now who do I contact?" I knew who to contact. I didn't have to say, "Well, how do universities operate?" I already knew how universities operate. And I knew really what I wanted in a university career, so I was able to establish that very readily as a result of the IEEE contacts I had made on the academic side.

Vardalas:

I have a few more questions related to your Presidency or to issues around the time you were on the Board and in the Presidency. You talked about lobbying and being involved in political decisions that are favorable to IEEE in some form or another. What was IEEE's position – or did it have a position – on export controls?

Suran:

We did not debate export controls in 1979. It was not a major issue in my Board.

IEEE Operations

Vardalas:

Okay. Another thing I wanted to ask along this line is, as someone who has worked in management, theory of organizations and all this kind of thing, how was your relationship to the Executive Director of IEEE? You have a Volunteer Board and a volunteer group driving it, then you have paid staff. How does this kind of thing work? How did it work during your time?

Suran:

It worked very well. The administration previous to mine hired Eric Herz as Executive Director of the IEEE. Herz was practically ideal for that position. He had been in that position for a year when I became President of IEEE. We got along very well. He had an industry background like I did, he understood what the issues were between industry, academia and IEEE, and we got along very well. The staff was extraordinarily supportive to those of us who were volunteers. They were supportive when I was Vice President of Educational Activities, when I was Vice President of Publications, and extremely supportive when I was President. They were there to serve the volunteers and they knew that. I don't think there was very much contention between my Board and the Executive Staff of the IEEE.

Vardalas:

You said Herz was ideal. In your opinion, what kind of person is best suited to be an Executive Director of an engineering-driven association of volunteers such as the IEEE?

Suran:

I think it is someone who first of all has worked on IEEE committees and knows how IEEE committees operate, who knows what the volunteer aspect of service is and who is willing to support that service. Eric Herz had all of that experience in IEEE before he was nominated to be Executive Director. He knew exactly how volunteers interface with staff and he knew that volunteers really drove the institute. It was a Volunteer Board that was the deciding, the driving force in IEEE. His view of the staff position what that staff should support the volunteers as best they could, but he also brought to the IEEE a perspective that was voiced on the Board. He was an ex-officio member of the Board of Directors and attended all Board meetings. And of course he supplied the staff that made the Board work, like the secretaries that took minutes and so forth. He gave advice to the Board in a very gentle way. He did not say, "I'm Executive Director so listen to me," but he spoke in a way that said, "I know you guys are the ones who make the decisions, but please consider this." Okay? He operated in a form where he became more like a consultant to the Board than someone trying to influence the Board in a very strong way. I think because of his attitude of how to interface with the Board the interface was very smooth. I don't remember any contention between staff and Board of Directors. I know that staff liked certain Board members more than others. There was always that issue. Sometimes Board members were a little rough on staff. Especially those of us who were Presidents or Vice Presidents of the Board had to make sure that our volunteers knew that they should not be riding roughshod on the staff. Staff had to be considered. They were valuable and should be considered as valuable employees and they should not be antagonized. Everybody on the Board and in IEEE committees felt they should get all the support they needed and when they needed it from the staff – but that was physically impossible, so there were those issues.

Vardalas:

What about the growth of IEEE staff over the years? Was there ever an issue about how big IEEE staff should get?

Suran:

These were economic issues more than policy issues. I think every committee in every Board felt that it should have more support by IEEE than was physically possible. Therefore there was a natural tendency for volunteers to try to grow the staff positions in order to get that support. However the financial issue was limiting. The IEEE could allocate only just so much to staff, and beyond that it became quite a burden. These kinds of issues became more intercine conflicts within the Board: how much support should the regional activities have versus the technical activities.

Suran:

How much support the History Committee should have versus the Circuits Committee. Things of this sort. It became a balancing act how to allocate resources within the resources available to the IEEE. We had a very limited amount of resources.

Vardalas:

Resources mostly come from the same pot: membership.

Suran:

That's right. Well, membership and there are a lot of other things.

Vardalas:

Yes, but the membership is the driving force.

Suran:

Driving.

The Evolution of IEEE

Vardalas:

Do you feel that the conditions for IEEE membership have changed significantly since you joined? In other words, is it the same imperative for young engineers to join IEEE today in terms of their own careers as it was when you were starting up?

Suran:

Probably not. Maybe it depends on the technology in which one is involved. I became interested in transistor technology almost at the beginning, and the way I learned about it was through IEEE publications. They were way ahead of universities. Companies that were publishing results on transistor technology were really the driving force in that technology for a long time until the universities caught up. Therefore I felt a strong need to associate with a professional organization in order to keep up with this very fast-moving technology in which I wanted to be involved. There is this kind of let's say understanding by college students that technology is very complex but if you are interested in computers you can learn about computers from a lot of different places. You do not have to become part of a professional organization or the IEEE to do it. I think the fact that we have more diverse technical sources and education than through strictly a professional society is causing kind of diffusion on the part of young people. Where do you turn TO learn this stuff? The IEEE is probably not driving a lot of people to the profession as it did in my day.

Vardalas:

Do you see this as a long-term problem?

Suran:

It probably will depend upon how the technology turns. If let's say there is a major technology revolution in which the IEEE leads, I think it will attract a lot of new members. It will change in time.

Vardalas:

What about the corporate attitude of the bigger companies? You were expected to join IEEE or AIEE and to become involved. Does that attitude still exist today in industry?

Suran:

I do not think it exists as strongly as it did when I became a member. W.R.G. Baker at General Electric, people that managed the Bell Telephone Laboratories and people at Westinghouse were all people who had developed through IEEE in a way and had became proponents of IEEE membership. Baker actually encouraged GE engineers to join the IRE at that time and to become active in it. He wanted them to become active in it because IRE was setting standards that affected industry.

It was important that the views of GE, Westinghouse, Philco and so forth were expressed in the IRE (and later IEEE) committees. He also encouraged involvement within the activities of the Institute of Radio Engineers. I do not see that happening with industry today – and again, probably because there are so many other sources that are involved in regulations. A lot of today's industry leaders have not had an intimate association with IEEE that I did.

Vardalas:

Are there any other topics you would like to discuss?

Suran:

No. I think we have pretty much discussed everything.

The History of Engineering

Vardalas:

I would like to get what your memories are of the History Committee. That was the last committee on which you served.

Suran:

Yeah.

Vardalas:

What did you see as its function and role? How did you evaluate your tenure on that committee?

Suran:

When I was very young history did not concern me. I was concerned only about the future. However as I got older, I began to worry about leaving a legacy of some kind. I began to wonder about a legacy in terms of the history of the profession in which I was very active. Therefore I became more interested in these historical issues. My involvement in the History Committee was basically to try and get a record written on all of the great things that IEEE did in terms of its contribution to society and technology and the impact of that technology on the world as a whole. My involvement in the History Committee was brought about by people like Arthur Stern saying, "Jerry, you ought to get involved in the History Committee now. It's something that we older people ought to think about as we pass from the scene." If you ask me what the major issues are, I just think that it is important to involve people who were involved in some of the origins when writing a history and making sure that history is as accurate as possible. There needs to be a record of what happened and how it happened. This eventually becomes educational to new generations of engineers.

Vardalas:

Do you think the History Committee, while you were there, was able to do enough of this? Did you feel that this was being done adequately or more had to be done? What was your assessment of how well this was being done?

Suran:

I think people like Gowen were driving it very hard. The usual issues of working to get enough resources from the IEEE while other people were trying to get resources from the IEEE required continuous attention by somebody on the Board or the Executive Committee. I‘d like to see the History Committee represented on the Executive Committee.

Vardalas:

Is it now? I don't know.

Suran:

It is only represented through the interests of people like Dick Gowen. He helps the Executive Committee to know what is going on in the history of IEEE and helps the Board members understand why it is important to write this record. Things like the IEEE Museum, the history of various IEEE inventions and discoveries that are important should eventually become part of engineering education. It is also a part of the -term longstanding IEEE interest in public understanding of technology and in particular the public understanding of how important technology is to everyone's lives. I think that serves two purposes: recording and maintaining history, but also educating people –and not just engineers but educating everyone who visits this kind of museum or is interested in any kind of technology.

Vardalas:

Going back to this debate about how much an engineer can be taught in four years, do you think that engineers can benefit from knowing a little more of this memory of their own profession?

Suran:

Absolutely. Yes. We do not teach the history of technology in college. We should continue to teach the history of the United States and various world areas and so forth. We have art appreciation in colleges and universities but I have never seen courses that are mandated in technology appreciation. When I attended Columbia University I had to take courses in art and literature, but I never had to take a course in technology appreciation.

Vardalas:

That is an interesting point. In a sense technology is material culture, another form of creation.

Suran:

That's right.

Vardalas:

Just like art and everything else.

Suran:

Absolutely. Art and the history of the so-called soft sciences are important. They're very important for us to appreciate life. However in terms of actual affect, technology by far supersedes those things if you look just at medical technology and how that has made a difference in everyone's lives. Today people take computers as a given. You know, my wife does not write letters anymore. She sits down and sends emails to kids and grandkids and so forth. They communicate that way.

Vardalas:

The only people who teach that form of appreciation in some form are archaeologists, because archaeology is all about what people made and did. All the things they dig up are things that people made.

Suran:

That's right.

Vardalas:

Jerry, I want to thank you very much. I think we have had a very fascinating interview. We will get back to you with the transcript and I will discuss with Mike about a copy. Thank you very much.

Suran:

Okay. And it was my pleasure, and thank you for the time and thank you for coming here.