The only way to do great work is to love what you do.

 If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.

                                                                            Steve Jobs, Co-Founder, Apple Inc (1955-2011)

Henry Ford once said: “The only real security that a man can have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience and ability.” Having completed my graduation in Electronics and Communication Engineering in June 1973, I had acquired some technical knowledge and was eager to develop work related abilities and gather experience.

As we had our ancestral home here at Bangalore and my father was retiring in a couple of years from his Central Government service, being the eldest son of five siblings, I preferred to work in Bangalore.  Soon after my graduation I joined a private company as Design Engineer Trainee. Within three months of working, I came across an advertisement of Indian Telephone Industries Limited (ITI) calling for applications for the post of Assistant Executive Engineers (AEE). I applied without knowing that I will be competing with some 8,000+ engineers passed out over the last few years from Engineering colleges spread across India as the cut-off age limit was thirty years.

Out of 8,000 engineers who wrote the competitive examination, some ten percent of the candidates were called for a Group Task, each group having ten applicants. Couple of Psychologists by assessing the level of participation and contribution by each member of the group to the given task, short listed about forty percent of those participated in the group task for personal interview. The top management after interviewing the short listed candidates for about ten minutes each, finally selected just Seventy five!

The entire selection process happened during November and December. On 6th January 1974 I received the appointment order with a few compliance requirements to be fulfilled – Character Certificate from a District Magistrate, Medical fitness Certificate from a reputed hospital, etc. Finally after submitting all the documents sought along with degree certificate and final semester marks card to the administration department, I was instructed to report to the Chief Training Manager. Thus, I was on the rolls of ITI from 4th March 1974 onwards.

There was no structured orientation program. Apart from understanding the various departments and amenities available by going around the campus, the AEE recruits got to get familiarised with each other more than the organisation and its culture! During April I was posted to Telemetry and Supervisory Remote Control (SRC) section of N- Development department.

There were two main R & D departments  – Transmission R & D and Switching R & D; both working in the areas of Telecommunication, major customer being Indian Telecom Department (>90%). Even the management team (Engineer-in-chief onwards) comprised mostly of senior executives drawn from Post & Telegraphs department[1] which was installing telephone exchanges, providing communication services and maintaining exchanges and connectivity across India. R & D work pertaining to Non- P & T areas came under N-Development (N stood for Non – P&T). However, head of this department was reporting to Engineer-in-Chief, Switching R & D.

N-Development department had four sections, including the Telemetry-SRC section which was headed by an Executive Engineer. There were two AEEs, a couple of Assistant Engineers (AE), six Senior Technical Assistants (STA), three Technical Assistants (TA), six draughtsmen and six wiremen in the section. All were older to me by age. I was introduced to the two AEs who have been working on SRC equipments for Indian Railways. Incidentally as both of them were belonging to same language speaking community that I belong to, it was easier for me to get along with them. They shared the Circuit diagrams of the SRC system that they had developed for Indian Railways using discrete transistors[2]. I was assigned the project of designing similar systems with Large Scale Integrated Circuits (LSIs)[3].

During the engineering programme I had not studied anything about LSIs, nor had much work experience after graduation. Looking at the system and circuit diagrams was mind boggling! I was wondering how I am going to design the circuits and develop the system all alone! To my great relief two more AEEs joined our section during May. They were directly selected from campus of Guindy Engineering College, Chennai – T.G. Padmanabhan (TGP, 1946-92) had done M.E in Microwave Communication and K. Subrahmanian (Subbu, 1953-2015) had done B.E in Electronics. Subbu’s face was familiar to me and it so happened that he studied in the same school as me and was one year junior. While Subbu was assigned the job of designing Telemetry system for managing Electric power distribution, TGP joined me as partner for designing SRC system for managing traction power supplied to electrified railway routes. While TGP older to me by four years was calm, composed and systematic, Subbu, younger by three years was more aspirational and competitive. These two colleagues played crucial role in my R & D career in ITI which was spread over ten years.

The other three sections under N-Development department were Telephone Development, Road Traffic Signalling equipment and Defence Products. Sometime during end of 1974, Prime-Minister’s Office (PMO) asked ITI to supply Push-button telephone (which had come into the market in USA & Europe during early 1970s. As there was no electronics engineer working with Telephone development section, I was assigned that project. Chief Engineer, Switching R & D suggested that the Push-button dial can also replace the rotary dial on the Trunk Exchange Operators’ desk, as they constantly dial to connect subscribers of two different cities (earlier to STD[4] facility, calls from one city to another were connected by an operator). This he felt would ease the burden on the fingers of the operators. Thus, the development of Key-sender to replace the rotary dial on the Operators’ desk was also taken up.

As the request had come from PMO, top management started following up the progress directly with me bypassing the normal protocol. With the help of TGP and Subbu I completed the project in record duration (for a Public-sector Company) of less than six months. It was during this period, I was also attending Post-graduate Diploma classes in Industrial Management programme (part-time) at Central College. The entire process of developing a prototype of the product, testing it out in the field conditions, documentation for Pilot production and subsequent final production was an exhilarating experience. Subsequently Key Sender was exhibited by ITI at an International Telecom exhibition in Geneva during October 1975.

My experience of installing the first Micro-processor based SRC system for Southern Railways was much more adventurous!

[1] However, ITS – Indian Telecommunication Services cadre similar to IFS, IAS, IPS, IAAS, IRS was created later in 1978.

[2] A discrete transistor is a standalone semiconductor device used to amplify or switch electronic signals. It is composed of a solid piece of semiconductor material with at least three terminals for connection to an external circuit.

[3] LSIs are complex electronic circuits  having millions of  transistors, resistors and capacitors fabricated on a single chip of Semiconductor.

[4] STD – Subscriber Trunk Dialling


MAY 01 , 2024 | Ravi 77