JB @ 78
It is an astonishing fact that although James (Jim) Gerard Benedict Hanrahan (known as JB) is today entering his 78th year, having quite some time ago completed a distinguished career in telecommunications (from the early days of Irish telephony, through to the more modern era of aeronautic guidance and safety systems) his name travelled a lot less than the positive effects of his work. Until today, that is, when thanks to the ubiquitous presence of the Web and its accompanying search engines, merely mentioning someone’s name makes it globally present.
JB’s motto, recounted in several forms, was: “the job is being done right when you can put your feet up and read a book.” You see, his role was to ensure that “things worked”, and this meant anticipating what would be needed, where things could go wrong, and taking necessary action in advance. Whether he was working on telephony systems, telex or even the radar systems at Dublin airport (where he remained until he retired), getting the job done meant doing it before it needed to be done.
The pace of life has increased many-fold since JB retired, and it gets harder to anticipate future needs, but the benefit of thinking ahead is still a lesson well learned. Engineers like him learned the hard way that it’s much easier to prevent problems than it is to recover from them. Justifying the additional cost of prevention seems to be getting harder, as margins are trimmed and the pressure to reduce costs is growing. But our almost total dependency on technology should make us more cautious about cutting corners, or counting on recovery mechanisms rather than preventative measures.
In JB’s career, he had plenty of time to put his feet up and read some books. Do we, today, know how that feels? Are we as confident in what we do? Have we planned ahead?
Thankfully, I think I’ve learned some of those lessons, in no small part due to the good fortune of having Jim Hanrahan as my father. Now if only I had some good books to read…
UPDATE: JB passed away peacefully on 9 April 2010, a little short of his 80th birthday.