Wednesday, September 26, 2007
My Digital Theory Professor
When I was in college working toward my engineering degree, I had to take a couple of digital electronics classes.
The professor was 70 at the time, and had no interest in retiring.
At least once per week he would say, "I'm one of those lucky people who happens to be able to work at something I LOVE to do."
He was a difficult professor though, because he was one of those guys who taught certain things in class and assigned homework to cover that, but when test time came, it was as if he chose test questions from something we hadn't studied yet.
So to survive, you had to not only do the assigned homework, you had to read ALL of the sections of each chapter he covered and work the book's problems on those other sections as well to study for his tests. In other words, his tests covered everything in the intervening text chapters, whether he had actually talked about them in class or not.
Lots of people dropped his class because they couldn't pass his tests. When told that you had to learn some extra material on your own even if he hadn't taught it specifically in class, these students would whine and moan and they made up the lion's share of the people dropping the class.
Initiative was the dividing factor between those who dropped out of engineering school and those who would graduate and get jobs doing the work they were trained for.
Their laziness problem wasn't the worst of it either. He was the only instructor in the electrical engineering department that taught digital theory and digital laboratory. So if they were EE majors, they were going to have to suck it up somehow, and study the whole chapters to pass his tests.
As a non-traditional student (ie "older than most other students") I had no problem visiting my professors during their required office hours to ask questions so that my homework could be completed correctly. Visiting this professor allowed me to get help with the parts of the chapters he hadn't covered in class, and I was ready for Freddie when test time came around.
Another bonus for visiting him was that he took this as a sign that a student was truly interested and when final grade time came and you were half a point overall from the next higher grade, he tended to give the half point and assign the higher grade to those who visited him during his office hours.
So instead of complaining and dropping the class, I was able to figure out how to learn the material he taught; the material that he didn't teach but that we were still responsible for, and do well on the tests.
After all that, and the years between then and now, when I think back on this professor, what I remember the most is his glasses.
Yes, his glasses.
He was a tall man with a bit of a pot belly, and unbelievably thick glasses.
He could carry more things in his shirt pocket than I can, which is saying a lot, because people make fun of me and all of my pens, markers, moleskine notebook, ipod, etc, that I keep in my one shirt pocket. His pocket stayed so full that it pulled forward and showed you what all was in there.
I don't think his glasses had ever been cleaned. I think the day he bought them they probably came from the optometrist cleaned, but I'm fairly certain that he had never cleaned them himself since.
I sat in the front in all of my classes, and I would often find myself hypnotized by this man's glasses. I'd lose track of what he was lecturing on and would be so fascinated by his dirty glasses, wondering how he could possibly see well enough to even walk down the hall, that on many occasions I would have to teach myself that day's lesson from the book because I couldn't remember what he had said. I had been watching his glasses and marveling at their incredibly dirty state.
My work these days is in digital engineering, and I often think of this professor and the foundation that was laid for my career in those classes.
But I honestly remember his glasses more than his classes.