Cinque Terre

John Mayo

Electrical Engineer
Favorite Quote or Motto: Your schoolhouse door is your gateway to opportunity
North Carolina State University - Bachelor of Science (B.S.) Electrical Engineering1952
North Carolina State University - Master of Science (M.S.) Electrical Engineering1953
North Carolina State University - Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) Electrical Engineering1955

My Story

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Career Status

  • Previously worked as engineer

I chose to be a Electrical Engineer because...

I chose the communications side of Electrical Engineering because radio was the exciting technology in my youth. My family was heavily devoted to communications technology.

I like my job because...

I loved every aspect of my work for it was exciting and made a real difference in the quality of life for ordinary people.

My typical day at work involves...

My typical work day involved Research and Development of new technology for the national telephone network. This was a combination of analytical studies and design of working models. I was fortunate to enter the work force at the very beginning of digital solutions to key needs and to spend my entire career riding the wave of the digital revolution.

I want others to know...

I want others to know that engineering is an exciting and rewarding profession of challenging work. I enjoyed going to work every day, and I was awestruck by the talent of the people with which I worked.

This is My Story

Engineers are good and honest people, I worked six years as a Licensed (Radio) Engineer part time to cover college costs. Mostly it was a different group of about 6 people each summer. All were wonderful people and became close friends. My Engineering Class at college, including the Professors was like an extended family. My 40-year employment in a large corporation was a dream come true. All wonderful, supportive people.

An Engineer is never alone. Each branch of Engineering has an Institute devoted to the profession and provides a wide range of support. The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) was a major factor in the success of my career. I thrived on their publications and their technical meetings. I learned a lot by serving on their committees and met many world class people in work groups creating technical standards and organizing technical conferences.

Engineers make a large contribution to society by just doing their jobs well. What a joy it is to me every day to see how the digital technology we started to generate when I first came to work in a major Corporation had changed the life of most of the world’s people by the time I retired 40 years later. To the world these products and services fall from the sky. To the Engineer they are the fulfillment of a Lifetime Dream

Even Engineers may underestimate what is possible. When I started work I would have thought it too bold to expect one tenth of one percent of the cost, size and power reduction obtained in digital circuitry by the time I retired. There was no expectation for fiber optic systems at all.

ADVICE FOR FUTURE ENGINEERS; Assume the world you know now will evolve rapidly and that your skills should evolve just as fast.

Projects I've Worked On

Recovery of Telstar Satellite



Electrical Engineer

Description of Role

Getting around failed transistor

A Typical Day On This Project

Suggesting possibilities

What I Liked About This Project

One of the many projects of my career was rather unusual and came about suddenly in the life of the Telstar satellite, launched in 1962. Ground control could no longer turn on the orbiting repeater that was the first direct television link between Europe and the US. I was not on the satellite design team, but the key engineer for the command decoder (Henry) was sent to the design team from my department. When he told me of the problem and that the source was probably radiation damage to the transistors, I suggested maybe we could design a special code that would tolerate a limited failure.

So we studied the impact of each type of failure for each component and what we could do, if anything to get around that that type of failure. We came up with several options. One of the engineers in my department (Hans) volunteered to build a flexible Code Generator so we could program flexible code arrangements. We made a magnetic tape of the more promising options. Henry took the tape to ground control. The first code did nothing, but the second turned the satellite repeater on. This success got a lot of publicity and to this day I occasionally hear of the 400-mile-long screwdriver.

How many years of relevant experience did you have when you worked on this project?

5 to 10 years years

Who would you like to thank or acknowledge for their work on this project?

It was a great team effort, including Henry Mann(designer), Hans Henning(flexible code generator) Bob Shennum(satellite design), Gene O’Neill(Telstar Project Leader

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