This guest blog post is part of a series written by Edward J. Farmer, PE, ISA Fellow and author of the ISA book Detecting Leaks in Pipelines. To download a free excerpt from Detecting Leaks in Pipelines, click here. If you would like more information on how to purchase the book, click this link. To read all the posts in this series, scroll to the bottom of this post for the link archive.
The fall of 2019 was a special time for me. I was honored to become an ISA Fellow at the ISA Leadership Conference in San Diego. There are wonderful pictures including my 12-year-old son watching intently, and the smiling faces of so many people basking in the intense moments that memorialize so much work, so much history!
When I was a young guy, not long out of college, I realized I was drawn into industrial automation. Magazine articles by now-ISA Fellow Francis Gregory Shinsky were inspiring and motivating and were an important part of getting me on my way. I remember my contract supervisor at Standard Oil of California, Dick Debolt, remarking on Greg’s work with Foxboro and opining that if they didn’t make it then it doesn’t exist. How far we’ve come over my nearly 50 years in industrial control and automation! What a role ISA, its members and its ISA Fellows had in all that! After all those years, books, and short courses here I am – one of those ISA Fellows!
A course that the U.S. Army taught me encouraged maintaining perspective, remembering where you came from, what you’re doing here, and where you’re going. When I was 10 my grandparents took me to their homes from the silver age in Western Colorado. They wanted me to understand how the two of them grew up and started their adult lives in Ouray and Silverton. I came to understand how the events of the times brought them west, first to Arizona and eventually Northern California. They helped me through some stepfather issues over the summer and when I returned home I went to a place of special significance to me and had a long talk with myself about the big issues in how I wanted my life to work out – not specifics, but the broader things, like finding and developing the life that was right for me, and living in accordance with my impression of the way that enabled the world and people in it to be all they can be.
I left home for college in 1966, the beginning of my Yellow Brick Road. Over the years I served in the U.S. Army, worked in hydroelectric generation, managed a systems integrator, and moved into private practice. I did a lot of automation work in water and wastewater, at Standard Oil of California (and of course Chevron) refineries, with ExxonMobil in process control work, and eventually many others, producing over 100 papers in various industry periodicals. As it turned out, it was a wonderful journey through amazing times animated by technology advancement unprecedented in human history. There is no better time to have been alive or working in engineering. ISA was always part of this for me and it felt so good to become an ISA Fellow with some of the people that were so instrumental in how my life turned out.
To answer Dorothy’s question from the Wizard of Oz, yes, there is another place over the rainbow. I went from being a very poor kid to a comfortable life of good, meaningful, and societally valuable work. Counting the two years of part-time work in an engineering job that I did while finishing college, I spent a half-century of good, interesting, engaging, and valuable work that increased my knowledge and awareness. My journey, my Yellow Brick Road, was truly an adventure. I loved it and am so glad it all worked out as I hoped and planned.
My company and its products are now part of TechnipFMC, and as I sit in my home office writing this, I am surrounded by memorabilia from all my time and adventures. There are college certificates, patents, a shelf of things I wrote, pictures of operations around the world, engineering registrations, a shelf of various military hats and helmets from my time in the Army and California National Guard, and a shelf of things I published. It feels like 50 years of home, or maybe 50 years on my journey; or maybe those are the same place.
A couple of months ago a young lady asked me for advice or an opinion about moving her life along its post-high school path to somewhere. I recalled that the Army placed me in command of a platoon when I was 20 and thought about how I felt then and how it served me. I told her my advice is: Be all you can be, leave what you encounter better than you found it, and stand for something. I also suggested maintaining a sense of both depth and diversity in your life’s activities.
I am so pleased to be writing this. I am so pleased to be here doing these things as well as remembering all those that came before. It is truly amazing and feel so good about it. The first picture I recall seeing of my mother is her in a Women’s Army Corps (WAC) uniform in World War II. When I was a kid it was on a shelf or dresser in some room that was special to her in some way. When she passed, I put it on top of my tallest bookcase, looking at me from across my room. I like to look up at her and think about the diverse life she lived. I think she would be pleased about how things turned out.
ISA is important to me and the ISA Fellow honor is a milestone. I am so glad to have made it to here, and to have so much to look back on, and so much hope for those moving along after me.