Acknowledged as the "father of high-speed analog-to-digital conversion techniques," Bernard M. Gordon is now the executive chairman and chairman of the board of Analogic Corp., a company that he started in 1969 to develop data acquisition, medical, industrial monitoring and control, special-purpose computation, and digital communications systems. But he spends a lot of time and energy on education issues. These include endowment of the Bernard Marshall Gordon Professorship of Engineering Innovation and Practice at MIT and the National Academy of Engineering's Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education, and founder of the Gordon Institute, a graduate-level institution dedicated to teaching engineering leadership.
The way engineers are trained today is something that often occupies Gordon's mind. He admits to making some "controversial statements" about EE training. "I have said that when Electronic Design started 50 years ago, the average kid graduating from high school was better educated than some of today's engineers," he explains. Gordon believes there is too much emphasis on computers at the expense of fundamentals. "I think engineering schools today teach an inadequate amount of physics, mathematics, communications skills, and how to work with people," he adds. Because working with computers tends to be what he calls a "loner's job," Gordon says that "there is less interaction with other people. There are just too many useful areas of instruction that have been subjugated to computer courses."
Gordon thinks that the biggest problem for equipment manufacturers is the dearth of people who can perform like old-fashioned project engineers. "Today, we see a lot of project managers attempting to manage a group of people, each of whom is doing a little part of something, but who can't comprehend the whole. They usually don't have the background for the task," he says. However, he feels that now there is a growing awareness of the problem. "The schools are hearing complaints from industry."
In addition to managing Analogic, Gordon acts as the project engineer on the company's major projects. For example, he wrote the proposal for the Explosive Assessment Computed Tomography (or EXACT) systems now used in U.S. airports.
He also has some thoughts about where technology fits into modern society. "My son, who is a history professor, would claim that much of technology is counterproductive," he says. "But I think everyone would agree that the CAT scan, MRI, and computer-aided neural surgery (technologies for which Gordon has made major contributions) are all useful things." Not surprisingly, he keeps his own technology tools to a minimum. "Although I was the electronics project engineer on UNIVAC I, the world's first commercial digital computer, I have never used a computer. I depend on secretaries, tape recorders, and calculators."