Interview with PAC World guru John McDonald from USA

Interview with PAC World guru John McDonald

PAC World:  When and where were you born?
J.McD.: I was born in Gary, Indiana on 22 December, 1951. The same doctor delivered my Dad in 1927, me in 1951, my brother in 1953 and my sister in 1961.

PAC World:  Where did you grow up and where did you go to school?
J.McD.: I attended two elementary schools in Gary and middle and high school in Arlington Heights, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.
PAC World:  Did you have any specific interests while in school? 

J.McD:  Sports and electricity. My first sport was Little League baseball. Basketball in middle school. Football and baseball in high school. At Purdue University I played competitive handball and table tennis. While living in San Francisco I played fast-pitch softball and flag football. In fifth grade I became interested in electricity. I read, learned to solder, built a short-wave radio, walkie talkies, and a code oscillator, among others. By high school I took courses and built a superheterodyne AM/FM radio, and replaced the picture tube in a black and white TV.

PAC World:  Where did you go to university and why did you choose that one?
J.McD.:  I wanted to study Electrical Engineering, but despite having an Illinois state scholarship with in-state tuition at the University of Illinois, I visited Purdue University first. Without an appointment, the director of admissions met with us and answered all our questions. I fell in love with Purdue that day. I earned my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1973 and my master’s degree in electrical engineering, specializing in power engineering, in 1974.
I attended the University of California-Berkeley at night for an MBA degree, specializing in finance, graduating in 1978.

PAC World:  Did you study anything related to power system automation while in university?
J.McD.:  No. At Purdue, I was in the honors program and Professor Ahmed El-Abiad – who had just co-authored a book on using digital computing to model and analyze the power system – laid out my curriculum, with a focus on power engineering. His guidance meant that I took courses in electrical, mechanical, and nuclear engineering. Professor El-Abiad felt that a power engineer should be multi-disciplinary.  My focus at Purdue was on computer methods in power system analysis rather than power system automation. My master’s thesis was (I think) the world’s first Three Phase Load Flow Program using Cartesian coordinates and the Newton Raphson solution method, which was published in the IEEE Transactions on Power Apparatus and Systems in 1976.

PAC World:    Where did you start your career and how did it happen?
J.McD.:  I started with Bechtel Corporation in San Francisco in 1974. I interviewed with many companies while at Purdue while completing my master’s program. I had worked summers and holidays on power engineering and wastewater treatment design at Consoer, Townsend & Associates in Chicago. When I interviewed with Bechtel at Purdue, its work was similar. The intensive interview process to match my interests to an employer opened my eyes. I had never been west of Illinois. To live and work in downtown San Francisco seemed adventurous. Everything was new.

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