Megger Personas: Don McCarty
President, Trainer and "Copper Cable Guru", McCarty Products
Years of Experience in the Electrical Power Industry: 40+ years
Donald McCarty is known throughout the telecom industry as the “Copper Cable Guru”. This began when he combined his experience in electronics that he gained while serving in the U.S. Navy with the cable fault locating experience that he acquired at Northwestern Bell in the 1960s. Don was on the ground floor as the industry was changing from paper-insulated cable to plastic-insulated cable, which necessitated wholesale changes in cable maintenance methods and procedures.
In 1972, Don joined Dynatel as an outside plant training specialist where he was instrumental in the development and implementation of the telco industry’s first multi-function copper test set; a set that revolutionized copper troubleshooting. He travelled the country teaching cable maintenance to technicians and managers as well as helping telcos set up cable maintenance training programs. In 1986, after 14 years of this, he left Dynatel and founded McCarty Associates, Inc., now known as McCarty Products, where he expanded his teaching and consulting.
His success as a world-renowned trainer, consultant, equipment advisor, speaker and writer are credited to his straight-forward teaching style coupled with his ability to make complex subjects easy to grasp. He is a regular columnist in “Outside Plant” magazine, speaker at all OSP Expos, and is the co-author “The Fine Art of Fault Locating”, the industry standard training manual for outside plant fault location, repair, and maintenance. In the pre-Google era, his technical-advice columns in “Outside Plant” and “ISE” magazine were archived (stacked in the corner) in telco breakrooms around the world. Managers cut out and filed his columns for future reference.
Telephone technicians or supervisors would sometimes be surprised when Don would answer his own phone or call them to discuss a question that they submitted. This allowed him to expand his database of subject-matter experts. If he didn’t know the answer to a question, it was a good bet that someone in his database did. He created “networking” before it was a thing.
To most of us in telephony, you were “always there” but there must have been a “young Donald McCarty”. Tell me about him.
My boyhood was spent on our farm in Granite Falls, Minnesota. I was always outside doing something so joining Boy Scouts was a natural thing to do. I am proud of being an Eagle Scout. When my dad left the farm and went into heavy construction, I followed him. He taught me how to run anything that had tractor wheels on it. My electronics background comes from the U.S. Navy. I fought like hell going into the military, but I joined the Navy anyway. I guess it’s a good thing that I did because that’s where I got my electronics training.
How and when did you did you get into telephony?
As to when, let me say that hardly anyone these days remembers when Bell vehicles were all green. They started changing them to white about fifty years ago. When I started with Northwestern Bell, they didn’t even have green trucks, just green horses. When I applied for work there, I thought that I would be working as a central office switchman because of my electronic background. When they found out that I also had a heavy equipment background they put me on the line crew.
The telephone business was still using paper-insulated cable. It was starting to replace that with plastic-insulated cable. I helped to install miles and miles of both aerial and buried plastic-insulated telephone cables.
After my stint on the line crew, I was moved over to Construction and became a Splicer. Most of the splices were twisted and then soldered. (That ought to further date me in this business!) I was then moved into Cable Maintenance. By today’s standards we used very simple Western Electric test equipment such as the breakdown set for finding wet sections in paper and pulp cable, the KS Meter (also called “Simpson Meter” or “Brownie” Meter”) to identify cable pair trouble. For transmission testing we had the analog T136 and the Wheatstone Bridge to locate the trouble.
I had a major motor vehicle accident and when I went back on “light duty”, I was moved onto the test board. I finished my career with Northwestern Bell testing and dispatching from the cable position the test board.
You get a lot of questions on cable maintenance from technicians and from their supervisors. It is known that you have a data base of people to call when you do not know the answer to those questions. How did you build that database?
I stumbled on networking by accident. At the end of any column, I offered help to solve any problem or issue that readers were faced with. Either of two things might happen: The first was that I didn’t have the answer. In which case, I would ask that question in a later column and technicians or managers would contact me with answers. Those people went into my file.
The second was that when I offered a solution, I was not always correct. In that case, technicians and managers would contact me with corrections or additions. These people also went into my file. I networked with managers and technicians to solve a multitude of problems involved in the process of provisioning and maintaining the copper wireline infrastructure. You can imagine that over the years, there has been a lot of turnover in those files.
We’ve been hearing for decades that “copper is dead, and fiber is king”. Do you have anything to say to that?
I would paraphrase Mark Twain who, upon hearing that a newspaper had reported his death, said something like “News of my death has been greatly exaggerated”. All of us know that the telcos have too much copper plant to just forget about it. Clever people, driven by economics, and aided by technological innovation, have been finding new uses for this copper. I think that will continue. I will add that this is even more reason to maintain that copper.