Allen Byrne is a 40-year veteran of the battery backed power industry. He recently retired from full time work having worked in all aspects of the industry.
He is a senior member of the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers (IEEE) where he sits on the Power and Energy Society’s Stationary Battery Committee (PES SBC). He is also a member of the IEEE Standards Association. He is currently vice-chair of two IEEE battery standards.
Allen is one of the founders of Battcon, the International Stationary Battery Conference and was the chair for 16 years. He was also a contributing editor for Power Quality Assurance Magazine. He is a frequent speaker at power system related conferences and has had over 50 technical papers published. He is the original author of the Power Distribution Chapter of BICSI’s Telecommunications Distribution Methods Manual.
He was greatly honored in 2011 by being inducted into the Battcon Battery Hall-of Fame.
Team members at Eagle Eye had the opportunity to sit down and interview with Allen on why he chose to immerse himself and his career in the battery industry and his hopes for his students’ futures.
Interviewer: When did you decide to become an instructor, and why did you choose this field.
I basically became and instructor/teacher by default. I had completed some instructor training courses in the service but never really applied that knowledge. In mid-career I worked for a company that was designing, integrating and deploying battery backed power systems and was designated as the person that was the interface with our customers and that included instructing them in the theory and use of the systems. Further employment found me getting designated as the guy who would train others. During the last 16 years of my career I became more and more involved in training, latterly for one of the largest battery companies in North America.
Interviewer: How does your current teaching career and past job experience translate into the classroom?
Having been involved in so many aspects of the industry I try to translate that knowledge and experience to my approach to teaching. I also try to get the confidence of the audience by relating to their needs. I am very flexible and usually begin a training session by asking what each student wants to get out of the training and then I try to accommodate all. I tend to use a lot of practical examples that I have experienced.
Interviewer: How did you get into the power solutions Industry?
Once again it was by default. I was working for a space and defense systems company and my department was responsible for the development of a battery powered propulsion system. This is what tweaked my initial interest in batteries. Soon after that I was working for a joint venture in the Middle East and was involved in the installation of communications systems and once again battery backed power systems were involved. I started to learn more as time went by and eventually specialized in that area.
Interviewer: What is your favorite aspect of teaching?
Seeing that “ah-ha” moment and “now I know why” realization look in the students. It is then I know I am getting the students to understand the topic. I also enjoy responding to the various questions that are asked. I like to say that if I don’t know the answer the chances are that I will know someone who does and will get back to the student. Fortunately, I do not have to do that very often.
Interviewer: In a short summary, what types of courses do you teach?
A short answer of individual subjects is not possible. If it is battery backed power related I can probably teach it. However, I do specialize in stationary batteries and teach everything from battery basics to battery failure mechanisms and battery chemistry.
Interviewer: What’s your teaching philosophy?
Have fun, engage the students and be very flexible so I can meet each student’s needs. I am very aware of the fact that what I think the students wants to know may not necessarily be what the student wants to know.
Interviewer: What one thing do you want your students to take away from your teaching?
The satisfaction that they have learned things that will relate to their job, solve some of their day-to-day problems and most of all, be beneficial to their company. After all, that is probably who is paying the tab for the training. I also want them the students to be unafraid to question the status quo. The way it has always been done may not be the right way.
Interviewer: What advantage do your students have over others who don’t attend your courses?
I would hope that they know a lot more about standby power system than their untrained colleagues. The key point is that they have learned to properly maintain the power systems, be able to predict failure and extend the life of the power systems. This all translates to a substantial pay back to their company’s investment.
Interviewer: What are your hopes for your students’ futures?
Depending upon the point in their career path, I would want them to know more than I did when I was in their shoes. I want them to be so competent that they can rise in the ranks and be a credit to their employer. I hope that I have made their job easier and more rewarding.
Interviewer: What do you think is the greatest challenge facing students today?
The greatest challenge is corporate financial engineering. When I started on my long career path, training, system management and maintenance were a very high priority. Today, the bottom line has replaced reliability. It is hard for people who need to learn to convince the financial engineers to pay for that learning. They consider that maintenance, testing and system management is not a profit center but rather an overhead that must be held in check. Corporations and users don’t really realize that a power system failure can cause millions of dollars in lost revenue until it happens. Don’t get me started!
Interviewer: What do you like most about training as a career?
Training for me is not a career but rather an opportunity for me to share my limited knowledge with others in the industry. I basically had to learn the hard way, but I have been blessed to have had some great mentors and colleagues along the way. I like the fact that I am still learning through organizations such as the IEEE and Battcon and I can transfer this knowledge to others.
Interviewer: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
What is spare time? I am still involved in some consulting work along with my great association with Eagle Eye University. I believe that retirement time is “pay back” time as I have been very fortunate in my professional and family life, I volunteer one day a week for a medical clinic called Mission of Mercy which provides free health care to those who have no other options. I also belong to the local Kiwanis Club. I am the Maryland State Historian for the Ancient Order of Hibernians and an active member of the Marine Corps League. As this wasn’t enough, I am also a past president and still active with the Frederick Rugby Club. In any spare time left, I like to dream about spare time.