After a successful, 43-year career at SED/Calian, Don Madill is retiring effective September 29, 2023. Don retires as Senior Systems Scientist, but he started his career with the company as a Junior Systems Engineer back in February 1980. Don found the opportunity by responding to a bulletin board notice in the electrical engineering department at the University of Saskatchewan. He was interviewed in the main building on Koyl Avenue in what was then known as the Systems Division.
Don recounts his early years working for the company and the first few projects he worked on. “My first task was to provide input to a study conducted by the Telecomm division for the federal government on the development of ISDN standards”, said Don. “Next, I managed what was, to my knowledge, the smallest project (to that point) in the history of the company. This was a consulting contract with the University of Saskatchewan Computing Center that managed a set of remote terminals spread across campus. The question was whether to run more copper cable or use newly available statistical multiplexing equipment instead. The contract price was $5,000, and we came in under budget. At the time, there were slightly over 200 employees in the company within five divisions (Agricultural, Aerospace, Satellite Communications, Systems and Telecomm) spread across 12 buildings near the Saskatoon airport.”
In the latter half of his career, Don has regularly performed signal processing work for the company. According to Don, “When I started, I was asked by HR what prior technical interests I had. I said that I was interested in signal processing. I did no signal processing work for the first 20 years of my career. Things shifted and I’ve been doing this kind of work almost continuously since then.”
Don has earned the trust of both his colleagues and the toughest project clients. “I've worked with Don many times over the years, most recently on the KaCPES projects we did for Maxar with the end customer being Star One out of Brazil,” said Brent Clark, Director of Software Development. “KaCPES allows Star One to plan carriers through their D1 and D2 satellites and involves many complex calculations. Don developed the theoretical basis for these calculations. Star One is a tough customer and grilled Don on his work, as they wanted the calculations to be as accurate as possible. Don was always able to come up with enough details to satisfy them and was never shown to be wrong. The customer's opinion of Don kept increasing to the point that, after a few years, they would simply ask Don what thought—no detailed explanation required.”
Don has witnessed the company grow and evolve over the past four decades. “Over the years, SED/Calian has grown sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly,” says Don. “Several changes in company ownership occurred until Calian bought SED Systems from Fleet/Magellan Aerospace. Since then, the company has stabilized, growing both organically and by acquisition, enabling it to survive as an independent company in an aggressively competitive and rapidly evolving industry.
Don has noticed various changes in the industry over the past 43 years. “When I started my electrical engineering education, the curriculum included a class on the use of vacuum tubes in low frequency design and CMOS was a new technology,” said Don. “The field is almost unrecognizable now with extensive use of RF/wireless at ever increasing frequencies, ubiquitous computers, and computing devices, NGSO satellite constellations becoming feasible, and FPGAs everywhere. Simulation has become a significant or even essential tool in the engineering process.”
Don has had a positive and impactful working relationship with his co-workers over the years. “I've worked with Don for 13.9 per cent of his time here, and it was shaking to realize that as impactful as our work together has been for me, I fall squarely into the ‘expected variation’ of employment duration he must have used for his career planning”, said Wilson Brenna, Senior Hardware Engineer. “I'm especially fond of customer meetings with Don, where he gets to show off with sharp analytical commentary. My favourite is the rare circumstance of a meeting that ventures into unproductive circular discussion, and Don decides to pull it back on track using ten words or fewer. I choose to believe that in the 1980s when Don got his back-on-track stat in an early performance review, he thought ‘not bad, but I can optimize that’…and then he did.”
When Don was asked about what motivated him to stay with the company all these years, he had this to say: “The appeal of working at SED/Calian is the opportunity to meet and collaborate with many interesting people. You can engage in a wide range of different types of engineering, including satellite communications, network traffic analysis, network protocols, orbital dynamics, operations research, space mission analysis, radiation effects, reliability, ground-space signal propagation effects estimation and digital signal processing.”
Don has experienced many proud moments during his time with the company. “I am proud of my contributions to the SARSAT system, the SMS space instrument which was the first foreign instrument flown on a Japanese scientific spacecraft, the International Space Station Mobile Servicing System, development of Inmarsat FPS/StarOne KaCPES satellite planning software and the Skywave/Orbcomm satellite messaging system.”
When asked if it will be difficult for him to retire, Don said “I have thoroughly enjoyed working at SED/Calian, that is why I have delayed my retirement until now. But since I am nearing the age of 72, I think it is time to relax. I will continue to be available on a casual basis.”
“I first recall working with Don on a proposal more than 25 years ago,” says Dale Meginbir, Manager, Systems Engineering. “Since then, we have worked on multiple projects and proposals, including the Inmarsat FPS system, and on a couple of RMS systems that we did for Hughes. I’ve really relied on Don to help with understanding the difficult technical aspects of those projects, and I’ve learned a lot in the process. I’ve always been amazed at his ability to find information on a topic amongst all the references and data that he has collected over the years. We’re really going to miss Don’s experience around here. I wish him the best of health and happiness in his retirement.”
Don has a variety of plans for his well-deserved retirement. “I intend to continue curling at least until the now retired Mike Baribeau stops playing hockey. I have a bad habit that seems incurable resulting in a growing inventory of unread books, this situation must be rectified and that is my immediate objective. I will be attacking that with the able assistance of our cat who seems to approve of the plan”, said Don.
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