Preface: How I Stumbled Into Fire Protection Engineering is a series of blog posts tracing the roots of my current career. From stumbling upon fire protection as a college student through starting Harrington Group as an entrepreneur, I hope you enjoy the story of my journey into Fire Protection Engineering. I would also like to encourage you to post comments of the moments in which you realized your calling. Thank you for reading and sharing.

Up to this point, I was an electrical engineering major. I had taken several foundation courses, but even after passing them, I felt as if I didn’t really understand the theories. One theory that stands out is supposed to be a simple one, but it contradicts anything tangible.

If a current flows right on a wire, the electrons are moving to the left of the wire.

It made absolutely no sense to me. If you throw a stick in a river and it moves to the left, then the current is flowing to the left too, correct? Electrical engineering wasn’t tangible to me. It felt abstract and most serious of all, boring.

To make matters worse, there was the masochistic Chinese professor of my lab class, Mad Dog Oyang. Like a drill sergeant, he would yell at us and try to make us quit. One night around midnight, I, and most of my classmates, were in the lab trying to finish a lab project by the next day when it was due. We were all assembling basic circuits from real components like diodes and resistors, and hooking them up to a power source. Suddenly, I heard a pop and smelled something awful. I look behind me and a classmate’s project was pouring smoke into the air. Then, it burst into flames. He stepped back and screamed, “Oh $%!#!” He proceeded to leave the room crying. I was speechless. He just left the project there burning on the table. My first experience using a portable fire extinguisher was a success.

I understood what he was feeling. He was a fraternity brother of mine – he quit electrical engineering the next day. Mad Dog Oyang was happy.

By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.