Personalities of IAM Robotics: Donald Beseny
Motivated by a good challenge, Don has spent his career tackling difficult problems under some very unique circumstances.
His career began in the Navy, which he joined while he was still in high school. After graduating and attending boot camp, he found himself in Okinawa, Japan on the first stop of his career. He ultimately spent 15 years flying for the Navy, fixing anything and everything necessary associated with his missions. And in case you thought this were just your average missions, they included everything from SEAL missions to hauling military dolphins for harbor security.
After leaving the Navy, Don returned to his hometown of Pittsburgh and began his civilian career that included jobs with AT&T and Aquion Energy, the latter which took him to a private island off of Hawaii to install enough battery stacks to power the home.
In all, Don has been working on electronics or electro-mechanical equipment for 36 years, and says “the more difficult, the better.” We recently had the opportunity to talk with Don about his career, what he likes to do when he’s not tackling difficult projects, and what he is looking forward to at IAM Robotics.
What is the coolest project you worked on or contributed to prior to joining IAM Robotics?
That’s a toughie… I’ve worked on a lot of different projects. What I know is that I hate production lines where you are doing the same thing day in and day out; it gets boring. I like interesting jobs, the more complicated the better.
Back in the 90’s when paging was big, I was in charge of a $5 million system buildout of AT&T’s 4G. I was responsible for about 450 cell sites, figuring out how to get the fiber from the telephone pole to the cell site which could be anywhere from 50ft to 5 miles. From designing the build and putting together the list of materials to conducting in-process inspections on the contractors, and the final inspection … there was a lot of driving on that job!
I also worked at Aquion Energy where we built green batteries for solar, wind and home energy storage using a carbon based powder and salt solution. Working in the test department, I was responsible for keeping everything running in the test lab, which included several temperature test rooms. In addition to moving the various battery stacks to the temp rooms and running the test programs, I also did all the cabling. I would run around 200,000 feet of test cables, none of which were over 100ft. Probably the most interesting assignment with this job was working for a billionaire who owned a private island off of Hawaii, equipping it with 45 modules of 12 stacks of batteries. And for perspective, one stack is enough to power an average house for three days.
How did you get interested in this line of work?
I began in the Navy, which I joined during my senior year of high school when I was 18 years old. By the time I was 20, I had gone through boot camp and extensive technical training and was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, where I spent two and a half years. During my 15 years in the Navy, including nine years active service, I worked in everything from box level repair – if something on the plane broke, they took it off and gave it to me to fix.
A highlight of my time in Japan was the opportunity to climb Mount Fuji. I didn’t make it all of the way to the top, but it was definitely one of the neat things that I did there. Following my time in Okinawa, I was sent to Jacksonville, FL, for more specialty training and ultimately spent 30 days on the USS John F. Kennedy carrier. During my first day on the USS Kennedy, I was welcomed by a fire in the hangar bay which took hours to contain and put out. It turns out this was the start of a rocky stint on the carrier.
In all I flew for the Navy for 15 years in C130s, hauling everything from dolphins to mini submarines, and numerous SEAL missions. I was the first off the airplanes and the last on, which led to some tense moments when I wasn’t sure if the soldiers I saw upon disembarking were friend or foe.
What is your go-to spot in Pittsburgh?
I grew in in Munhall, Pennsylvania, which is near Kennywood. That was definitely the thing to do back then and many of my childhood memories are tied to it. The highlight of each year was the school picnic when we would just run around the park all day with our friends. It’s been fun to see the rides change over the years – I can remember the first year of the Log Jammer ride and now it is gone.
Now I don’t really have a single go-to spot around town. I like to go to different areas for different reasons. In terms of favorite places to eat, I enjoy Thai Foon for their delicious Thai food and Me Lyng’s for their Vietnamese and Chinese food.
Not in Pittsburgh, of course, but probably one of the best meals I have enjoyed was an authentic Japanese steakhouse in Okinawa that served Kobe Beef. The tradition there was that you buy your chef a mug of beer that he enjoys while cooking your food.
In all, I have been to 43 different countries and territories – some good some bad some really ugly. But, generally, I get to know countries by the food they serve.
What motivates you?
Wow… I guess I like challenges. If it’s too easy it doesn’t hold my interest. The more difficult the better. I been working on electronics or electro-mechanical equipment for about 36 years, from aircraft communication and navigation equipment to working on C-130 and KC-135 aircraft.
What is your favorite travel spot?
My wife and I like going to Gettysburg PA. I am a big history buff and Gettysburgh is a well-documented and well-preserved battlefield. Many don’t know this, but 15 to 20 years after the Battle of Gettysburg, the veterans put up a memorial and placed markers and monuments on the spots where they stood. You can stand right on the battled feld on the line and see all of the markers and monuments and makes you realize how close the soldiers were to each other fighting. It’s hard to imagine 12,000 men walking over a mile of open ground to a group of opposing soldiers waiting to battle. There is also a very good winery in town. Or so I’m told. I don’t drink it, I just buy it for everyone else.
Since I enjoy history so much, I really enjoy going to places where these big events took place. To stand in these places like Normandy, Omaha Beach, and Pointe du Hoc; Guam; and Iwojima, where these guys fought really puts everything into perspective.
What is your favorite hobby?
Like I mentioned, I am a big history buff so I really enjoy miniature wargaming with historical figures. I have always had an interest in planes, trains, and tanks, and like to the use strategy and tactics required in wargaming.
What is a quote that is a reflection of your personality.
“They’ll have to kill me before I die.” “Yellow Beard” I don’t give up, and I don’t quit.
What is your favorite part about working for IAM Robotics?
I work with a lot of great people designing and building cutting edge robots. I like being involved with building a robot for the very first time…. even if you have to build something and take it apart multiple times. It’s all part of the learning process. That even when I started as a tech, my input on the design was encouraged and listened to. Building all three Bolt prototypes was both a pain and fun.
What are you most excited for IAM Robotics in 2020?
Now that the stay-at-home quarantine is over, I’d say finishing A.S. Watson’s robots would be at the top of my list. As soon as we finish that build, we can move to the new building in Lawrenceville. Then get ready for the new Bolt platform prototype builds. I’m really looking forward to the new design and working on the new Bolt and Swift designs.
Thank you, Don, for taking the time to share your unique path to IAM Robotics – we would not be leading the way in robotics without team members like Don who are passionate about their work, and committed to making a difference in the future of robotics. And we are just getting warmed up.