You just never know what's going to matter

It's the summer of 1979, and this college-student pilot fish takes a part-time job at a local company that makes electronic cash registers.

"Even though I had about 30 hours of programming classes, the HR manager was more impressed that I knew the color codes for resistors, so I could identify their resistance without referring to a cheat sheet," says fish.

Result: Fish ends up working in the component cage, where his job is to fill baggies full of individual electronic components. The baggies then go to the assemblers, who solder the components onto the circuit boards.

It doesn't take long for fish to figure out why his ability to identify resistors is a big deal: The assemblers are frequently soldering in the wrong resistor, and that's producing lots of failed products.

And the HR manager thinks that maybe fish's amazing ability to ID resistors could help.

For his part, fish quickly scopes out the possible source of the problem. The underpaid assemblers are just dutifully soldering whatever is in the bag that's labeled for the particular component number on the board, so that's not it.

But before they're put in the baggies, the resistors start out in individual bins based on their value, and labeled by both part number and color code.

"A few of the bins had the wrong resistors in them, so it was reasonable to expect that these incorrect values made their way to the assemblers," fish says.

"To make a long story short, it turned out that one of the employees who worked in the parts cage was colorblind. She could only put items in the bins based on their part numbers instead of actual values.

"Nobody caught it because people just didn't pay attention to the color codes."

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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