Everyone knows Seattle as the source of Starbucks, grunge music and perpetual drizzle. But if you're ever in the neighborhood, after sipping your latte, jamming to the tunes and dodging the raindrops, you might want to take the time to check out the Museum of Communications. It's way cool, and not just for tech junkies.A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to travel to Seattle on a combined vacation-business trip. Everyone knows Seattle as the source of Starbucks, grunge music and perpetual drizzle. But if you're ever in the neighborhood, after sipping your latte, jamming to the tunes and dodging the raindrops, you might want to take the time to check out the\u00a0Museum of Communications. It's way cool, and not just for tech junkies.The museum houses some of the oldest functioning telecom switches - including step-by-step switches from the 1920s and relay switches from the '40s. You can place a call and literally watch the switches perform their mechanical routing. If you're ready to make the leap to the modern era (almost), you can check out the museum's functioning though temperamental 3ESS, which was operational from the 1960s into the '80s.For me, though, the most significant impact wasn't from the gear itself. It was the tangible record of the symbiotic relationship between telecom technology and human communication.Specifically, telecom gear evolved to serve an emerging human need: to speak with one another across long distances. This was something that previously hadn't been possible but rapidly became indispensable. To serve that need, each generation of switches made the process of remote human communication faster, simpler and more effective. From that perspective, telecom engineering ranks up there with automotive engineering as one of the great human-centric design efforts of the 20th century.That sounds obvious, but it contrasts strongly with, say, computer engineering, where the goal always has been subtly different. Computers fundamentally are very large calculators, and much of computer science is about uncovering problems for which very large calculators are useful. In other words, computing is fundamentally about the capabilities of the technology first, and its application to human requirements second. Telecom is the opposite.But that's only half of the symbiotic equation. Telecom technology evolved to meet human needs, but it also dramatically affected the humans who managed it. The most fascinating part of the tour was when our guide - an experienced telecom tech who started supporting his first switches in 1948 - described placing a call in his boyhood. He'd pick up the phone and the operator would immediately recognize his voice and place the call, usually on a first-name basis.Times (and technologies) have changed, but the concept of service hasn't. As pioneers in providing the new and exotic "communications services," telecom employees never forgot their goal was to provide services to humans. That sense of commitment was lifelong; in fact, the museum today is a volunteer effort, staffed by veteran telecom types who don't want their legacy of cutting-edge service to be forgotten.A few weeks ago I wrote about\u00a0executive crooks who pillaged telcos for personal profit. It was refreshing to meet the folks on the front lines whose dedicated and unselfish service expanded the horizons of human interaction - and see in operation the tools they built, managed and maintained.