Chapter End

It was surprising to recently get a rental car with the license, “653 YRS” because, while I haven’t been teaching for that long, the last decade has definitely been the “ARINC 653” years.

ARINC 653 is an aviation standard for, among other things, software development. As you probably know, most commercial aircraft and especially the latest such as the newer 737s and the 777 and 787 in the Boeing family and, over in the Airbus menagerie, the A-320s, 330s and so forth, all of these rely heavily on software. And while there are backups for backups, the bottom line is if you’re on a flight just about anywhere in the world, it’s almost certain that the computer is in control while the pilot and co-pilot are “managing” the aircraft.

The company I’ve worked for these past ten years sells a product on which the software that flies the plane runs. That’s what an Operating System is, a foundation on which other software runs. On the Windows operating system you can run a browser such as Internet Explorer, Chrome or Firefox and, with that, you can read this blog. And on the company’s 653 operating system, you can run software that takes off, flies and lands the airplane. You click things in the web browser to direct it and, on an airplane, the pilot flips switches and pushes buttons to direct the computer how to fly the plane.

That’s the software I’ve been teaching or, to put it more accurately, that’s the software I’ve been teaching our customers how to use to get their jobs done.

There’s a small but important point there. You can teach someone what the different buttons do in a program, or you can teach them how to do their jobs using that program. I’ve done the latter in the aviation (and defense) industry for the last ten years.

My “customers” have been Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Rockwell Collins, Harris, Raytheon, JPL, NASA, L-3 Communications, Northrop Grumman and dozens of companies around the world that make big and little things that help fly airplanes, control automobiles, guide torpedoes, monitor patients in intensive care, mine coal and a thousand other things.

My “students” wrote the software that flies the Boeing 787. They wrote the software that shakes the control column when a private aircraft such as might be owned by a corporation for its executives flies into a wind shear that could potentially crash the plane. My customers wrote the software that controlled Curiosity’s landing on Mars through those “Seven Minutes of Terror” and, when I get to tell someone that, I also say that all spacecraft currently on or around Mars is running our Operating System, and some – not “many” but “some” – of the JPLs engineers who wrote software in those space vehicles were trained by me.

I am understandably proud of what has been accomplished by those I’ve seen in the classroom and who, for a short period of time, paid attention to what I had to say.

I believe I served them well.

But it ends today.

I’m done.

There’s nothing left but a very small number of loose ends and some tidying up.


The picture may give a small clue to my view point. I took this picture from a Florida hotel window on the Atlantic coastline during a recent trip.

It’s looking east so that’s a sunrise, not a sunset.

Tomorrow is a beginning.

Tomorrow I move up a level. Tomorrow I start taking what I’ve learned in those ten years and put it on paper for others to apply.

Tomorrow I start passing on my experience as a teacher of engineers instead of teaching those engineers.

My title will be something like “Senior Curriculum Developer” and while part of it will be writing training for engineers, I’m really expected to set up guidelines for other curriculum developers. Essentially I will be defining the goals of our training and putting procedures and checklists into place, very much like that ARINC 653 standard did, to make sure that when new courses are created, that they do what they’re supposed to do.

The transition comes at a good time. I welcome it.

While I’ve enjoyed being in lots of interesting places around the world, I must say the travel to get there and back has become increasingly annoying. The necessity for heavy security screening at the airports doesn’t add much time but, well, it is degrading.

The Known Traveler Number I recently got significantly reduced the hassle the last few trips by letting my use the TSA PreCheck line where I only had to empty my pockets but then walk through a metal detector not an Xray machine, and my computer and all those electronics gadgets I need when teaching all stayed in my bag as it went through the full treatment, never once being singled-out for a hand search and unlike the non-PreCheck screening where it was a nearly every flight right-of-passage.

In my new job I will still travel occasionally, but probably to meetings with course developers most of whom are in San Diego or up in the San Francisco Bay area.

For places within 700 miles of home. I will drive there and back, not fly.

Yes, I would rather drive for a day than fly for an hour. That’s how much I’ve grown to detest being in that thin silver tube of an airplane or in the airport’s locked-down, exit-door-alarmed, fully secured area.

I look forward to air travel becoming rare instead of several times per month.

Instead, I’ll be writing, and writing a lot.

I can do that.

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