amazing people

Put the damn tabs back in the book!

By Vicki Ball

Watching this interview today between Jon Stewart of The Daily Show and Chesley Sullenberger (the pilot who safely crash-landed a plane in the Hudson earlier this year) fills me with admiration for this intelligent, thoughtful, skilled and well-grounded man.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Chesley Sullenberger
www.thedailyshow.com

I think there are some really important lessons here- not just for pilots, but for any professionals.

I simply can’t imagine how I would handle a situation like the one that Mr Sullenberger faced. He says he can hear the stress in his voice, but whatever stress he felt he was still able to think clearly and rationally and solve problems. Mr Sullenberger attributes it partly to his nature, but also to his “decades of training”. Training that has examined the risks, anticipated as many of them as possible and even prepared pilots for situations that can’t be anticipated.

We face these situations in software testing- trying to anticipate the risks and problems we could face, creating tests to find and define them. What we struggle with the most in our testing is the risks we can’t identify or imagine.

Mr Sullenberger also mentions his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles, and how, during the incident, he was with him “step by step, solving the next problem”. Which sounds to me like test-driven or behaviour-driven development: taking one small piece of the problem at a time and solving it. If you can crash-land a plane safely this way, then you sure can develop an application!

What really hit home, though, were Jon and Sully’s discussion about experience and skill and how it must be valued. Mr Sullenberger credits his decades of experience for his ability to deal with this situation and explains how financial pressure on the aviation industry has led to pilots being paid less and crazy cost-cutting measures like taking handy tabs out of an airline emergency manual.

He’s speaking about the airline industry, but really it applies everywhere: if you don’t value the profession, you can’t attract the best and the brightest- and isn’t that what you always want?

I’ve worked for people who barely understood what I did and who certainly didn’t appreciate the skills and intelligence needed to solve the problems I faced. It’s disappointing when it happens and the ultimate result is always going to be that you’re going to lose that person and all the talent, skills and experience that they represent.

If something’s worth doing, then it must involve skill, which takes time, determination and investment to grow. You can’t just buy it, you can’t just assume you’ll never need it, and you can’t just expect it will be there when you need it without investing in it.

I think Mr Sullenberger says it best:

“One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

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