Getting to Know: David Wilson, Software Test Engineer

Rosen Aviation is truly a product of its culture – and what is culture without the people that comprise it? Join us for our first employee spotlight interview, one of many more to come.

1. How long have you worked at Rosen, and how did you get started here?

I’ve been here a little over three years. The most important link to here is not so much my previous job as the one before that. After a long, twisted journey of work and education, I had settled into a career in software engineering. I had great passion for my profession, some success, and a few projects that I consider major triumphs.

At what might be considered the pinnacle of my career, I felt burned out and needed a change. I tried teaching university extension courses for a while, but that wasn’t quite it. I had some money in the bank, so I took some time to explore a few alternatives ranging from subtle adjustments to my existing skills to complete change of course.

Then one day I was browsing the Internet and found the website of Dreamworks Animation. There I found their careers page, complete with videos describing life in each of the departments involved in feature film production. Each of those departments had one or more people known as Technical Directors, who themselves had a department video.

I read the TD job description and saw the perfect answer to my question of what to do next. A typical TD comes from a film or art background and has some technical skill, or like me, has a software development background and some artistic skills. A short time after I sent my resume and cover letter, I accepted an offer to start my career as a TD in the effects department on Madagascar 2: Escape from Africa.

The next seven years and 10 or so feature films, TV shows, and animated short films was like living a dream, (no pun intended.) I thought I’d leave when they dragged my dead carcass out to the parking lot. And then DWA closed the Redwood City studio where I worked. The places where I could get a similar job weren’t any where I wanted to live. Since my wife and I were already looking for a retirement home in Oregon, I turned my job search here.

Since Dreamworks had a positive, nurturing environment that promoted growth and exploration, that was my number one consideration. I found what I thought was a suitable replacement in a family-owned business in Eugene. I moved here and started work just in time to see this locally owned, family-oriented business acquired by a distant company with Dilbertian management where I saw no future for myself.

Then my wife pointed me to an ad for a nearby company that manufactures in-flight electronics. I spoke with the VP of Engineering about two open positions, a software engineering job and a new position with the title Software Test Engineer. I found the latter position the most intriguing, as it was a new role with lots of room for me to define my own job responsibilities.

When I came to interview on-site, I was introduced to a company with a family-like atmosphere, with a positive, nurturing environment, where people are encouraged to grow and explore. Where I’m allowed to engage my broad technical experience in unexpected ways. And where I occasionally pass by an in-flight entertainment device playing a movie while being tested, with my name in the credits scrolling by.

2. You mentioned you were in the Navy – what’s one story that still influences you today?

Like most veterans, even though the few years of my military experience span only a small part of my life, it’s with me every day. The lasting effect, though, is not so much in the memory of exotic places and adventures with my shipmates. It’s the intangible result of having done things that have no equivalent in civilian life, that made me stronger and bolder than I otherwise might have been. Nothing exemplifies that better than Marching to Georgia.

Anyone who has been through boot camp in any branch of the service can tell you it’s the most intense and grueling couple of months, more than any year in their life. In a matter of weeks, you’re torn down and built back up, physically and mentally more durable than when you first had the hair shorn off your young head.

At some point during this time, and for some infraction I can no longer recall – in fact it was probably fabricated for this purpose – the entire company was punished, and the punishment was a March to Georgia. For this march, each of two men picked up the ends of a steel bunk, known to us as the “racks” we slept in. As we held our racks at duty-belt height, we ran in place, destination Georgia.
From where I stood, or rather marched, I could see the clock on the wall, the seconds creeping by. Our company commander paced up and down the table, known as the centerboard, at the middle of the barracks, shouting our progress. We’re not even past San Diego County. Haven’t yet reached the California border. Not even across Arizona yet.

I kept thinking there was no possible way I could do this. I had to drop that rack. I just couldn’t make it any longer. And still I marched. I just had to give up. But still I marched. The whole thing became a cruel mantra of one foot after the other as I stopped watching the clock and just looked straight ahead, focused on raising each knee, one after the other, to the height of my duty belt. Then suddenly it was over.

I’ve now forgotten how long it took to get to Georgia; something like a half hour or an hour. It doesn’t matter. Even then, when my biceps were still screaming in horror at what I’d put them through and my quadriceps and hamstrings were threatening mutiny as I lowered my weary self onto my rack, once again in its usual place, I recognized what had just happened. I did more than I thought I could do, more than I thought anyone could do. That meant the limit in my mind at the start was wrong, so my limits couldn’t be trusted. I’m capable of more, far more than I might expect, or others might expect of me. I just have to focus and keep my knees going, duty-belt high.

3. What’s something you’d tell everyone going from the military to civilian work, and did your younger self follow your own advice when you made the transition?

My transition from military life wasn’t a smooth one. I thought it was simply a matter of using the GI Bill to go to college and a career. But what career? Neither of my parents had finished high school, so they couldn’t advise me about college, but they had always told me I could be anything I wanted to be. As positive as that sounds, the other side of the coin is that means you have countless options to discard before choosing just one. So, I didn’t choose one. I meandered from one college major to another until my GI Bill educational benefits expired, and from one job and career plan to another.

Eventually, as computers became more commonplace and I recognized my own aptitude for software development, I finished a Computer Science degree (at my own expense) and this has been my livelihood in some way, shape, or form, in the decades since. Although I could have found success and satisfaction in other careers, in hindsight I could have gotten to the same place with less noise in my career signal.

The advice I might offer to my younger self, advice I didn’t follow despite my Georgia experience, is to not be too quick to give up, nor too quick to start without a destination. My earlier self, having jumped at civilian life with only the vaguest goals and objectives, expected immediate results. When one career path didn’t pay off right away, I was a little too quick to justify an abrupt shift to a different path. This did nothing more than kill what momentum I had and put me back to a dead stop. It wasn’t until I set a long-term goal and plotted the points along the way, and what I had to do to reach those points, that I had a viable and sustainable career.

4. What’s one piece of tech you never thought you’d see in an airplane? What’s something you’re excited to see developed in the future?

I took my first airline flight around 1967. I was fascinated by the new and different view of the world from 30,000 feet. As an adult, I flew more and more frequently yet, although I never tired of that view out the window, I always wished I could know where I was relative to my points of departure and destination. If I didn’t recognize any major landmarks, I couldn’t tell whether I was over South Dakota or Shawnee, Oklahoma. So, the in-flight map application is a step in the direction I’d like to go.

As a passenger, I’d like to have a window – real or virtual – with an augmented reality view of the ground below. In addition to the path of my aircraft and its current position, I’d like to see annotation added to landmarks on the ground such as geological features, road identification, and geopolitical boundaries. If I’m curious about a particular thing, I could select that thing to learn more about it. This would make air travel more entertaining, informative, and educational.