Chris Wiegman Chris Wiegman

5 Ways Aviation Helped Me Become A Better Developer

Me next to one of the last planes I flew professionally.

Although I now find myself firmly entrenched as a developer for various websites this wasn’t always the case. Five years ago I was a captain for a small airline moving people and cargo from island to island in Hawaii. Before that I was a pilot on a corporate jet move very highly accomplished people around North America. While in the end the pilot lifestyle wasn’t for me, there are a number of lessons I learned that help guide me through my current career and, ultimately, help make me a better developer.


When you’re flying commercially you have to rely on your crew for information not just pertinent to your job, but is in fact vital to it. Whether you’re a first officer or a captain you need to trust fully in the crew member sitting next to you.

As I moved on from flying I’ve learned that I can’t just rely on my own skills to accomplish every job. I need to rely on those around me to help me fulfill my task. I have to trust that not only is their judgement correct, but that my own knowledge and judgment is incomplete without help from others. In short, I have to put my ego aside and team up with others in the industry to produce the best product I can.

For many in development this isn’t the norm. It’s so easy to ignore the advice from others and just pursue our own ideal of what our project should be like especially in situations on which we are the sole developer. in practice however we can never see the full picture on our own. We must not just trust the input given to us by others but we must act on that info as the end result of our product relies on it.

Every Landing Counts

Let’s face it. When working on so many projects it is often easy to lose the big picture. Just as a flight crew member can’t look past the next landing we, as developers, can’t look past our current project. We must give each project, no matter how small, the attention it deserves as each is a measure of our worth as a developer.

One airport I flew in regularly to as a pilot was Kalaupapa on the island of Molokai. While only a few people lived there and even fewer cared if we made it in on any given trip it was the one or two people we took as passengers that always made the trip worth while. Sure there might only be one person on the plane, but that one person might be flying for a life-saving procedure or other reason for which, without us, their live would have been severely impacted. In the same sense I have worked on numerous web pages and other projects which no one cared except for the few who made that site part of their lives. If I didn’t give each project the time it deserves then my credentials as a developer were no better than those of a pilot who doesn’t care about their next flight.

So my project doesn’t appeal to every person on the planet, just like each landing in Kalaupapa was important to the 1 or 2 people on board, so is each an every project I complete important for the few people who need it.

Don’t Overlook the Small Stuff

Over the years I spent as a pilot I had a number of flights that didn’t go due to some seemingly small detail. Perhaps it was a sound in the plane, perhaps it was something else so seemingly unimportant that the airline told me to ignore it and go anyway. In the end my job was based on the details. If I ignored a sound or a regulation the lives of real people were at risk. This wasn’t something I could live with.

Today, each and every project I do must receive the same care. If something, no matter how small, isn’t right it is my job as a professional to do something about it. To leave even the smallest detail to chance is a mistake made only by amateurs and fools and no one wants either label to apply to them as a professional.

Love What You Do

At the airline life was rough. We worked 12+ hours a day, every day with minimal pay and even less recognition. Yet we kept doing it. We showed up each day because we loved what we did. We loved the feel of the takeoff. We looked forward the excitement of a steep approach and the thrill of a little weather.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been told “you work to live, you don’t live to work.” While this is true to some extent you must still look forward to getting up every day and giving 100% to the projects you’re involved in. Just like I looked forward to each flight as a pilot, as a developer I must look forward to each project I’m involved in. For while our work may not be all that is our lives, enjoying our work means we will give it our best and only our best which is what each and every one of our clients deserve.

Keep Moving

In the airlines time is money. When the planes aren’t flying the boss isn’t making money.

As a developer this is something we shouldn’t forget. Just because our project might not seem to have a deadline a doesn’t mean it isn’t important. We need to finish each and every project as efficiently as possible and be ready to more on to the next one. While quality is the most important sign of our value as a professional we cannot forget that it is quantity that pays the bills.

In addition, while we can look forward to each project we cannot dwell on the successes or failures of a previous project. Just as a bad landing must be overcome and the pilot must keep flying so must a bad project be overcome so that we can focus our efforts on the next project.