Flight Training - May 2021 - 41

ADVANCED PILOT CAREER SPOTLIGHT

BY IAN J. TWOMBLY

CODE AND FLY
DESIGN THE SOFTWARE
THAT KEEPS US FLYING

INSET: MIKE FIZER

YOU LOVE AIRCRAFT. BUT MAYBE YOU DON'T LOVE THEM ENOUGH TO

want to fly them for a living. Or the idea of living out of a suitcase doesn't
appeal to you. Luckily, you have options.
Modern aircraft rely heavily on electronics, whether in the instrument panel or through high-tech fly-by-wire flight control systems.
Designing the software to run the instruments, systems, and components
is the heart of what a software engineer does on a daily basis.
Joe Gepner used to head Garmin Aviation's Team X, a small group
within the company that designs avionics meant for the experimental
market. Recently promoted, he now runs the company's aviation product experience team. Gepner joined Garmin straight from Kansas State
University, where he earned a degree in computer science. Since then he
has worked on early versions of the Garmin G1000 avionics suite, and he
helped create the G3X and G3X Touch and the Garmin G5, among others.
" I always wanted to fly, " he said. " And I was kind of a computer nerd. "
At Garmin he can fulfill both. A lack of resources kept him out of the sky
until the company began a program that reimbursed employees for flight
training. " I jumped on that immediately, " he said. He took his first lesson
in the late spring and had a pilot certificate three months later. Now
he's living the dream as the owner of a Van's RV-8 experimental amateur-built tailwheel aircraft.
The work allows him to come up with ideas for new features or capabilities, design them, and test them. " Whatever I coded today I could fly
tomorrow and refine the next day, " he said. Hardware engineers can work
for months or years to see their ideas come to fruition, but for software
engineers the timeframe is short.
Gepner's team is made up of like-minded people, many of whom are
also pilots and aircraft owners. Collaboration brings even more ideas.
" We're a group of engineers who are our own customers, " he said. " We
are trying to build products we want. "

QUALIFICATIONS
Although occasionally it's possible to get
a job without a degree, a bachelor's or
master's degree in computer science or
software engineering will put you ahead
of the competition. A pilot certificate isn't
required, but is highly desirable.
BENEFITS
You can create virtually anything you can
imagine at a small avionics company or a
small team within a bigger company. Plus,
most have airplanes you can test the software in, and some give you money to fly.
DRAWBACKS
This isn't a flying job. You have to love to
work on computers.
PAY
Nationally, the average pay for a software
engineer is about $92,000.

As the leader of the team, Gepner still gets to
be hands-on sometimes, but he's also tasked with
thinking broader, surveying the market, ensuring
customers have the best possible products, and
working the team's strategy into the larger business
goals. And he still gets the newest equipment for his
airplane at what he calls a smoking good deal. FT
ian.twombly@aopa.org
AOPA.ORG/FT  41


http://www.AOPA.ORG/FT

Flight Training - May 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Flight Training - May 2021

Contents
Flight Training - May 2021 - Intro
Flight Training - May 2021 - Cover1
Flight Training - May 2021 - Cover2
Flight Training - May 2021 - Contents
Flight Training - May 2021 - 2
Flight Training - May 2021 - 3
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Flight Training - May 2021 - Cover3
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