Taking The Plunge – New Job

My call centre job is one that pays decently well, so I’ve known for a long time that whenever I ended up getting a job in the aviation industry, it was going to be a pay cut, and a fairly massive one. Which is scary, with a lot of debt, but I’m very grateful that my Dad is in a position to help me out so I’m not afraid my husband and I will end up on the street or anything while I transition to a completely new industry.

So it’s scary, leaving my decent wage job for something minimum wage, and I wanted to wait until I’d passed all my tests before starting to search. Which I’ve done now.

Most pilots don’t get their first job in the industry flying. Usually they start by getting their foot in the door with a company by taking a job on the ground, typically either working the ramp, loading cargo, fueling planes, etc, or dispatching.

Apparently I interview well. Most of the time, if I an get an interview, I get the job. I was taught basic manners and stuff and that goes over well.

I put out a bunch of resume’s and after all of a week of searching, a friend passed my resume on to management at a local Medevac company, and they called me in for an interview for a position dispatching.

Now, at least in this setting, the dispatcher is kind of the central nervous system of the company, responsible for knowing where all the planes are at a given time, receiving estimated arrival times and passing them on to parties who need them, relaying details of trips to pilots and medics to send them on their way to pick up patients. A lot of responsibility for an entry level position.

I remember years ago, I was working back at EDS, another call centre, and a call came out for applications for a position within the project called “Incident Problem Management”. My manager suggested I apply.

I hadn’t even considered it. It didn’t sound like anything I was qualified to do, though I really didn’t have any clue what was involved. I was just a phone monkey – in no way whatsoever, did I think I had a chance at getting that position; for sure there was someone more qualified than me.

But they interviewed me and gave me the position. Now, in my head, they sat down in a room and went, “You know what? I think we should take a shot on Lindsay – give her a chance, what do you think?”

My friends, who have worked with me in the past told me the conversation likely went more like “Lindsay’s demonstrated she’s competent and doesn’t slack off, we want her.”

My duties turned out to be monitoring ticket queues and acting on patterns I saw that could indicate a major problem, and facilitating communication between departments in order resolve issues in the company’s IT environment as they arose.

I did do well, and when the company lost the project to a lower bidder and the position disappeared, I soon got a supervisor position in another project within the company based on my performance in the IPM position.

Fast forward to now, interviewing for the dispatcher position, which is a job with huge responsibility, despite being an entry level position. But I listened to the description of the job and realized, I can totally do this. In fact, I’m literally their ideal candidate, and when I described by previous job experience, I got the sense the manager interviewing me realized that too.

So I was offered the job on the spot, and now I’m dispatching for Sky North.

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A Humble Plea

It’s my last day doing tech support in a call centre.

I will do a post about my new job shortly, but before I get on to that, I have some things to say.

I’ve left with the standard two weeks notice so I can be recommended for re-hire, and MTS is likely to hire me back on if I had to go crawling back….

But I really frickin’ don’t want to.

Don’t get me wrong – MTS has been really good to me, and my managers have done all they can to not stand in my way as I’ve worked on my licences and ratings. No, what makes call centres a meat grinder that the average employee lasts six months; a place where you can get stress leave easier than just about any job short of air traffic control – what makes me so glad to never have to go back there…

That’s the customers.

Not all the customers, but enough of them. So on behalf of my co-workers, who are great people and more patient than a lot of the people they have to deal with deserve, a humble plea:

When they ask you for your name, please give them your name – the name you think the account might be under. There’s no need to ask what name we’re looking for, that only makes you sound suspicious. The rep asked for your name. If you have a deep, masculine voice, and you say your name is Brenda, most of us would rather misgender you because you can’t answer a simple question than misgender some poor trans person who can.

If you don’t understand the technology you’re calling about or why you’re being asked to do something, don’t get angry and tell my friends that they don’t know what they’re doing.

If you have one of my female friends on the line, or one of my friends who has an accent, don’t make them convince you that they’re competent. I’ll let you in on a little secret. Anyone that can be identified as a minority over the phone constantly has to persuade people (male and female customers alike) that they know what they’re doing before they can get someone to follow their directions. If they’re not smart, they get abuse so bad, they don’t make it long in tech support, while if customers have a guy without an accent on the phone, he can be completely clueless and they’ll happily follow directions without question. So if you have a woman or someone with an accent on the phone, chances are you have someone who knows their shit.

It’s okay if you don’t know anything about the technology my friends are helping you troubleshoot – they don’t need you to. Often the hardest part of troubleshooting is convincing you that you can do it. Please don’t play stupid to try and avoid having to do the troubleshooting – we know exactly how complex the tasks are that we’re asking you to perform, and you’re not going to convince them that unplugging a cord from the back of a box from the port labelled power, waiting ten seconds, then plugging it back in, is incalculably complex to the point that you shouldn’t be expected to attempt it. They’re just going to come to the conclusion that you’re either incalculably lazy or in calculably stupid. I have walked stroke survivors and people with obvious intellectual disabilities through tv troubleshooting and got them going over the phone. Seriously, the biggest deciding factor is most often not your competence, it’s your compliance.

On that note, please pay attention. I’m used to having to repeat pretty much everything I say at least three times, so if my friends sound like they’re tired of repeating themselves, it’s probably because you weren’t listening the first two times they said what they’re saying now.

If we ask you do do something, it’s safe to assume it’s for one of two reasons – either my friends hope it will fix the problem, or they hope that it will give them information that will help determine what the problem is so they know what needs to be done to fix it. If you don’t understand why you’re being asked to do something, and you don’t understand the explanation when you ask, please, just do it. My friends want to help you, but they can’t if you dig your heels in and refuse to let them.

Likewise, please don’t have a fit and refuse to do any further troubleshooting because the first thing my friends tried didn’t instantly fix it. Often there’s multiple steps to a task, and it’s not going to be a magical push-this-button-and-it-starts-working fix.

Often,you’re able to give my friends so little information about the problem we need to do diagnostic steps to figure out what you’re even describing. Please don’t get angry when they ask you to elaborate. There are too many things that can go wrong with a computer and internet for you to be able to go “That thing’s happening again” and us know exactly what you’re talking about.

Please don’t demand my friends tell you what you’re supposed to do with your kids while you wait for your tv service to be repaired. We provide tv service, not child care. You’re just turning yourself into a joke. Likewise, don’t ask them how you’re going to get assignments turned in to professors or work assignments that you need internet access to work on. Take some personal responsibility people.

I feel like this statement often falls on deaf ears, but please remember that my friends on the other end of the phone are frickin’ human beings and deserve to be treated with respect. Don’t fool yourself into thinking bullying will magically get your internet or tv working without you having to follow instructions. If you do and they hang up on you, you deserve it.

Please don’t yell. Please don’t call my friends names or belittle them. Please don’t cry. If it’s for legit reasons, like you’re calling in to change the name on your account because your husband just passed away, we’re cool with you crying about that, and we try to be sensitive as much as we can, but it’s really hard to be sympathetic to someone crying over their tv not working when we don’t even have cable.

My friends are good people, and they spend their days dealing with near-constant abuse. Give them a break if they sound tired. Look up the term “emotional labour” and understand there’s an intense amount of that involved in tech support. Look up “hang up on abuse” and listen to some of the nasty things customer service reps get told over the phone on a regular basis. My friends are expected to hop on the phone and basically treat you as if you were our old friend and they’re happy to talk you, not just doing a job. Imagine you’re getting on the phone with your own friend and they sound exhausted, irritable, even and you can tell they’ve had a long day. You’d give them a break, rather than making their life more difficult.

We’re all human, just trying to get by. Be nice to one another, people.

Thoughts on International Womens Day

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I’m a little late for International Womens Day, and I wasn’t able to do much to commemorate it because it was my first day at a new job (not a flying position yet, but a foot in the door – more on that in another post). But it’s still Women In Aviation Worldwide Week, and I have some thoughts.

As I got closer and closer to finishing training – at least the training I wanted to get done before starting to look for a flying job, I got thinking about a lot of things. One of them is how I’ve realized other people look at this whole journey I’ve undertaken.

One female co-worker commented that I was such an inspiration. “You decided you wanted to be a pilot, and you just went out and did it,” she said.

But that same co-worker had a daughter who was around three or four, and one day she asked me if I could take her daughter flying sometime. Because she’d been talking to her daughter and realized that little girl, not even school aged, had already absorbed the message from the world that girls could not be pilots and she wanted to make sure her daughter didn’t grow up believing things like that .

I never met a female pilot until I met my instructor. I heard the “You can be anything you want to be” and the “We need more female pilots” said, but something always told me that was a message for other people. People who were cooler than me.

But when I did hit that point where someone suggested that could apply specifically to me, there were a few things that primed me to be ready to believe it. And one of them was my Mom.

I know how tough my own life has been, supporting my husband and myself on my own income, but my Mom, when she left my Dad, had two little kids to look after. Maybe only 50% of the time, because they shared custody, but still. And once she was on her own, she didn’t just coast on alimony. She went to university and followed her own dream of becoming a teacher.

She wasn’t afraid of things being hard. Or maybe she was, but she didn’t let that stop her. But I think back to when I was deciding whether or not I believed in myself enough to embark on the journey I’ve been on the last four years, and wonder if I’d have decided I could do it if I’d had the sort of mother who would have gone back to a relationship that was unhealthy because she was too afraid to go it alone. If I hadn’t had a mother show me how to be brave.

But I did. I’d seen a woman make it on her own. And it makes me realize how important it is for young women to see positive examples, and examples of what they can be. And to talk to other women who have been through what they’re looking at going through. Who can tell them that it’s worth everything they’re going to sacrifice for it, and that it’s worse not to try.

So I’ve come to realize when people say I’m an inspiration, it’s not just a trite comment. Every mother will be an inspiration to her daughter, whether she’s a positive inspiration or a negative one. It’s a huge responsibility that all of us as women have to show the next generation of girls what they can do.

Writing About Aeroplanes: You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

I started writing stories about pilots before becoming an actual pilot myself, which is kind of an interesting contrast to Timothy Gwyn, who started writing after establishing a career in aviation. I imagine he didn’t make a lot of the silly mistakes I did.

Part of the problem is when you start researching planes and flying, there’s lots of talk about design, and neat things like, I learned early on how the radial engines gave way in design to the sleeker in-line positioning of the pistons to reduce drag, and I’d learned how many crew were needed in a Lancaster Bomber and what their positions were from when the Lanc visited Winnipeg last. But when it came to the basics, I had learned about the Bernoulli principle, and I understood the control surfaces and how they worked, that the rudder was controlled by pedals, while the elevator and ailerons were connected to the stick or control column.

That was…it.

So I go off on my merry way writing my novel, and then I bring it to a critique group where one member had got his private pilot’s licence many years before, and he pointed out some of my incorrect assumptions about how planes work.*

Oh. Well that is very helpful. It was one of those things, I just would never have thought to ask.

I tried to do more research, but I kept finding that the basics were hard to find resources on. The information online about aviation tends to be geared towards people who already know how to fly a plane and the info presented only builds on that. I could have looked up the answers to specific questions, but I didn’t know enough to know what questions to ask.

Fast forward to where I had decided I was seriously going to make a go of becoming a commercial pilot and I’m out at St. Andrews for my first ever flight, and we’re doing the walk-around, and my instructor is pointing out all the plane parts. I’m like, I can tell you all the things I know about airplanes – ok, propeller, fuselage, rudder, elevator, ailerons. That’s it. Oh, wheels! Yep, those are wheels.

Good job, she says, except those aren’t the ailerons, actually, those are the flaps.

The what? In all my reading about aeroplanes, this term had not come up. Or if it had, it wasn’t explained, and I just assumed it was some kind of auxiliary fancy thing that the big planes had. I’d been on jets, you know when you look out the windows at the wings and there’s these little squares that lift up on different parts of the wing?**

I had always intended to hunt down a pilot to help me edit my story, and it turned out I didn’t actually do that badly – fixing my mistakes didn’t break my novel’s plot, it was just touch-ups here and there.

But as a pilot now, the amount of knowledge I have to pour into a novel about pilots affects the type of stories I’m telling now. It’s not just a mode of transportation, or a mount to ride into combat anymore – they’re complex and I have a way more detailed understanding of how I can use these things to almost, but not quite kill my characters.

That and an understanding of the diversity of aircraft and features available, and enough knowledge to not put a feature on an aircraft that’s unrealistic. I mean, a Cessna 150 is not going to have autopilot installed. It is possible to have a plane without flaps, but I know enough not to make it a large one, and know what that means for the plane. I know the differences in ground handling between tricycle and conventional landing gear now and can throw that into a story, or simply portray it accurately. I know enough to describe accurately the characteristics of a good versus a bad landing.

I know what’s dangerous, and what seems dangerous but isn’t actually a big deal. Like, you see videos of WWII planes being started by hand-swinging the prop so often you’d think that wasn’t big deal, but that’s one of those things that kills people or takes limbs if you aren’t careful. Whereas, doing spins was something so easy to do and recover from, I was doing it in my first week of flying, and doing it solo in my first hundred hours with my instructor’s blessing, but it’s something that people think must be horribly dangerous.

There’s just so much to know about aviation, and I’m still a rookie low-hours pilot looking for my first job.

So how do you get that base level of knowledge if you want to write about pilots without becoming a pilot yourself. Well, there will be snobs who will say, just go get your private license, but not everyone has that kind of money kicking around.

One great way would be to take a ground school course. Most schools offer it in a classroom setting, but there are online versions as well – my school’s online ground school is Transport Canada approved. There are textbooks available too – the one my school uses is called “From The Ground Up”. It starts assuming no knowledge of aviation. There are others, and this one is specific for Canada, though that’s mainly only relevant for the air law side of things.

The other thing you can do that’s not horrifically expensive is most schools offer a “Discovery Flight”, which is just an introductory flight that goes over the basics, they take you up in the aeroplane and let you fly it, show you some of the basic maneuvers. There’s some real danger in going this route though – huge risk you might realize you love it and need to get your licence. Take precautions.***

On that note, I can confirm my attendance at Keycon this year. Timothey Gwyn will be there too, and I hope to do at least one panel covering a lot of these sort of topics for writers who might be interested in writing about aviation. Hope to see you there!

 

*Apparently, planes taxiing are propelled by their propellers, same as in the air – there’s no power transfer to the wheels to move them on the ground. Who knew.
**Ladies and gentlemen – those are spoilers. The flaps, incidentally, are the things that extend and curl downward in preparation for landing.
***Just kidding, do it, it’s amazing!