Finding Your Motivation

It was a cold, gray and windy day as I looked out onto the vast concrete runways of the Arlanda airport at more than 20 stories above the ground from within the Arlanda Air Traffic Control Tower.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me rewind a bit. My name is Mike, and I am a software engineer in the 2016-2017 Saab Graduate Leadership Programme based in the United States. My home department, Saab Sensis, specializes in Air Traffic Management products. Broadly speaking, we develop solutions to improve the safety and efficiency of commercial air travel.


When I first started at Saab Sensis in September of 2016, I had no idea what air traffic management was. All I knew was that I would be contributing to a great cause in making air travel safer. As a fresh bright-eyed graduate with grand aspirations of “making the world a better place”, that was good enough for me. As I slowly became more aware of the importance and intricacies of air traffic management, my curiosity and my interest grew. I learned about air traffic controllers and their vital role in coordinating planes in order to prevent any possible accidents or collisions. I also learned about our role in providing air traffic controllers with the tools to support them in their work. However, my daily work involved seemingly mundane tasks like writing lines of code and reading requirements documents, which could not be further removed from the stressful life-or-death environment in which air traffic controllers operate. Because of this, it was hard for me to fully grasp the impact of what I did and how it affected the air traffic controllers.


Fast forward 5 months to February of 2017, and I am in Sweden for the second graduate team weeks. Thanks to the suggestions of Eva Brynedal, one of the other graduates in my group, the graduate coordinators agreed to fit a tour of the Arlanda Air Traffic Control Tower in to our schedule. This opportunity to tour the tower and meet with our stakeholders was truly invaluable. It helped me understand how they think and operate, and why they do things in a certain way. I was amazed to see how many different tools and systems the controllers used, and was delighted to see that the majority of it was made by Saab (I believe 5+). It was extremely rewarding to see how much the customers depended on and appreciated our systems. They even had some great feedback about improvements that I would have never thought of!

Me (Mike Chi) enjoying myself in the Arlanda Traffic Control Tower, Feburary 2017

Despite being such a short visit, this experience reaffirmed in my mind the value of the work I do at Saab. We often get so caught up in our work, in the technical details or sales numbers, that we lose sight of the big picture. For me, these experiences are invaluable because they remind me of the big picture and what motivates me to work. After all, I did not become a software engineer for the sole purpose of making software. Pumping out lines of code does not motivate me; enabling people to make the correct life-or-death decisions does. I am truly grateful that I have been given the support at Saab to participate in these types of experiences. I hope that you have opportunities to do the same wherever you are, and if so I strongly encourage you to take full advantage of them. 

/Mike