After graduating from Baylor in May 2001, I lived with my parents for a few weeks and then started my first full-time job in June. Although I’d heard of Southwest and actually flew SWA once to a college interview in Houston back in high school, I’d never really considered working there until January 2001. I was on an email list for tech writing jobs and saw an opening for a Technical Writer I at Southwest. I applied and got the job, which is always good news for parents of recent college grads who need to leave the nest for good.
I was part of a new-grad program in the IT department called SMART Camp. SMART was an acronym for something, but I’m not sure whether anyone remembered it. Most of us started on June 25 and entered six weeks of on-the-job training. At most companies, this training would have been technical stuff like Java programming or database management. But SWA likes to do things differently, so we spent the first six weeks not doing “productive” stuff, but learning about the company and its wacky culture. We sat with reservations agents and tech support reps. I flew out to Midland and hung out on the ramp for a while. We played water balloon volleyball. We took turns using the emergency slide in a mock aircraft cabin.
Yes, it was fun, but it also served a strategic purpose: making us diehard fans of Southwest. It worked. Of the 22 or so young IT folks in the program, nearly half are still at Southwest 10 years later. In the IT business, where you often move up by hopping from company to company, that’s a big deal.
I spent about 3 ½ years in the IT department, starting with tech writing projects and then branching out into software design, business analysis, and technical training. Along the way I discovered the Dispatch department through some of my tech writing projects and decided it was time to leave IT and dispatch airplanes for a living. I joined Dispatch as an Assistant Dispatcher in January 2005, upgraded to Dispatcher in January 2006, and became a Dispatch Trainer in October 2008. I’ve spent nearly 2/3 of my time at SWA in Dispatch, and I hope to stay here for decades to come. You can read more about my job on my professional page.
Changes and Cornerstones
Much has changed at Southwest over the last decade. We’ve added many new airports, including several congested ones that we wouldn’t have touched 20 years ago such as Philadelphia and LaGuardia. My wife joined me at SWA in the People Department from 2003-2008, doing an outstanding job as an Administrative Assistant, Flight Ops Employment Coordinator, and Onboarding Project Specialist until she retired to stay home with the boys. The Dispatch office has been in two different locations. The current one is actually in the same space where my IT desk used to be. The biggest changes lie ahead in the next five years as we integrate AirTran’s operations with our own, add the 737-800 and 717 to our fleet, add dozens of new AirTran airports, and begin international operations.
Despite all the changes, much has remained the same. Our culture of hard work, fun, LUV, and quirkiness remains one of the foundations of our business. It still feels like a family here, with both the caring and drama that families provide. I believe in our leaders and coworkers. Our company is as stable and secure as any company in our crazy industry. I’m still just as proud and grateful to work here as I was ten years ago. How many people can honestly say that about their employers?
- The surprise wedding shower that my tech writing team threw for me and Jenny
- Seeing my change management software actually getting used and making a difference
- The friendships I made in both departments
- Getting the call to join Dispatch – I rushed down the hall to Jenny’s area to tell her in person
- Seeing an Assistant Dispatcher whom I trained working a desk on their own – “It’s the ciiiiiiiircle, the circle of liiiiiiiiiife”
- Getting named Dispatcher of the Quarter for 1st quarter 2007
- The thrill and relief of seeing the “on the ground” message for every problem flight
- Going with Jenny and her awesome People people to MDW, BWI, MCO, OAK, LAS, SAN, and PHX to support Onboarding
- Getting to ride in the cockpit
- Bringing home N949WN from Boeing Field with Jenny and dozens of coworkers
On Saturday night, Jenny and I get to attend the annual SWA Awards Banquet at the Anatole, which is for the 10/15/20/25/30/35/40-year anniversaries plus some special awards. A few thousand people will be there, and we’re dressing up in our best. Saturday also marks the 40th anniversary of Southwest’s first flight, and we have a handful of Original Employees who still work here after four decades. One of them is actually in my office.
It’s been an amazing journey, a mixture of exhilaration, stress, hard work, fun, frustration, and joy. No, Southwest isn’t a perfect company, but it’s pretty darn good. It’s hard to imagine working anywhere else, nor do I want to. The next few years are full of promise. I still drink the Canyon Blue Kool-aid and will gladly offer you a glass.