People Profile | Matt Huckson: Flying Through Uncertainty with Discipline and Grit

ide Connect talks to Matt Huckson, senior product developer at ide Group about some of the parallels between his passion for flying and medical device design and development. 

ide Connect: I've heard The Connectory is home to a small community of pilots?

Matt Huckson: Yes, that’s correct. Aaron Russell, an electronic engineer at ide Group, and I are both qualified private pilots who fly for fun on the weekends. 

IC: That’s impressive! When did you start flying?

MH: I started flying on my 30th birthday (a present from my mother and wife). I passed my private pilot license test exactly five years later on my 35th birthday - that was a good day. I have since clocked up the hours, scaring family and friends whenever they will let me.

IC: What are some important skills you need as a pilot?

MH: To a beginner, being a pilot is a strange black art with a huge mental demand that ties together physical motor skills combined with mental agility. To grasp this, try playing a computer game whilst doing mental arithmetic, reading the newspaper and giving directions over the phone - simultaneously. That will give you an idea of the type of navigation, radio operations and fuel/speed/direction estimations that all need to be considered and acted on appropriately while flying. Luckily, all of these skills get easier with practice and prioritising them allows you to concentrate on the correct ones at the correct times. Although, if you had asked me during my training, I would have doubted this!

IC: What do you enjoy most about flying?

MH: I think that there is such a multi-faceted aspect to flying that appeals. Flying for me is a combination of fairly technical pre-flight planning and procedures combined with the purely physical aspect of aeroplane handling. The actual feeling of the plane moving in all three dimensions and reacting to your control inputs is very satisfying. It’s always an especially great day when you achieve that perfect ‘greaser’ landing; the wheels emit a tiny squeak as they touch down and the passengers have to ask "Are we down?"

IC: Are there any parallels between the skills you have developed as a pilot and the work that you do as a product developer?

MH: Flying in a perfect world doesn't exist, but much like product development, the excitement and the long lasting appeal of flying comes from the unknowns. In the same way there isn't an engineering problem that looks exactly like the textbook examples, the real world in the air is very unpredictable. From the remote possibility of a system failure, the human behaviours of other pilots and the most unpredictable of all; the weather. All of these elements combine to give an experience which never starts, progresses or finishes in the same way. The biggest parallel for me is dealing with the unknowns, because this is something that I experience every single day in my design work.

IC: How do you manage the unknowns, both as a pilot and a product developer? 

MH: Planning is critical to a safe and predictable outcome. This applies as much to flying as it does to design work. The more you can plan and predict, the more risks you can mitigate, the more contingencies you can account for and the more prepared you can be for those circumstances which are out of your immediate control. Each and every flight begins with a take-off, and ends with a contact with the ground. The only difference being at what force that contact occurs!

In the product design and development world, every project starts and ends with the outcome being determined by the preparation and prediction of the unknowns. Most of the time, instinctive reaction to any kind of problem is the same; human nature says panic! However, if you have predicted and planned for the event, it is a lot easier to counter these instincts and instead follow a set of actions that have been developed to give the most agreeable outcome. This is why pilots have emergency checklists that assist in those times when your brain is trying to run away from the problem. In the same way, our team of product developers at ide use many tools such as risk analysis, project plans, team critiques and design guides to help keep us on track when things depart in to the unknown.

Join the discussion over at ide Connect.

Erin Evanochko