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Dave DarlingMeet: Dave Darling

Simulation Engineer and Graphics Programmer

What is your area of expertise?
My primary area of expertise is in cockpit graphics programming.

What do you do?
I communicate with the principal researchers about what they need, whether it is a particular display or a particular simulation. I write up a description of what I think the researchers have described, and submit it to them for feedback. I design algorithms and equations to describe the behavior of the system I am working on at the moment, and then I implement those algorithms and equations in a computer language. I test and debug the code, and integrate it into the rest of the simulation. I continue to communicate with the researchers about the progress and about any changes that are needed. When I am in charge of the simulation, I coordinate with the other people working on it to make sure that everything gets done. I also will run the simulation from inside the control room, and deal with any problems or last-minute requests that come up. Finally, I write up the simulation results. Most of my time is spent in front of one computer or another.

How did you first become interested in this profession?
I have been an airplane nut for as long as I can remember. My grandfather has been an aircraft mechanic since before my mother was born, so you could say that it runs in the family. In high school, I became an avid computer user and programmer, to the point where I never did get my pilot's license. After I graduated college, I was very fortunate to be able to get a job that combined two of my passions.

What helped prepare you for this job?
I believe that one of the things that helped prepare me the best for this job was that I took a wide variety of subjects in school. I concentrated on mathematics and computer classes, obviously, but I also took a number of writing courses which have proven to be very helpful over the years. A fair amount of what I do involves writing and communicating with other people, so the writing classes were definitely useful. And even the art classes that I took have been useful when working on the graphics programs. The breadth of my education has proven to be good preparation for this job.

Who were your role models or inspirations?
My grandfather has been something of both to me. I used to visit my grandparents frequently when I was growing up, and they both had a tremendous influence on my life. I still remember climbing over the stacks of airplane parts in their garage, and helping Gramps work on some of them.

What is your education and training?
I have a Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science from Knox College in Galesburg, IL. I have attended many workshops and classes on programming techniques and methods of presenting data, but have not received a formal degree from those classes.

Describe your career path?
I was hired as a Cockpit Graphics Programmer directly out of college. I have since taken on more responsibilities, ranging from creating out-the-window scenery for the simulators, to programming the mathematical models describing an aircraft's behavior, to being in charge of a simulation and running it from the control room.

What do you like about your job?
Quite a few things. I really like most of the people that I work with—some of them are amazingly smart. I like the notion that I am working on ideas and concepts that may be flying soon. I like working on computers, and making them draw the correct pictures. I like the nearly instant feedback that working with images gives you. And sometimes, I even get to fly the simulators, which is very enjoyable indeed!

What don't you like about your job?
I dislike many of the ways in which "red tape" affects my job. I dislike when I know there is a simple solution to a problem I am facing, but I cannot see it. I dislike when I make a mistake that sets back the progress of a simulation.

What is your advice to anyone interested in this occupation?
Get a thorough grounding in mathematics and programming. Make sure that you take enough writing classes that you can communicate effectively. And don't forget to encourage your artistic side.

What kinds of skills are important to have for this position?
Obviously, it is important to be able to write computer code. In addition, it is important to be able to come up with mathematical equations that describe something's behavior. In the graphical part of my work, I find myself using trigonometry every day. However, one of the most important skills for me to have is the ability to clearly communicate, particularly in writing.

What are your interests outside of work?
In recent years, I have become a "gear head". I work on my cars and have one car that I race—on the occasions that it runs, at least. I travel, mostly inside the U.S., but have been as far away as Hawaii (to the west), and Germany (to the east).

What is your favorite scientific fact or words of advice?
You can get there from here, but sometimes it's easier just to make "here" look like "there".



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