How I Got My Job: Program Analyst at the Federal Aviation Administration
Byron is a 25-year-old employee of a federal government agency.
I understand that you are a Program Analyst at the FAA.
What do you do all day?
I work in a department that deals with aviation safety. A lot of our work involves coordinating other parts of the FAA to ensure that they’re doing things that keep planes in the sky. I work on that, and I also do a lot of data analysis and presentation so that everyone in the office stays on the same page. I spend a lot of time updating spreadsheets and playing with databases, generally being a code monkey. I also take technical English and distill it down to something that a normal person can read.
And how much do you make doing that?
Um, a person who is doing this job would probably make between $60,000-$70,000, roughly.
For perspective on how far that goes, how much is an apartment in your building?
Well, I share a one-bedroom with my girlfriend. But the average rent for that size apartment in our building is somewhere in the $1,700-$1,900 range, which, considering the location and proximity to the metro, is a pretty reasonable price.
So I’m going to put forth a couple of theories as to how you got this job, and you tell me how accurate they are. Theory #1: You were a college aviation prodigy, and someone became familiar with your research and decided that they had to have you on their team.
That is not correct. First of all, I discovered my passion for aviation long before college, and second of all, I did not do any widely publicized research on it. In fact, I was an art major.
Wait, you really were passionate about aviation? But you didn’t do any academic stuff on it?
I mean, I wrote a paper on airline joint ventures, but it wasn’t published or anything. It’s technically enshrined at an institute at my college, I guess.
Okay. So my theory #1, that you were a wunderkind, is false.
Theory #2: You come from a family of aviators, and you always knew that being a Program Analyst at the FAA was your destiny.
Well, I did grow up with a deep love of planes. (goes into brief soliloquy on different types of aircraft) But my family’s definitely not that way.
When you were in college, did you know that the job you have now even existed?
No, I always thought my passion was unrealistic to pursue. First of all, no one ever told me this was a thing. Also, I didn’t think they’d have any need for my skill set, but my skill set has actually come up and become something very useful.
How would you define your skill set?
Lots of computer ability. The ability to write English. Speaking several languages. I’m generally pretty congenial, and I think that’s actually part of why they hired me.
What did your journey getting here look like?
So I started by doing a semester in D.C., and I was involved with an internship program for Asian Americans, and one of the openings was in the Civil Rights office of the Department of Transportation. I also did one with an APIA civic organizing group at the same time.
Did they pay you enough to live on?
Not really. I mean, I got paid, but I shared a bedroom. But I worked well enough with my department that they told me that I could probably work there when I graduated if I wanted.
So that’s what you did.
It is. I took a month off after school, and then I moved out to D.C. I knew I’d have a salary coming in, but when I first arrived, I was lucky enough to be able to crash with some of my friends from the other internship I did, with the APIA organizers.
But you’re not there now. How did you get from there to here?
If you get me on your good side, I am exceptionally loyal to you. My old boss and I worked really well together. But when she retired, I started looking for other avenues. And that’s when I noticed that there was an office upstairs that did aviation analysis work, and hey, I should probably get looped in with them—
Because you love planes.
Because I love planes. So I asked if I could do a detail there. It was a field that people didn’t really know about, and I thought that it was important and interesting.
How does a detail work?
So when you work for the federal government, you can request a temporary assignment elsewhere. Sometimes they mean you’re going away for a long time. For me, it was four months, and I started off splitting my time.
And you liked it.
Yeah. When I went back to my old job at the DoT, I knew I didn’t want to be there, because I knew there was so much other stuff that I was interested in. So I started applying for jobs within the FAA, which is how I got to where I am now.
Wait, how old are you again?
I just turned 25.
So how long were you in each job?
I worked at the DoT full time from August of 2010 until April of 2012, so about a year and a half. I started my detail in April, but it was part time plus my DoT work, so it was kind of like doing two jobs at the same time. And I interned for a semester, of course.
Okay. So if someone reads this and says, “Hey! I would like that job!”, what do you think they should do?
Well, I think the reason I got my job was threefold. Number one, I really care about aviation, and I think it shows in my daily life.
You do know more about airlines than anyone I’ve ever met.
Yeah. That’s not enough to get you there, but it does show through, and it helps, I think. Number two, I was willing to work my ass off for a kickass federal resume.
How is that different from a garden-variety resume?
If you want to work for the federal government, you need to throw everything you know about resumes out the window. My resume is nine pages. NINE PAGES. You know how you have to do bullet points on a regular CV? It’s like that, but every bullet point is a paragraph long. You have to show, “I did this, this was the result, and here’s the change that came out of it.”
Where would someone learn how to do this? Would a career services counselor know?
Probably not. Personally, I would contact a civil rights or human resources office at a government agency. Ask them what they want to see in a resume. There’s someone whose whole job is to explain this to people. Honestly, half the battle is presenting your information well. Also, you have to write KSAs—KSA being short for Knowledge, Skills, Abilities. It’s a form that appears when you apply on USAJOBS. They say they’re optional, but do it anyway. Tell them why you are the best for the job.
So…self-promotional, yet honest?
Self-promotional yet honest. If you tell me you saved 800 children, I’m not going to believe you. Tell me how they went on to live productive lives.
Do I have to provide contact information for those children?
References are always allowed.
What’s the last thing you had?
I had my background—and by that I mean that there’s no one ideal background, but I found a job that fit my skills. I have an art background and a coding background, and now one of the main things I do is visualize data. Among my coworkers, we have some who have flight experience, and some who don’t. And we have an actor.
What does the actor do?
He’s actually my boss.
Okay, last couple of questions. Where do you want this job to take you?
I may want to continue working in aviation. Eventually I think it might be fun to work in aircraft certification. Helping to ensure new planes are safe for the flying public…also, by the way, if you haven’t flown on a 787, you really should. It’s a beautiful craft and a great ride. Revenue management for an international airline might be interesting. I have a lot of knowledge of the customer experience and I do a lot of programming; doing IT work for an airline would be really cool personally, though incredibly headache-ridden and probably thankless. I’ve thrown my middle finger up at airline websites and apps more times than I could count, really. Being on the other end for once would probably be exceptionally educational since you have to weave all these systems dating back to the 50s together. I’ve always loved planes, and would probably have to stay involved with this stuff one way or another knowing that I can make a living out of it.
Do you feel like you’ve landed where you want to be at this point in your life, career-wise?
I’ve done pretty well for myself just jumping on whatever opportunities have come my way. I’m pretty happy with the way things have turned out. Pretty grateful that I found out I could work in a field that I had no clue was a thing, and that it happens to be a field I really enjoy. We’ll see how the rest of it plays out, but I’m pretty good with this for now.