From the Desk of VATUSA1

Don Desfosse

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Re: From the Desk of VATUSA1
« Reply #15 on: July 13, 2016, 12:35:48 PM »
Many folks have seen the recent thread in the VATSIM forums where a member (not in the USA), after an absence from controlling, was put on a waiting list for recertification before he could control again.  It's been over 4 months, and he's been told to expect many months more wait time.

As you can probably gather, that is baloney and would never be tolerated in the USA. 

Of course, the thread degraded to the typical argument of "well he needs an OTS to make sure he knows current procedures and is still good quality" vs. "he should have priority and they should ensure his checkout or even just acknowledgement of a read file of recent changes happens within a week" vs. "GRP says no one needs any checkout ever". 

As I've said many times, the art and science of improving this hobby is through a growth of good quality people, and more of them online and participating every day.  There is a balance -- a sweet spot -- required between quality and quantity and speed.

I've been invited to a very small working group that will be looking into inconsistencies between GRP and local policies that require an OTS/refresher when people return from an absence.  I'll be pushing for any new policy to respect the delicate balance.

Just know what my expectation is in the USA for members returning from a short absence:
1. Significant airspace/procedure/regulation/SOP/LOA changes should be called out to members' attention on each facility's forums (or equivalent), and should be a running update.  For example, many facilities in the USA have a "Read File" of significant changes (e.g. airspace/procedure/regulation/SOP/LOA).  Active and returning members should be pointed to that forum.
2.  Less than six months, they are directed to read/understand any updates (per #1, above) and they get right back in the saddle. 
3. Over six months, they are directed to read/understand any updates (per #1, above) since they last controlled, and depending on their experience level and prior quality, *may* (not must) do a brief mentoring session to ensure they still have what it takes.  For less than one year away, this is not thought to be a full-up recertification and OTS, just a quick and informal "do they still have it" check.  The TA should, on a case-by-case basis, weigh the certification level, experience level, prior performance (if known), amount of time away, etc. of the controller when determining whether the performance verification is required.
4.  Any return to service briefing/checkout should be accomplished within 10 days of the member returning, and should take priority over new students.  I know that may not ALWAYS be possible, but it should be possible at least 95% of the time.

I'm open to discussion on these points, and will take your discussion and opinions with me to the working group.  But just know that my main point for writing this quick note is to ensure alignment within the USA Division and to ensure that the garbage that is currently being written about in another VACC/Division will NEVER happen here in the USA.
« Last Edit: July 13, 2016, 04:34:26 PM by Don Desfosse »
Don Desfosse
Director, VATUSA

Don Desfosse

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Re: From the Desk of VATUSA1
« Reply #16 on: September 12, 2016, 11:09:29 AM »
Thanks to all who attended the VATNA Town Hall Meeting last night.  Just a reminder that the next VATUSA Town Hall Meeting is scheduled for Sunday 9/25 at 8:30pm EDT, 7:30pm CDT, 6:30pm MDT, 5:30pm PDT, 4:30pm AKDT, 3:30pm HDT, 26 Feb at 0030Z, etc. -- pick your favorite time zone.  We'll catch up on some of the things that have been going on within VATUSA as well as at the network level, talk about the Division's strategic vision going forward, plans forward, etc.  You'll also get a chance to meet Ira Robinson, our new Deputy Director.  Look forward to "seeing" and talking to as many folks as possible!
Don Desfosse
Director, VATUSA

Don Desfosse

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Re: From the Desk of VATUSA1
« Reply #17 on: September 26, 2016, 08:57:25 AM »
Thanks to all who attended the VATUSA Town Hall Meeting last night.  I hope it provided everyone with a decent picture of our recent accomplishments and activities, who we are, what we look like now, and most importantly, where we want to go in the future. 

I've attached the slide deck to this forum post for folks that could not make it. The key, to me, is on slide 17.  We want to grow our online presence through each facility having a wonderful culture centered around fun, team, family and excellence that leads to improving the retention of the skilled and talented students and members that will give us the biggest return on investment (controlling time, instructional time, leadership, etc.).  Learning to control well and/or fly well takes a great deal of self-investment, and investment from others, in time, coordination, brain cells, etc.  People won't want to make that investment, initially and continually, unless they know there's a personal payback in that investment.  That may be the knowledge that they've become a good pilot and/or controller, especially as validated by certifications, feedback from others, etc.  But one thing, in addition to the promise of certifications/feedback/validation, that is so absolutely key to people wanting to stick out the investment of time, training, testing, etc. is the magic within a facility.  If the facility doesn't have a culture of fun, team, family and excellence, people won't want to be there.  The magic is an important part of the payoff, too.  Being able to share in a facility where the magic exists, being able to share the magic, is an important part of what makes us choose this hobby over community basketweaving, croquet, or any other. 

Does your facility have the magic?  Does your facility inspire such a sense of community that people, pilots and controllers alike, WANT to be in your teamspeak to control, fly, and also chat with each other as friends and members of a tight, fun community?  Does your facility leadership inspire a fun atmosphere where the magic is and is shared with new and existing members alike?

If not, it's time to fix that, find new leadership, or find a facility that "gets it".  Since I want to ensure that fun, magical, passionate experience exists in every facility within the Division, and across the whole Division, people moving is my last choice.  I'd like to see the leadership and membership of every facility accept the challenge and rise to the occasion!  Find your inner passion for a great, fun, team/family atmosphere within every facility, and share it with everyone, not just the old-timers that have already "made it", but with everyone, past, present and future, associated with the facility!
Don Desfosse
Director, VATUSA

Don Desfosse

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Re: From the Desk of VATUSA1
« Reply #18 on: August 27, 2017, 01:51:07 PM »
It's been quite a while, unfortunately, since my last Division-wide update.  This has been due to a number of reasons, really, most of them work-related plus our family moved this year.  It's been a busy time, and I thank my excellent team for keeping things more or less humming.  But I'm finally getting a few minutes, while away working on a remote mountaintop location quite literally on the other side of the planet, to pen a long-overdue update and provide some thoughts.

1. VATUSA Strategic Vision:  VATUSA's Strategic Vision is excellence and continuous improvement in Culture, Retention and Growth.  So how are we doing?

Culture
Culture is really hard to measure, really hard to change, and really hard to keep constant once you've gotten to where you want to be. 

We are an interesting organization.  We are a Division within larger organizations (North America Region, VATSIM as a whole), but also made up of 22 individual facilities.  As anyone familiar with organizational construct and behavior is aware, when you have subordinate organizations, alignment is key.  Since ATC and organizational management are generally very policy-based, standardization is critically important in developing and maintaining that alignment.  Yet, I think most of us, myself included, value the individuality that is part of the culture of each of our facilites.  They key is maintaining a balance.  Too standardized and facilities lose their identity and charm.  Too unstandardized and it's the wild, wild West.  As all of our facility staffs know, I have tried to guide toward common vision, values and goals, while allowing the individual facilities to retain their own identity, culture and charm.  It generally works.  In a few cases over the past year, though, a couple of facilities have strayed from the overall vision, values and goals, in the name of individuality.  I've had to erect some guard rails.  No one, myself included, likes overbearing policy that stifles individuality and innovation.  We all want the freedom to retain identity and charm.  I'm generally OK with that, as long as each of the facilities remembers to align to our vision, values and goals.

Aligned with our culture, I've spoken before about the following values:
• Fun, Team, Family, Excellence
• Create the Magic
• Inspire Passion

So how are we doing as a Division?

Like any organization comprised of smaller organizations, your mileage may vary!  Some facilities are doing really well with each of the values, and can act as a model for the rest.  Most are doing reasonably well with some or all of the values, but can benefit from continuous improvement, every day.  And, unfortunately, a couple of our facilities are struggling. 

The goal is continuous improvement, every day.  We want to raise the water level, both within our 22 facilities, and amongst the entire Division.

I haven't been away from being an ATM so long that I have forgotten that ATMs have a responsibility for protecting their volunteer staffs' precious time by helping to minimize the aimless window shopping and folks that dance between facilities, not knowing what it takes or never really intending to participate in a meaningful way.  However, we need to be very careful to balance the barriers to entry for shmucks with an open, welcoming atmosphere for the other 90%, the folks that want to try it out, learn the craft, and give back to the facilities.  I'm seeing evidence that there are a couple of facilities out there that may not be doing an awesome job with that balance, having policies that are much more of a barrier for ANYONE entering the hallowed halls of their facility.  That's not what we're looking for, and is not aligned with our vision, values and goals.

When I look back on my 10 years with VATSIM, I remember the things that created magic and passion in my soul.  I was trained by some of the brightest, most knowledgeable ATC hobbyists I could have ever hoped for.  My training was challenging but fair, and every certification I earned meant something.  I have participated in some of the most incredible events that I could have hoped for, both as a pilot and as a controller.  As a controller, I've had to up my game from "normal" ARTCC events, to FNOs, to annual live events, to Cross the Ponds.  As I progressed with my training and certifications, these events challenged me to the max.  Even once fully certified, the size and magnitude of the events demanded my all.  I wasn't ever perfect for any of them, but I and the overall community demanded I get better with each one.  The reward of working an event where our VATSIM traffic exceeds, sometimes significantly, real world traffic levels is immense.  Controlling alongside, most times on TeamSpeak, but also at least once a year, physically in a room full of VATSIM controllers that works hard and plays hard and acts like a family is thrilling and amazing.  It's magical.  I wish the same magic for every single member of VATUSA.  It takes a lot of hard work, motivation and dedication on a lot of peoples' part to get there, but once you've tasted nirvana, you never want to go back.  And every member of VATUSA can taste that nirvana.  But that requires every member to want it, demand it, and push for it, from facility leadership right on down to the brand new OBS that joins the roster.  Where it doesn't exist, or exists only in pockets, we need to push ourselves and each other to create the magic!

Retention and Growth
We're doing a bit better in this regard.  A year ago, our numbers were good -- overall members (pilots and ATC) were averaging a 4% annual growth rate.  But our ATC numbers were flat, or in a slight decline.  I challenged our membership about a year ago to focus on retaining at least 25% of the members we were losing, especially S2s and above (not because S1s and OBSs aren't important, but S2s and above have more "reach", as controllers, mentors, staff and controllers). 

As of about a week ago, our overall numbers are up about 10% from the beginning of the year, and our ATC numbers are up 3% from the beginning of the year.  But I'm starting to hear again of our most critical bottleneck -- training staff availability -- across multiple facilities.  Mark Hubbert has been leading a charge, with several members helping (thank you!) to really improve the QUALITY of instruction on the network, both by developing better/more current training materials, as well as by working to "train the trainers" (teaching Instructors a little more about the art and science of instruction/teaching).  This increase in Quality is important, but an increase in Quantity is also important to help attract and maintain our members.  Summertime is tough, with family vacations, yard work, etc.  But we can say every season is tough for one reason or another.  I think it's important for facility leadership to remember that a good, strong healthy roster of instructors and mentors is really important to ensure growth and retention all year long, and perhaps one of the most important things that a facility can do to ensure its own success through growth, retention, and staff succession planning.

2. VATSIM Changes:  I'm not going to say much about it, because much has been written on the VATSIM forums, but some exciting new developments are now underway, with VATSIM paving the way for both voice CTAF/Unicom and a new Voice Codec.  An update on Swift, which is a new cross-platform pilot client (still) in development, was made at the VATSIM Connexion 2017 conference.  It's good to see progress, albeit not fast enough for my desires, happening across the network.  Another exciting development is the appointment a few days ago of Gunnar Lindahl to the position of VATSIM President.  Kyle Ramsey was a great president, and we have done a lot of great things under his leadership; I look forward to continued great things under Gunnar's.

3. Continuity planning: 
How much have you, and your facility done in the last year to year-and-a-half?  So little that you can afford to lose it at the blink of an eye? I have written in the past about continuity planning, mainly focusing on facility data services.  We occasionally face threats, and in some cases, lose data, due to the maliciousness of others.  All facility staff, please take a read through https://forums.vatusa.net/index.php?topic=3683 (available to facility staff only)

4. Intolerable behaviors:  I can't believe I am saying this, but Ira and I have had to deal recently with an uptick in complaints dealing with personal behaviors and unprofessionalism.  More controllers showing blatant intolerance for non-perfect pilots and LOA violations from adjacent facilities, and members attacking other members based on race, creed, ethnicity or sexual preference.  This, particularly the latter, is absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated anywhere within this Division or on VATSIM.  I spoke earlier about facilities having their own culture, but when a culture turns toxic, that is beyond bad.  And when I learn of a culture turning toxic, my team and I will take swift action to fix the problem.  We are all in this together.  We come together to enjoy a common wonderful hobby.  The diversity that each of us brings to the table should be embraced and capitalized upon.  There is no room here for personal attacks on any other member.

5. Tolerance:  Dozens, if not hundreds, of pages of discussions appear on the various forums regarding intolerance of pilots' mistakes and controllers' mistakes.  No one is perfect.  We are all learning, every day.  Remember when I said before that I was trained by some of the most knowledgeable ATC guys I know?  When I was a new controller student, they demanded perfection.  They yelled at bonehead pilots.  That's I learned what VATSIM was and did.  Imagine the eye opening when I realized that I was being a jerk to pilots, and that wasn't really what VATSIM was all about.  The pursuit of excellence is noble; the pursuit of perfection is futile.  When I think about how many mistakes I made on the network as a pilot, I look back very fondly on the controllers that were willing to work with me and teach me.  I didn't like being called out in a nasty manner.  Yet that's how I was taught at first.  It took me a while to undo that and remove that from my repertoire.  Am I perfect?  No.  But do I try to be more tolerant and helpful every day?  Absolutely.  Controllers need to try to do that when dealing with new/clueless pilots.  And controllers.  And pilots need to do the same with new students.  Fewer jerks, more tolerance, more helping, better outcome.

We are all in this together.  We owe it to ourselves and each other to help each other -- both as individuals and as facilities.  This is a remarkable Division, supporting a remarkable hobby.  We have some extremely bright and talented folks that we can learn from.  When this hobby is running well, it's like sitting in a pot of gold.  We can make that happen, for ourselves and for each other.  But we need to commit to making it happen.  Each and every one of us.  Let's continue reaching for the goal where every facility is staffed with good controllers and an airspace full of good pilots during peak times, if not more.

Most importantly, let's create, find, and enjoy the magic!
Don Desfosse
Director, VATUSA

Don Desfosse

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Re: From the Desk of VATUSA1
« Reply #19 on: September 26, 2017, 01:40:33 AM »
Just thought I'd note a wonderful milestone -- VATUSA just passed 20,000 active members within the Division!  Awesome!
Don Desfosse
Director, VATUSA