Flying vs. Coding: Why am I not a pilot?

An hour ago, I was programming. Now, I’m about to fly a newly-acquired Boeing 747-400, painted in Philippine Airlines livery. Even if it’s just virtual, I feel pretty much psyched about it right now.

I’m having fun in computer science, seeing all that it’s worth and what I can do with it. However, the pilot in me never died all this time — in fact, it cries out even stronger this time, throbbing and pounding at my heart with loud utterance. Even if I’m buried within several layers of coding and computer experience, I could still hear the calling — the whistle of the jet engines, the sweet radio chatter telling a pilot what runway to use, the ascending sound of takeoff, the screeching of landing gear at touchdown — and it’s louder than I thought it ever was. It’s crying within the depths of my being, perhaps asking when I become the dream.

I didn’t say I hate what I’m doing now — in fact, I am loving it. Who wouldn’t love being able to create ways to make things easier instead of doing things themselves? That alone is where computer science takes it power. However, flying a plane doesn’t go as easy as that, for in your hands lie the fate of almost 700 people inside a Boeing 777, or the lives of those watching an air show, or even the fate of your country as you plunge into war. It’s crucial because in flying a plane, you see directly what comes after you if you fail, aside from, of course, getting yourself killed. It’s not always this case when you are a computer scientist, but in being a driver in the skies, it’s rarely not this case.

Being a pilot has always been my dream since I was a kid. Although my father always kids about enrolling me to Capiz province so that alleged “witches” there could teach me how to fly a broomstick, I just chuckled along, thinking how they kept the dream alive instead of killing it. I even almost asked my mother to enroll me to the Philippine Military Academy just for me to have better chances of driving in the skies. Mom wouldn’t agree, of course. Then I asked for them to enroll me to a flying school, but they cited how I wore glasses and that was not allowed in a pilot career, they said. They also told me how much I have to pay for jet fuel every hour at school, so I decided to just go along with my interest on programming and spend full-time perfecting it at the premier state university, the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).

Now it’s three years since that fateful day I became a Fighting Maroon (UP’s system-wide sports team), and now I can say I’m getting pretty good at programming. One of my instructors just showed me last night over a dinner at McD’s how much I can do with computer science, giving my soul a little boost to continue and carry on with this career path. I don’t even think to bail out of this, but little by little, as the days toward graduation are lessening in number, that little pilot in me was trying to grow up, and eventually, it hit me. I love what I’m doing, but why didn’t I become a pilot?

I decided to at least know what’s inside a plane, what makes one a good pilot, and even the most dangerous airports in the world, just to make me at least get in the illusion of flying. Then I came across a page:

“Commercial pilots don’t need 20/20 vision; they just need to be correctable to 20/20”.

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Why didn’t I become a pilot?

…was the never-ending question.

For a few days it was continuously hitting me. I was closing my eyes every time I look up and see a plane flying over where I am (it had become a tradition for me to look up when I hear jet engines). I realized how these whistling jet engines were laughing at me, telling me that I will remain walking on the ground forever, with never a chance of taking it to the skies and moving in three axes. It was so painful to see them during those few days, to the point that I wanted to stop being a computer scientist and just start flying. Every night, I stare at my lines of code, wondering how much happier would I be if I was staring at Primary Flight Displays (PFD) and EICAS screen panels how much more ecstatic it would be to turn knobs, move switches, press buttons on a cockpit and overhead panels instead of a computer keyboard, and how much more easier it was to assure my passengers everything will be okay as well as radioing control towers that I’m coming over, instead of communicating an algorithm to a public who would rarely understand.

However, being depressed can never be so healthy. In fact, it never was.

In order to satisfy my desires of flying, I decided to get a copy of a flight simulation game. Then, the practice of flying at least an hour every night was born. It didn’t satisfy the pilot in me; it just made me want it even more.

My mom noticed it, and said in her stern words:

“Anak, pagkatapos mo mag-aral, ipagpatuloy mo pagiging piloto mo, para matupad na ‘yang first love mo.”
(Son, finish your studies and enter a flying school, if that will make you accomplish your first-loved career)

A boost forever… or I should say, four engines, full throttle. That was how I felt.

And now I’m not torn, but I would like to just tell you that hopefully, after I get my computer science degree at UPLB, I will find time to enter a flying school.

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