TPNx: Beyond All Expectations

by Jason Depew TPN Staff Writer

My only complaint about TPNx this past weekend is that it was way too short. Thanks to all those who attended – you made it a truly awesome experience! If you missed TPNx this year, I hope you’ll make it next time. Oh yes, there will be a next time and I will absolutely be there!

There isn’t enough space, even in an Emet-length post, to give you every detail about the event. If you want to know, ask someone who was there. I do want to tell you about some of my favorite parts though. Here’s an abbreviated walk-though.

I showed up early and immediately found TPN co-founder Matt Swee in his natural environment: expertly juggling 25 different tasks. Luckily, he’d made some solid plans, and had a small army of valiant volunteers helping put them into action. Thanks to Zach, JC, the Shannons, Sam, Adam, and others for helping things work out. I always enjoy hanging out with Matt because his energy and enthusiasm are infectious.

I finally got to meet several TPN notables in person, after months or even years of trading emails, calls, and FB comments with them. The other TPN co-founder, Adam Uhan, has always seemed like an all-around good guy, but it turns out that he has a well considered and highly cynical side that cracked me up all weekend. His wife, one of the two Shannons, was there all weekend making things happen. On Saturday night, more than 100 Networkers gathered in the Hyatt’s Hemisphere restaurant, overlooking the Delta and Southwest ramps at KMCO for dinner, free booze, and networking. It was an impressive setting, and it was a special moment to see Shannon’s eyes shine with pride for Adam as he addressed part of the Network that he’s spent so many years bringing together.

I was also pleased that in spite of leading such a large organization, Matt & Adam are still just fellow crew dawgs. They spent the entire weekend visiting with individuals and small groups of Networkers. I found myself still awake at 0200 Sunday with a few other bleary-eyed pilots as Adam, Charlie Venema, and Marc Himelhoch held court in the lobby bar. It was a blast.

When people started showing up, I quickly spotted the real Badger, one of my favorite people from my time at Laughlin AFB. Although it’d been a couple years since we saw each other, it immediately felt like we were back in Dragon Flight reviewing the steps necessary to conquer the world. (We weren’t making plans…we both know that the other guy implicitly knows all the steps. We just like walking through them every once in a while.) During the weekend, I also ran into a sponsor brother and a fellow glider IP from college and a fellow EAA Young Eagles enthusiast from Laughlin (https://www.eaa.org/eaa/youth/free-ye-flights.) I said that I hoped to run into at least three people I hadn’t seen in a while at TPNx. (https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/1874442) I exceeded my goal and enjoyed seeing so many old friends.

I also got to meet several TPN sponsors that I’d interacted with through the interwebs, but never met in person. The Marc Himelhoch in real life perfectly matches the tone of credibility, approachability, and humor exuded in his fantastic book, Cockpit2Cockpit. (http://www.cockpit2cockpit.com/) It was fun to hang out with him, and his wife Missy is a kick! At the very end of Day 2, we gave away 4 copies of Marc’s book. I absolutely loved the fact that we had to pull about 10 names out of the hat to find 4 people who didn’t already own a copy. Marc’s work has become the de facto textbook on how to hunt for an airline job (but it’s far more fun to read than any textbook you used in college.) I’d say that you should go order a copy right now, but it seems likely that you already have.

I’d only briefly interacted with Charlie Venema from CheckedAndSet before this weekend, and had somehow thought that he was just another guy with an application review service (https://checkedandset.net/.) Boy, was I wrong! He was absolutely hilarious, and a true fountain of aviation knowledge. I don’t get all that excited about applications or resumes, but Charlie’s presentation on the topic was impressive. He is truly passionate about the subject, not because it contributes a few pennies to his generous B767 pay, but because he enjoys making life better for us pilots (and probably the airline hiring boards too.)

Kim and Chris Uhland from MilKEEP didn’t surprise me at all (https://milkeep.com/.) They are a perfectly in step husband and wife team. They felt like the fun and interesting power couples from my past squadrons that I always wanted to hang out with. They’re working very hard to make MilKEEP a useful service for all military aviators. Chris gave a concise and authoritative presentation on Sunday that cleared up several logbook issues. In 30 minutes, he made things clear in a way that I could only sort of explain in 5000 words. I’m looking forward to many great things from them in the future.

I was also proud that Icon’s East Coast Chief Pilot, Genesah Duffy, and Operations Manager, Olivia Stancil, came out. I’d mentioned TPN to them before, but when they saw the scope of what our Network is doing, they were very impressed. They were mobbed for most of the night. I guess I’m not the only one that thinks the A5 is gorgeous. I have a suspicion that there might be some other TPN’ers enjoying side-hustles flying for Icon in the near future. (https://www.iconaircraft.com/company/careers)

Also worth noting was the presence of Nadia, aka @flyglobalgirl of Instagram fame, representing TPN Sponsor Pivot. (https://pivotcase.com/) Whether it was interest in seeing yet another woman who makes pilot life look fabulous, or finding out why almost every significant airline worldwide, dozens of military units, and several major flight departments love Pivot products, her display had no shortage of traffic.

I don’t want to leave anyone out, but I’m also not aiming for a book-length post today…and I want to make sure to talk about the Networking that happened at TPNx.

From the moment that people started arriving, the room was loud. I wasn’t all that surprised to see so many friends or acquaintances running into each other. However, I was also impressed by how at-ease everyone seemed to feel introducing themselves to someone new. The entire event had a perfect mix of pilots enjoying excellent food and free drinks at the squadron bar with very professional networking. It was exactly the feeling we were hoping for.

I dread the idea of standard networking events.

“Hi, I’m Joe.”

“Hi, I’m Sally. Tell me about yourself.”

“Well, [insert elevator pitch.] May I please have a job now?”

“We’ll call you in a couple weeks.”

Yuck!

These conversations are about as interesting to me as analyst questions are to Elon Musk at a quarterly earnings call.

Part of the reason we were able to avoid the mind-numbing process of giving each other canned pitches is that we all had a common background. We’re all pilots, and all members of TPN. There was plenty of “where are you from,” but it was always in the context of: I’m looking for ways I can relate even more easily to this person.

It also helped that TPNx started with the understanding that it’s not a “job fair” or “recruiting event.” Nobody, not even the Southwest team, was there to specifically interview anyone. This was all about meeting fellow pilots and looking for ways to help each other. This mentality pervaded the entire weekend and allowed for an atmosphere of fun and education without any stress or pressure.

I met a pilot named Eric. Then someone mentioned that he’s Indy’s brother at which point he got a giant bear hug. His sister is awesome and she speaks highly of him, so I immediately liked him. I ended up having some great conversations with Eric and several other new acquaintances throughout the weekend. I was gratified to hear that at least a few people out there are reading the stuff I write and that it’s helping them find their way. I hope I can continue to contribute meaningfully to helping every member of the Network find his or her dream job.

The networking that happened this weekend was truly special. I know many people found prospects for future full- and part-time jobs. I feel like most people, if not everyone, took advantage of the opportunity to run their life plans past some other people and got useful feedback and advice. I feel that I met another one of my TPNx goals in that I found a couple more people interested in contributing substantially to the TPN knowledgebase. I’m looking forward to their seeing what they come up with!

The networking was truly great this weekend, but the “academics” on Sunday took things to a whole new level. We listened to a board of 10 people from all parts of our industry and all phases of pilot life answer questions…unloading piece after piece of great advice.

We also heard countless useful/actionable things from several of TPN’s biggest sponsors. In several hours of vendor exhibits and lectures, there wasn’t a single sales pitch. The sponsors were there to help Networkers succeed in their careers. Sure, this gave us an opportunity to get our hands on their wares. Yes, I finally bought a B-1 bottle opener from PlaneForm (https://www.planeform.com/,) but any transactions that happened were the result of useful products meeting needs and mutual respect among pilots.

We also got to hear directly from Southwest’s recruiters. We’d planned to give them 45-60 minutes, but they asked for 90. They presented a wealth of detailed, specific information about their hiring process before spending the rest of their time answering our questions. For me, one of the most frustrating parts about applying for airline jobs was the lack of reliable information. You can’t do better than having a pair of Southwest Captains standing in front of the crowd and telling you exactly how things are.

I was also impressed to notice that even after they left the stage, the Southwest pilots spent most of lunch, and really the rest of the day, visiting with individuals and small groups of TPN pilots. They must have been exhausted by the end of the day, but they happily answered questions the entire time. I have to think that this was a much more pleasant environment for them than the average career fair. Even though most of the pilots talking to them wanted jobs, they weren’t dealing with salivating pilots desperate for a job. It was an environment of learning and getting a taste of the company’s culture. Southwest’s presentation felt to me like, “We want you to succeed in our application process. Here are keys to making that happen.” Our Networkers graciously and gratefully took that advice to heart.

Southwest wasn’t the only airline invited to participate at TPNx, but they were the only one to accept (or even answer calls in some cases.) Their interaction with us was absolutely fantastic and I think they got a lot out of being there. They had exclusive access to over a hundred highly qualified pilots, of which over 98% are military trained. I have no doubt that the pilots in attendance will fare better with interviews and cause fewer headaches to the Southwest hiring department, thanks to the education they got at TPNx.

I actually feel kind of bad for the airlines that missed out on the opportunity to interact with this group of pilots. Based on the way things went this weekend, I am confident that the next TPNx will be far larger. In fact Matt told me that he intentionally limited the number of tickets since this was the first year. I think any airline interested in getting access to highly qualified, highly motivated pilots would want to be a part of that event!

I got a free ticket to TPNx, but I spent some time and money attending as a pilot who already has his dream job(s). It was worth every cent and every second. I can’t wait for the next time we do this, and I will definitely be back. Here are a couple of the things I’m hoping for next time around:

  • I’d like the option making this a longer event. I realize that TPN consists largely of military pilots and time isn’t an unlimited resource for you. (There’s an easy way to fix that: https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/ideal-military-pilot-career-path-spelling-it-out-part-1 😉 I think each of us could have done even more meaningful networking (or just relaxing) on a second evening. I’m sure that we could have spaced out our academics a little and added value by including another day. I think that’ll be worth looking at.

  • We’d originally planned some time and space for a sort of peer-to-peer application/resume review workshop, under the mentorship of experts like Charlie Venema. We were all so busy enjoying ourselves that this just didn’t happen. (Don’t get me wrong, this was a good thing!) I’d like to make sure we get time for this, and possibly some other “practical application” events during TPNx.

  • The venue this weekend was amazing. A bar made out of an airplane engine cowling and a wall of glass overlooking the Southwest and Delta ramps from the 9th floor of the hotel. It was the perfect manifestation of the overall theme of TPN. I hope we can go back, or find somewhere equally as appropriate. We fit well in that space, but it was definitely intimate. I expect attendance to skyrocket for next time and I wonder if we’ll have to find somewhere a little bigger to fit everyone….

While we look forward to that, keep up the good work. If you’re not in your dream job yet, keep flying. Work on those other things that can help make you more attractive to your desired employer. If you need help or advice preparing for applications or interviews, TPN is full of resources and people who frequently respond to questions within minutes. If you think of big-pictures issues that might be best addressed in a cornerstone post, let me know and I’ll add it to my list. Or, even better, don’t be afraid to start working on it on your own. I met a couple people this weekend interested in contributing to what TPN is doing. I am more than happy to assist or collaborate on those kinds of projects too.

One audience member asked if we were looking at setting up a mentoring program. If that’s something you’re interested in helping with, write to heyguys@thepilotnetwork.org. Our Network has become a 25,000-person powerhouse because people like you made it that way. We can continue to make it an even better force for good with your help. Thanks for all you do, and I’m looking forward to seeing you next time at TPNx!