Some careers are not for the faint-hearted, because there are no second chances. Mental Toughness, Excellent short term memory, Logical thinking and Quick decision making are the pre-requisites.

Vishak, our next pathbreaker and Air Traffic Controller at Mumbai International Airport, manages Air Traffic, guiding Aircrafts through an Airspace filled to the brim.

Vishak talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy  from The Interview Portal about his brief stint in Finance after which he transitioned to Air Traffic Control, a lesson for students that it is never late to change careers !

Vishak, your background?

I grew up in Delhi and studied Science in class XII. My parents were working in private service. Cycling was a favorite hobby. I was also pretty much drawn to body building. I completed engineering from College of Engineering, Trivandrum. I realized my deep interest in analytical/mathematical stuffs at this point of time.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I did my Engineering from College of Engineering, Trivandrum in Applied Electronics & Instrumentation.

Tell us about your career path

 One of my teachers in JEE coaching Mr. Karemendra Tyagi had a long lasting influence on me. The joy of problem solving was incomparable when you had a teacher like him. I chose engineering because I loved the idea of being able to analytically solve problems in industries.

My approach was simple. I began to identify what I really wanted. I love numbers, functions, their analysis and being surrounded by them. This is what I wanted.

I was an intern at Goldman Sachs, Bangalore. My first break was bagging an internship at Goldman Sachs, Bangalore during college placements. I was rated as one of the top interns during that year and offered a PPO for the role of Tech Analyst.

 I learnt Perl, SQL, C++ during a very short time.  The project allocated to me was a time optimization problem and the code had to be written from scratch. 

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

I am an ‘intellectually’ ambitious person. While I was young, I wanted to explore the entire domain of Mathematics, upon which modern science is built. I had plans for joining a PhD program in Mathematics. I scored among the top 10 candidates in Delhi University’s Entrance exam and also cleared IIT tests. But certain personal situations forced me to keep my options safe. And then I stumbled upon this opportunity of being an ATC.

No one gave me the idea of becoming an ATC, I use the internet extensively for almost everything. All my research regarding it was done through the internet only.

I gave the test which Airport Authority conducts. They called me for an interview and voice test. The entrance exams tests concepts in Math, physics, Electronics ( atleast during my time, I do not know the present scenario ). After passing the exam, they have an year of rigorous training. The training can be indeed stressful and prepares you for the work which you might be doing when recruited to stations.  The training will thoroughly train the trainee in areas like : Dramatically increasing the short term memory, how to use ATC lingual for communication with pilots and other ATC units, improving communication with other ATC units. After an year of training , you are recruited to stations and where you undergo further station specific training.

Airport Authority of India recruits junior ATCs based on a written test ( which tests logical skills ) and subsequent interviews and a voice test.  The written test had questions from Physics, Math, Electronics. The interviews test your basic knowledge of flight and Air

There is a mandatory voice test to determine if your voice is suited for on-channel communication with pilots.

Where do you work now? Tell us about your work as ATC

I work at Air Traffic Control, Mumbai, the busiest single-runway operations in the world. I solve the problem of maintaining mandatory pre-defined separation between two or more aircrafts and assisting aircraft in distress. In an airspace filled to the brim with aircraft, it is a very demanding problem!

Excellent short term memory is a necessity. The ability to project current traffic scenario into the future, fast logical thinking, the ability to recollect any aerodrome data at a moment’s notice, good interpersonal and communication skills. You tend to pick up these skills and improvise during on-the-job trainings. Physical and Mental fitness is also a pre-requisite.

Every day is different. Air Traffic scenario changes very rapidly. For Example, an aircraft may declare an emergency any time and request a priority landing. An ATC’s skill in such a scenario would be how he maneuvers the other aircrafts in the vicinity in the shortest possible time. There are night shifts ( every 5 days ) and many people find night shifts stressful.

Being on channel means the mind has to be focused 100% on the traffic scenario. There is no scope of error. If an error has been committed, it has to be rectified immediately.

How does your work benefit the society? 

Good Air Traffic Control practices help in the growth of air traffic and can significantly add to the economy of a country. 

Tell us an example of a specific work you did that is very close to you!

I cannot disclose any specific work as a part of my contract. But, indeed it was a very challenging situation involving an aircraft in distress.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Do your comprehensive research before stepping into a career. You should consider being an ATC only if you can handle night shifts every 5 days, if you have good short term memory and are also ready to do other kinds of work as and when required by the office. 

Future Plans? 

I am considering higher education.