We welcomed Benedict Maehn, an aerospace engineering intern from Munich, Germany, to our office in Atlanta in January. As Benedict’s time with Airbus Aerial came to a close, we introduced him to an American classic- David Letterman- and let him sum it all up with a Top Ten List.
Drum roll please…

10. How to onboard

9. Focus on your customer

8. People and culture are key

7. Work environment matters

6. Geospatial analysis is awesome

5. How to effectively stick your strategy

4. Intrapreneurship should be fostered

3. Free merch

2. Time flies

1. Use a Call to Action (CTA)- they work

10. How to onboard.

I was grateful for the onboarding I received. And I told myself that if I would ever be responsible for people to get on board: I would do it like I was on-boarded here. So what did my first days look like?

Rather than immediately starting to work on the tasks, I had the opportunity to shadow with every part of the team. This was invaluable. Even though my initial intuition was that I wanted to immediately kick-off my actual work, this gave me the opportunity to understand every part of the company: design process, backend architecture, sales, product management, analytics, marketing, sales. EVERYTHING. By getting the big picture right from the beginning, you are far more productive. You have the context you need. And you have a crystal clear picture of which cogwheel you are in the gearbox of the company.  Also, this way you immediately had the chance to build a personal relationship with different parts of the team, which gives you a feeling of belonging.

9. Focus on your customer.

Whether you watch a talk by Jeff Bezos or if you read The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, wherever you look you are told how important it is to build what your customers really want instead of what you think they want. And it is true!

Especially when building an entirely new product, it is necessary to frequently review and refine assumptions that you make about what the market wants.. Aerial is the living example of a company executing on that. The product team is constantly ensuring that the features that are implemented next are actually the ones that are needed the most. I specifically learned how to  define a software product’s features and subfeatures, how to prioritize these features and how to group them into biquarterly releases.

8. People and culture are key.

In the end it is essentially the sum of people and the dynamics among them that shapes a company. Aerial is a great place to experience both excellent people and company culture.

Sydney, the Head of Culture, and the Culture Committee are constantly coming up with new initiatives to fuel the organizational culture.  A few examples:

  • Painting
  • Monthly Jenga tournament
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • In-Office-Yoga
  • Chili Cookoff
  • Atlanta United Games
  • Weekly Happy Hour
  • Going to the Movies
  • Hackathons

Of course it is not only organizing fun activities in which colleagues can spend time together in a non-work context that enables a good culture. I learned about two further measures that, when implemented, enable a positive culture to develop:

  • Weekly all-hands meeting, that serves as a channel, in which, while having lunch together, important news are shared. As a last element of the all hands there is always a block called Recognition. Recognitions offers a space where team members can draw attention to the special achievements of other team members. I found this an extremely motivating format, which lifts the mood in the team and strengthens cohesion.
  • Gathering opinions weekly on certain topics through a survey platform like officevibe. In anonymous surveys, people are asked, for example, to what extent they feel they can contribute their own ideas, to what extent they are satisfied with the communication with their managers, etc. The use of such tools is tremendously helpful in identifying and working on opportunities for improvement in certain areas.

7. Work environment matters.

Located at Ponce City Market, the Airbus Aerial office follows the open office model. We have three communication spots, following different themes, and a huge open space where individual desks are located. The openness of the space causes a dynamic atmosphere that facilitates communication.

In my opinion this is the optimal environment for a dynamic and fast moving team. Should there be a need for a calm atmosphere, for example to make a call, there is opportunity for that in separate workspaces.

Another crucial part of the work environment is certainly the snack bar and the ice cold drinks. It may seem like a small detail but creating an office space employees enjoy coming to, in which they feel well and are provided with everything they need improves the team’s overall performance. Even though I realized you have to keep track of you snack consumption!

6. Geospatial Analysis is awesome.

When I thought about the learnings to include in this article, I decided to only mention the ones that are applicable in a general way. This one however is probably a mix of both, general and personal learning.  Prior to joining Aerial I never had any point of contact with Geospatial Analytics and now I am aware of what amazing things can be done with it.

Seeing the world from above is fascinating. It opens up new possibilities when it comes to responding to catastrophes as quickly as possible, when it comes to preventing bad incidents from happening and when it, in general, comes to understanding change on a large scale. This is definitely an area that I will personally dig deeper into in the future.  It is awesome that Aerial is building a solution that enables people with little to no background in geospatial to draw valuable insights.

5. How to effectively stick to your strategy.

As a young company, it can sometimes be challenging to ensure that the strategy is followed. Especially if you consider #9 – Focus on your customer – which means that things may change as you get more market data and get closer to the customer. Having a physical hardcopy printout of the vision and operating strategy on each desk and checking on a weekly basis, if all activities are aligned to this strategy is the best way to avoid getting into a rabbithole. It is a pretty simple but effective method I learned about.

4. Intrapreneurship should be fostered.

Airbus Aerial is one of the places at Airbus in which intrapreneurship is being implemented. Intrapreneurship enables massive corporations like Airbus to send out speed boats into new unexplored and unserved markets. Without feeling the burden of bureaucracy, these entities have the flexibility needed to do that.  While it may mean to show some courage and patience, I am sure that in the medium and long term, it will eventually pay off and position Airbus very well in tomorrow’s markets.

3. Free merch.

Merch. That’s just total luxury, right? Something that you can introduce as a bonus, if you have some resources left. That’s what I thought.

If you enter the Aerial office you will notice that a certain number of people either wears an Airbus Aerial T-shirt or polo shirt. These are given to you when you join the company. Also, you will notice the fancy Airbus Aerial backpacks, people enter and leave Ponce City Market with.

This may seem like a small detail. I think it’s not.  Seeing the pride and joy this creates taught me the value of handing out merch. Especially in an environment in which work is not viewed as ‚just work but in which people are fully committed to the product that is being created.

2. Time flies.

The last three months have flown by really fast. It feels as if I only left the plane yesterday in which I came to Atlanta and now I am nearly on my way back. This shows me how subjective our sense of time is and how quickly time passes by when you have fun and learn lots of things.

1. Use a Call to action (CTA)- they work

If you are like me and you frequently read LinkedIn or Medium articles, you will have noticed that a majority of them concludes with a call to action. So as I am writing this reflection on my time at Airbus Aerial, I am thinking about what call to action I could come up with.

What would be the best next step for you to get in contact with Airbus Aerial?  It depends on who you are. The two most likely options are:

A) Are you an insurance expert, that is working with aerial imagery?

You guessed it: I encourage you to leave Nicolas Wayne, Matt Workman, Chris Ogier or Jason Byrd a message asking them for a demo of ADP. You will like it.

B) Are you someone from the geospatial industry, living near Atlanta and looking for a new job opportunity?

For A), B) and everyone else:

As this is my first article of that kind, I encourage you to also give feedback, in order to let me know what I can improve next time.