Austin Driver on most days is hunkered over a keyboard, illuminated by the soft glow of the blue light waves radiating from his computer screen.
But this day wasn’t most days.
Instead, the Grand Canyon University software development alum found himself at the base of Manoa Falls, after a brisk hike, glancing up to try to see the top of the falls 100 feet high.
Another day, he traipsed along a sugary-sanded Hawaiian beach, where he volunteered for a beach clean-up, then jaunted to Waikiki and Diamond Head, the volcanic tuff cone on the island of Oahu.
Driver spent those days — a week — with Hawaiian Airlines in Honolulu, where he toured the company’s flight operation center, maintenance hangar and cargo hangar.
It was technology meets paradise.
All “very, very cool,” said Driver, who never dreamed he’d have the chance, so soon after graduating from GCU in the spring, to travel to a paradise such as Hawaii.
“I don’t know any other person that got the opportunity to go on a flight somewhere by being an intern,” Driver said of the trip.
It was one of the perks he received as part of his summer internship at the airlines’ information technology center in Tempe, Arizona. The 15,000-square-foot facility, which opened at the outset of 2020 with about 60 employees, is the carrier’s largest office outside of its Honolulu headquarters.
“This new Hawaiian Airlines technology center is another significant addition to Arizona’s tech sector, which is growing at a rate 40% faster than the rest of the country,” said Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey at the facility’s opening.
GCU started its relationship with Hawaiian Airlines just before the COVID-19 pandemic, said Head of Technology Programs Rob Loy of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology.
“When Hawaiian Airlines opened its IT operation center along Tempe Town Lake, they knew they had to be creative in staffing the hundreds of technical roles that would eventually fill their offices,” Loy said. “Managing Director of IT Matthew Chimbos has maintained a tight relationship with GCU through offering internships, hiring GCU graduates and looking at creative ways of bringing in students while they are still attending Grand Canyon University.”
Plans are to almost double the staff at the center by partnering with GCU and other universities and educational institutions, offering IT internships and recruiting for positions that range from software engineers and architects to database managers and business analysts.
Driver was lucky enough to land one of those internships and spoke of his experience recently at a meeting of the GCU President’s STEM Advisory Board.
“They (Hawaiian Airlines) sent five recruiters to the career fair,” Driver said of the Engineering and Technology Fair earlier this spring, one of about 15 job fairs throughout the academic year organized by Strategic Employer Initiatives & Internships. “They were definitely one of the companies that I sat and talked to the longest. I was there (at the fair) for about an hour, and I probably talked to Hawaiian Air for 45 minutes of that.”
The chance to leave the Tempe office and spend some time in Hawaii as an intern definitely was one of the things that prompted him to apply. But beyond that, “It’s a casual work environment — people work from home, people came into the office. They all had their tasks and stuff to do.
“It also is very mentorship- and growth-driven. I just loved the idea of being in an environment where you have that safety net of having these senior engineers, mid-level engineers that are there overseeing you do your stuff and are there to challenge you and push you and help you grow. I definitely thought that was the best way to grow, just being a fresh college graduate, being in that environment where you’re encouraged to mess up, kind of push the boundaries, see what you know and what you’re really interested in.”
Driver, a Kansas transplant, chose to come to GCU after a GCU Discover trip introduced him to “a very hands-on computer programming/software development program that really intrigued me,” he said.
That hands-on learning is just one of the things that helped Driver in his internship as part of the Digital Experience Team, which oversees everything a user experiences on digital platforms -- namely, on a computer (HawaiianAirlines.com) or a phone app.
In addition to the hands-on learning focus in his program at GCU, Driver said what also helped him in his internship is the project management class he took.
“Hawaiian works in the Agile management system, so being exposed to that really, really helped. A lot of terms that they use are exactly what I learned in the project management class (at GCU), and it functioned exactly how the class had taught,” Driver said.
As part of his degree program, he also was exposed to application programming interfaces, or APIs, which offer a way for two or more computer programs to communicate with each other.
“That was another thing that set me apart from the other interns that were part of the program, because some of them didn’t necessarily have a lot of exposure to project management and APIs,” said Driver, who wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his degree when he first started his software development program.
His experience at Hawaiian Airlines sold him on continuing to work in the airline industry – something he will be doing as a full-time employee at the company’s Tempe IT center. Driver just signed a return offer and began working there in October.
What he loves: “the crazy flight benefits."
“That was definitely one of the selling points for me going back there,” Driver said of the company, which also offered a hybrid work schedule.
“I want to keep growing in that area of the software engineering world,” he said as he launches a technology career in the airline industry he never dreamed he would have, and he’s doing it from right around the corner in Tempe.
It’s where he’ll be most days, hunkered over a keyboard and illuminated by the blue light of a computer screen, though paradise is just a flight away.
As the airlines seeks solutions for continued technology staffing shortages, Loy said, “Hawaiian Airlines and their leadership have been a great partner in providing opportunities as our students start a career in technology, and we hope to continue the relationship.”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.