Gamers and "Nerds" Proudly Support RAFB Software Squadron

"No nerds. No birds."

That's the unofficial slogan for a computer software group at Robins.

They maintain the systems that support planes and programs through the Department of Defense.

The phrase may sound unflattering, but to the 402nd Software Maintenance Group, it's undoubtedly true.

Without the brains to power the technology that fly aircraft, those planes would never get off the ground, much less fight wars.

13WMAZ went Behind the Lines, where the so-called "nerds", are not only smart, but fun, even hip, and young, too.

Electrical engineer Richard Dixon said, "I had no idea this is what I'd be doing out of college."

Dixon thought one day he'd have to grow-up, and leave childhood addictions behind. He said, "I started on Mario, all the way back in the day."

He gripped joysticks and poundedgame pads, the way other boys grasped footballs.

Laughing he said, "I was the nerdy kid."

The jocks hung-up their cleats years ago, but Dixon's still holding on, and getting paid for what he considers almost play.

He said, "It's all downhill from here. I have to the coolest job here."

As a member of the 402nd Software Maintenance Group, he tests the programs that tell C-130 planes where to fly and how to shoot.

In the lab, he pushes software to its breaking point. He said, "If we make it break, we're happy."

Once he works out the bugs that make it crash, Dixon makes sure the software flies.

He climbs aboard C-130 test flights and orders pilots through his drills. Dixon said, "I've told majors and lieutenant colonels what to do."

That's a lot of authority for a 30-year-old gamer, but he's in good company.

20 out of 25 people working on a C-5 simulator came to the group out of engineering school.

David Ogden said, "I didn't ever expect this would be my office."

Ogden and his crew members clock flight hours, in what looks like an arcade game. It's actually a real C-5 cockpit, that crashed at Dover Air Force Base in 2006.

It now rests at Robins as a three story simulator. It allows engineers to troubleshoot problems pilots encounter in mid-air without leaving the ground.

Hardware engineer Allison Villa said, "It's actually very exciting, and I wish more females, would you know, become engineers."

Villa dreamed of being an artist. In a way she is in her current career, designing hardware in a laboratory landscape.

She said, "When something works, we're always like 'Eureka!' We celebrate."

The pay-off is big, and the paycheck's likely larger, than if she'd gone the other career route. Plus, the field's wide open, and likely looking to create jobs for generations of geek and gamers to come.

The 402nd Software Maintenance Group is split up into five squadrons and employs more than 1,100 people. 85-percent of them computer scientists or engineers.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math related fields employed 7.4 million workers last year. That number is expected to grow to more than 8.5 million in five years.


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