Here is a little something I wrote regarding air traffic control and trading some time back. This was made in the larger context of Dr. Steenbarger’s study on Implicit Learning as applied to trading performance; the meeting point being a purposed ‘change in tempo’ (ie. an intended screen blank-out of air control elements), leading to a ‘mini-crisis’ demanding an immediate resolution from the air traffic controller. [Dr. Steenbarger’s study and references may be relevant to your thoughts above]

I have no special insight into being an ATC, and look forward to hearing the experience of others with practical knowledge in the field.

“Don said…

The moving dots test sounds a lot like part of the multi-layered testing and interview process used in air-traffic-controller recruitment: watching dots move across the screen, a sudden blank-out, then tasked to place the current dot position after an unexpected time interval; given a set of rules (eg. aircraft velocity, wind speed, altitude, angle of approach etc), to sort different scenarios and to sequence aircraft landing accurately; and others.

I learned later that ATC testing were carried out to measure important skills like time pressure reactions, attention diversion, time monitoring & estimation, pattern recognition, coordination/prioritization abilities.

While I eventually did not take up the ATC job (confession: I applied in a lark, having always been intrigued after watching the amazing Billy Bob and John Cusack in Pushing Tin), it was a revelation in a later interview for a trading position. The similarities in the skill- and mind-sets required as an ATC or as a trader was personally insightful.

While I may have missed out on pushing tons of tin across the skies as an air-traffic jockey, I’m still watching colorful blips and lines on multiple screens. And the biggest upside is that the worst that can happen is I lose money for my firm and/or for myself. Almost no lives are on the line when I do make trading mistakes.

And well, the money is better.” 

I have always been fascinated by this subject, having spent many enjoyable days and nights (even now as an adult) watching and mapping the landing/takeoff corridors used by the local airport; as well as timing and counting the interval cadence of the successive planes.

On some busy nights, you can see the rush of approaching planes from various directions: from the western hemisphere, east from across the Pacific, north from Asia, from Down Under – all gracefully playing under the baton of the ATC and eventually melding from their diverse orthogonal vectors of directions, velocities, altitudes into a beautiful straight downward line approaching the airport (sometimes stretching as many as five planes into the horizon).

It is a delight to watch such technical artistry at work, painted against the ever-changing canvas of the skies and a privilege to be able to get into the head of the ATC-artist, if only for a moment.





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