Profile of a Citizen Developer: John Leuver of Southwest Airlines
His first dream was to make a career out of music. Growing up in Schaumburg, Illinois, John Leuver learned to play piano at an early age, and eventually picked up the drums and guitar.
“All the easy instruments, I call them. I can’t really play the trumpet or violin because they require special skills,” he says.
But people can accomplish a lot without special skills, as Leuver would find out. While finishing his degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, Florida, Leuver would secure internships at Boeing and Southwest Airlines — the latter of which afforded him the opportunity to solve a thorny business challenge and streamline a key process for Southwest. Despite his lack of a coding background, Leuver was the primary driver behind a software solution that changed the way the company manages its maintenance staffing process.
Leuver was assigned to a team that manages all maintenance employee records at Southwest. This team is responsible for tracking the locations of each mechanic as they bid on and are assigned to a particular station. The team had been using Microsoft Word tables to track this process, a system that was inefficient and not able to support the reporting the group’s leadership team wanted.
The first step was to transfer all the data into Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, but it wasn’t long before Leuver saw an opportunity to do more.
“We were already managing some checklists in Quickbase, and I thought it would be a good platform to store all of these records and report on them,” he says.
And that’s what he did. After uploading data from the spreadsheets into Quickbase and creating a few quick reports, Leuver had the beginnings of a system that was much simpler to maintain and offered much more flexibility than spreadsheets could offer. Now the team had a way to not only track which stations were in need of new mechanics, but could offer a broader view of how many positions were open at any given time — giving leadership at the organization better insight into how many new mechanics it would need to hire in the near term.
Soon Leuver’s work got noticed. The summer intern’s Quickbase application was shared up the ranks, through multiple regional directors and all the way to the Vice President of Maintenance Operations. Soon Leuver’s Quickbase app would be approved system-wide as the standard way to manage this type of process.
“That was a thrilling chain of events for a summer intern,” he says.
Southwest brought Leuver back after he completed his degree, and he has continued to grow into his own as a citizen developer. His most recent project is to create a labor forecast tool that aggregates data from the maintenance employee records app plus data from Southwest’s planning department in order to project labor requirements based on long-term fleet plans and identify likely labor surpluses and deficits. That application will be built on Quickbase and integrated with Tableau, a popular business intelligence tool.
Not bad for someone with no programming or technical background — Leuver was a Business Administration major at Embry-Riddle.
“In the beginning it was just a neat thing I got to do,” he says. “But in terms of career development, these projects have made meeting with vice presidents and senior directors at Southwest part of my routine. The knowledge I’ve gained has been really valuable.”