January brought an exciting change here at Skyward with the addition of our new Vice President of Engineering, John Gasper. He’s well-known throughout Portland and the wider technology community as a mentor of high-performing teams and a committed tech evangelist—both of which make him a natural fit at Skyward.

Over the course of two decades in software, John has led teams at an impressive array of companies including PeopleSoft, Intuit, and Serena Software, to name a few.

Things move fast at Skyward, and John has hit the ground running.

1. What excites you about Skyward?

It would be easy just to say “drones!” and stop there. In reality, though, what excites me about Skyward is the fact that we aren’t disrupting an existing space—instead, we’re shaping something new.

If you believe the analysts, the drone industry is expected to generate some $80 billion in economic activity in the next ten years. This is an amazing number, yet the full picture of what this means isn’t clear yet. Skyward is already a thought leader in this space, and being part of that is an amazingly exciting opportunity. Couple that with the people who make up this company—they are wildly smart, passionate, hard-working, and fun. It’s a winning combination.

2. What do you wish everybody already knew about commercial drone applications?

I want people to know that there is already a commercial drone industry! As I’ve told my friends and family about Skyward, they’ve all assumed that I was talking about people who fly drones as a hobby. They have been amazed when I tell them about the commercial use cases already in play: agriculture, construction, entertainment, surveying, industrial inspections.

When I explain that drones are aircraft, not “toys,” they start to see the amazing opportunity. This isn’t something in the far, far future—it’s happening right now.

3. As of today, what is your favorite Skyward feature?

Right now, my favorite feature is our drone airspace map. I love the way X [our CTO] and his team have been able to simplify extremely complex aeronautical charts in a way that’s highly applicable to drones. It’s easy to understand, but it’s not dumbed down at all.

The level of attention and thought they put into it is amazing, and it’s necessary: The map is helping to keep the air safe for all of us by showing pros and hobbyists where it’s safe to fly and where they absolutely shouldn’t fly.

4. What are your goals for the Skyward engineering team in the first half of 2016?

I feel fortunate because so much great progress was made before I started, so I plan to build on those accomplishments. There are a lot of smart, smart people at Skyward, and I’d like to put our scientists and engineers front and center so the public knows the innovative, incredibly complex work they’re doing to ensure that people can operate drones safely.

I’d also like us to focus on what it takes for our customers to run successful businesses. How can we best serve companies that have commercial drone ops now? As technologists, we need to bring our creativity to the table to help them succeed. The technology is evolving almost as fast as their business needs, so we need to constantly be thinking about the best ways to support them.

5. How does Skyward fit into Portland’s tech industry?

As a technologist here in Portland, I know that this is a special place. The Portland tech scene is very active with a lot of exciting things going on. It’s a lot smaller than the Bay Area, but the quality of tech talent is every bit as high. We also have a culture of helping each other with great networking and meetup groups.

This is one of a few reasons more and more Bay Area companies are setting up shop here, and it’s why Portland is now recognized as a Technology City alongside Silicon Valley, Boston, Stockholm, and others. I give credit to Skip Newberry, President of the Technology Association of Oregon, for helping to get the word out.

As a company Skyward is a great example of Portland Tech, and Skyward has a demonstrated commitment to Portland: We’re based in Old Town in an historic building; we invest in local talent rather than going offshore; and we engage with the community through open houses and meetups.

I’d like Skyward to be a glowing example of what a great Portland technology company looks like.