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Matt Hayes
Matt Hayes poses with an intact Apollo-era F1 rocket engine at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. (Courtesy of Matt Hayes)

As a young boy growing up in rural Western New York, Matt Hayes had an interest in aviation and astronomy that had him flying airplanes by the time he was 16.

Life has not stopped moving since, he said, and years later Hayes still looks to the sky for inspiration as executive vice president of Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

Hayes, who is GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week, first came to Seattle in 1995 — he drove out in a 1965 Buick in time to witness the Mariners historic playoff run. Putting to use an accounting degree, he spent nine years with a big firm before becoming involved with non-profits as work and as a volunteer.

For almost 10 years he helped to restore the Museum of Flight’s Boeing B-17 from World War II.

“Spending Saturday after Saturday under their tutelage, I learned a lot about life (and bending sheet metal) from WWII veterans, former engineers, and Rosie the Riveters,” Hayes said. “I wouldn’t trade those days, those busted knuckles, and those conversations for anything.”

Hayes said the Seattle area and aviation has had a profound impact on him — one of the first things he did when he moved to the area was take a tour of Boeing’s Everett plant.

“Being a pilot of small aircraft and flying over some of the most devastatingly beautiful landscapes in the world is something that I craved on the day I flew over Washington and still crave today,” Hayes said.

At the museum, Hayes is now on the front lines of an exciting new period, especially when it comes to the prospect of space travel and the Seattle-area companies that are involved.

“One could argue that what is happening today with Blue Origin, SpaceX, Boeing, and so many others is commiserate with what happened years ago in Silicon Valley and the PC,” Hayes said. “The advances, the excitement, the potential, the innovation, the wild-eyed optimism that is becoming reality … it’s exciting to be witness to and it’s a turning point in mankind’s place in the world. And in a way, it’s the continuation of centuries of looking to the stars, so to speak. And that is my love … the history of aviation and the future of flight coming together.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Matt Hayes:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “As a lifelong fan of both aviation and history, I have the amazing and distinct privilege to work alongside hundreds of fellow employees and volunteers to operate the foremost educational air and space museum in the world. Whether it’s preserving and sharing the staggeringly incredible history of flight or providing high school and college credit to young people in desperately needed STEM fields, the Museum strives to always serve the community. For me, it’s an amazing convergence of personal interest, a sense of purpose, and the ability to meet and learn from inspiring and innovative people every day.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “First, people can come to the Museum any day to have a great time and learn something new. But in addition, at a place like ours, both adults and children can engage over the long term and this can have a tangible impact on their lives. For example, this can happen through their career choices or by being a more informed citizen making life decisions knowing how the world works and how history and science informs the future. Secondly, taking possession of something in a Museum means you are agreeing to care for it in perpetuity…forever and that’s mighty long time. It’s also an awesome, wonderful, and noble responsibility. Finally, geek culture couldn’t be stronger than in the aviation and space worlds. And they are — we are — as excited about the Wright Brothers as we are about nano-space satellites.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “People, people, people. Looking at the world as a whole can be tough to swallow at times. But take a look at the person sitting next to you or the person who just came through the door and more often than not, you can see all that is good and amazing and interesting. The people that work for, volunteer with, and visit the Museum are dedicated folks with fabulous ideas, passion, and stories.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “The wing. Without it, I would not have a hobby or a way to easily visit my family. Or a job.”

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “My work world is filled with some of the most amazing flying inventions – life sized and real – that humankind ever devised. My office is standard, except that the Blue Angels or Air Force One sometimes lands right outside my window. My space is way too messy and usually has people in it and music in the background. That is unless it’s between April and October and it’s after 4:05. Then the Red Sox are on the radio. And I was just gifted a real “panic” button from a World War II bomber that is conveniently within reach of my office chair. Just in case, of course.”

Matt Hayes
Matt Hayes works on the Boeing B-17 at the Museum of Flight. (Courtesy of Matt Hayes)

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “Remember that people are at the heart of it all, and they are individuals. Remember not to let the urgent get in the way of the important. Remember to learn and grow and change, but never to stop being yourself. Changing your core is not worth it, regardless of what ‘it’ is.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Windows.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “I don’t think any of them were truly pilots, so maybe I’ll go with Snoopy or Han Solo.”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “I work at a Museum … how could I not choose the time machine. Plus, we already have airplanes and they are types of transporters. And Wonder Woman’s invisible jet can act as my cloak anytime.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Find someone that was great at thinking about startups and tell them to do something good for the world. I’ve already got a job I love that keeps me more than busy.”

I once waited in line for … “an airshow in Hamilton, Ontario. Flying was as important to me as a kid as it is now. One of the aircraft that flew in that show sits in our Museum today.”

Your role models: “My parents, as they somehow (mostly through example) taught about why and how to be a good person. And volunteers of all stripes. To selflessly give back — by giving of yourself — and to have it be personally fulfilling at the same time, seems to me to be at the tip top of Maslow’s and maybe 10 other pyramids.”

Greatest game in history: “Game 7 of the 2004 American League Championship Series.”

Best gadget ever: “I’m not a smoker, but matches and lighters have to be high up there. Or on the flip side, the smoke detector.”

First computer: “In 6th grade with a friend, I made a keyboard from scratch for someone else’s TRS-80. I didn’t have a computer at the time, but man was that the greatest keyboard ever.”

Current phone: “Motorola something.”

Favorite app: “FlightAware. And Major League Baseball Audio.”

Favorite cause: “Senior Services of Seattle & King County (now Sound Generations).”

Most important technology of 2016: “The drone.”

Most important technology of 2018: “Reusable commercial space vehicles.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Simultaneously celebrating the geek wonder of today alongside the geek wonder of yesterday is something everyone should do. Together the sum is greater than the individual parts.”

Website: Museum of Flight

Twitter: @museumofflight

LinkedIn: Matt Hayes

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