HxGN RadioPodcast

Location Intelligence: How to jump start your geospatial journey

In this episode, we talk to Mike Lane, Global Education Manager of Hexagon’s Geospatial division, and Elliott Ferguson, Vice President of Geospatial at Hexagon US Federal, about how they got their start in the geospatial industry and their perspective on Hexagon’s role in the geospatial professional community and its relationship with academic programmes.

ML: Hi, and thank you for tuning in to Location intelligence on HXGN Radio. I’m your host, Matt Langan. Whether you’re a newly minted graduate making a career transition into civilian life or exploring other career interests and paths, how do you make the successful leap into the geospatial world? In this episode, I’m talking to Mike Lane, global education manager of Hexagon’s Geospatial Division, and Elliot Ferguson, vice president of geospatial at Hexagon US Federal about how they got their start in the geospatial industry and their perspective on Hexagon’s role in the geospatial professional community and its relationship with academic programmes. We will also discuss future podcast episode topics, including career advice, networking tips, Hexagon’s partnership with academia, and much more. And Mike and Elliott, welcome to the show and thank you for joining us.

EF: Yeah, thanks for having me.

ML: Yeah, thank you.

ML: Sure thing. It’s great to have you both. And Mike, let’s kick it off with you. I know you’ve been with Hexagon for almost 20 years, and if you don’t mind, tell us about your role at Hexagon’s Geospatial Division. And then tell us about how you got into the geospatial world and your journey over the years.

ML: Yeah. Yes, I have been with Hexagon for a very long time. I have two different roles actually, global education manager and global inside sales manager. For education, I really try and get our software into the hands of academics, researchers, anyone who wants to use Hexagon technology to better our industry, right, the geospatial world. I do that by providing cost-effective bundles of our products that make sense, put together grants, partnerships with other nonprofit organisations and look for strategic partnerships that way. Yeah, it’s one of my favourite things to do at Hexagon is to go and talk to students. I think it’s very exciting and they always have such great ideas. Yeah, it’s definitely one of my favourite roles that I’ve had so far at the company. I’ve done various things with the company over the course of that time. I started off in the engineering department and was doing some testing, acceptance testing and QA, really learning how to use the software. Then I decided that I wasn’t really kept … I didn’t want to stay in a lab. I wanted to understand what people were doing with the software. I’m much more social. I started moving into customer education for the next several years. That’s when I got the travel bug and really enjoyed travelling around and teaching ERDAS IMAGINE and some of our other products. And once I started travelling, I decided that I wanted to move overseas with the company and continue my career elsewhere. I moved to Europe and worked out of our Belgium office for about three and a half years where I was doing more of a train the trainer with our partners in Europe, and Africa and the middle East were all well equipped with knowing our technology and being able to do their own presales and support. After that, I decided that it was a bit rainy in Belgium. I wanted to move onward somewhere where it was a bit sunnier. I moved to Australia and I headed up a small technical team for the geospatial division there, presale support and training. And I looked after that team there in Australia and then just about four and a half years ago, I moved back to the US where I have done some technical presales as well as now meeting the education programme and the global inside sales team. Done quite a few things for the company and all of them very interesting. It’s been a great journey and path. The way that I got into geospatial was actually through my advisor at school. I went to Northwest Missouri State University and my professor and my advisor took the time to go over what you could actually do with a GIS geography degree. And he took two classes and went through all of the different careers and different things that you could do in this industry, as well as their starting salary. And I was hooked after that with all of the potential and everything that you could do in geospatial. And that’s really where I got into geography and started my career in geospatial.

ML: That’s great. What a journey too. It sounds like obviously you really enjoy your job, number one, but also two, it was a fun international journey too, which is really exciting. That’s a reality that is true in this arena. Geospatial solutions are used all around the world. That’s really awesome. Thanks for sharing your insights there. And Elliot, let’s switch over to you. I know you’ve been in various leadership roles in the geospatial space for more than a decade. Tell us about your role at Hexagon US Federal, and then tell us more about your journey as well.

EF: Yeah, sure. Thanks, Matt. Well, my role here at Hexagon US Federal is the Vice President of the Geospatial Solutions group at Hexagon US Federal. Hexagon US Federal is a separate entity of Hexagon Corporate, and we actually focus on the US government market and bringing best of breed solutions to that particular market. I’ve been with Hexagon now about a year and a half. I came over from a prior endeavour and really enjoying the diversity of products and things that we can bring to the space. It’s been really, really interesting being at Hexagon and could see myself here for a very, very long time, as there seems to be an infinite number of challenges and customers that we can meet in this space. It’s been really good. Prior to all of that and sort of how I got started, similar to Mike, I got interested in GIS back in college. A lot of my studies were around environmental policy and just really thinking about how dollars and cents in policy specifically impact people’s behaviours. And a lot of my studies early on were in conservation management and analytics and things like that. Got really into GIS as part of my core element of my study, but I was not a geography major, like most folks are that actually come out of GIS these days. There’s a lot of different pathways as you can get involved with GIS and geospatial generally. Then when we got going right out of school, I actually got involved in the defence in Intel space. I moved down to Alabama and started doing some work down they’re primarily in cartography and data production and sort of found my niche in all of this pretty quickly. The one thing that I focused on throughout my whole career, and I think that ties it all together, is looking for business value for the particular entity that I’m working for and the customer, the end customer consuming the products. GIS and geospatial generally are ripe for automation and innovation and tying data sets together that are sort of nontraditional. And that’s always been a big passion of mine and a big interest. Got started there, helped with some automation in Alabama, down in the Birmingham area, moved to St. Louis to continue that, jumped to a new company, and continued to work in sort of the engineering side, the analytics side. I quickly got involved with their research and development side of the house doing IRAD and developing new products that could be fit for other markets outside the US Federal space and really, really enjoyed it that, and kind of got stuck, hook, line and sinker into automating cartography and understanding the art and science of cartographic processing. I jumped to another company that we had been working with, a small business, and hit right place, right time. And as I moved over into that space to facilitate a role as their CTO, their CEO left, and I took up the operations of the business as well as the engineering focus and vision. Stayed there for about three or four years and developed a large business. When I started there, we had about eight folks in total and when I left, we had about 40, 50 actually, 50 employees. I was really proud of the work that we’re able to do there. And they’re still a strong business and moving forward. But I wanted to get my hooks in further into the software development side and understanding more about the engineering system. I went to another company that specialised in open source software. Spent about two years there, running all of their professional services and outbound services to their customers. I included things very similarly to Mike, presales engineering, support overall, some of the education programmes there, as well as providing professional services to a diverse client base, commercial and governmental. And that led me to Hexagon. Overall, I would say the common thread, like I said, is looking for innovation and driving automation and systems in geo and turning out better business outcomes. And I think that’s a key point that I want to put across is that geospatial is not just a niche environment. It actually applies to all companies and all businesses across the entire industry landscape. Everyone is going to deal with location data at some point or the other, and that location data can be utilised to optimise your business processes. It’s a really cool industry, a really interesting thing to be involved in. I think over time, you’ll see that most companies will start to pick up geospatial expertise and integrate that into their core systems and processes.

ML: That’s great. Awesome insights there. And one thing I’m picking up from both of you, and I’ve seen this because I worked in the industry for a long time as well, is that everybody, the community, is very passionate and engaged and it’s an exciting field to be in for sure. Elliott, from your perspective, along these lines, what is Hexagon’s role in the geospatial professional community overall?

EF: Sure, yeah. I think we have a lot to offer and I think that just comes from the diversity of products and services that Hexagon provides, some specific to geospatial. If you look outside of the geospatial division, there’s in every part of Hexagon, it’s really focused on location and place. I think that’s the common thread across Hexagon and automating those things. I think Hexagon’s footprint overall is to present to the market space that location isn’t just a geospatial element, like I talked about before. I think Hexagon does a really good job in that. And then also providing platforms where folks can leverage their technologies, their new advancements and capabilities on top of our core platform to leverage business insights and business value as they present that to their customers and markets.

ML: Outstanding. And Mike, from your perspective, obviously you work with a lot of university professors, research departments and students, which I’m sure, as you mentioned, is a lot of fun and really exciting. And with this role, what’s your take on Hexagon’s overall role in the academic community?

ML: Yeah, I think that Hexagon, we have so many universities and researchers that are using the technology and we partner with some of them and partner with some of the academic organisations. Hexagon is very well respected in the academic community and seen as one of the technology leaders in this space. Whether it’s a student doing some research and building upon APIs, or even just simply using it in introductory courses for remote sensing or GIS, there is a place for Hexagon technology across all academia, whether that is even we’re working with younger and younger students these days, even middle school, high school age students, all the way through university and very advanced research. Yeah, Hexagon is a leader in the academic space and is seen as such in the community.

ML: Outstanding. And let’s dive in a little bit deeper into the kinds of university and academic programmes that Hexagon’s offers are a part of. You mentioned API, some remote sensing intro-like courses, let’s go a little bit deeper on some of these programmes.

ML: Yeah, anything that Hexagon has to offer, any of our solutions, can also be found within the education programme. Whether you’re working such as a GIS, remote sensing or photogrammetry, we have a desktop programme for students and for classrooms. We also have pricing and models for the M.App Portfolio. If students and professors are interested in building or customising their own geospatial applications, we also have solutions there. Our Luciad portfolio also had an education programme. For those that are developing and would like to build their own solutions from scratch, that is also an option. Anything that Hexagon Geospatial has to offer, you can find it as well in our education programmes and available to students to be able to use and really make improvements to our geospatial industry.

ML: Outstanding. Great. And I know we’re going to be doing more podcasts along the lines of careers and educations here in this series. Looking to the future for these future podcasts, what do you all plan on covering? And we’ll go with Mike first on that one.

ML: What I think we’re going to do on some of the next podcasts is really have a look at giving some advice to students who are wanting to make that leap into the geospatial world. Maybe, and as well, what we’re looking for when we’re interviewing potential candidates to work for Hexagon. I think it’s always great to share those things so students that are looking for their first job can really know what to expect and really give some advice to those that are seeking careers in our industry.

ML: Great. Elliot, anything to add to that one?

EF: Yeah, I think some of the other parts are just as you get into the industry and you’re developing your role inside of your particular field, learning how to leverage a network and the classic things that you hear, but may not have the tactical details to understand. Leveraging a network, figuring out where good partnerships lie and using those things to advance you further into your field.

ML: That’s great. And we’re going to dive a little bit deeper on one of those topics there, which is really just the advice that you have for someone who’s new to the geospatial industry or considering a career in the industry. And I know we’re going to dive in deeper in a future podcast, but would love your quick take on that, Elliot.

EF: Yeah, sure. It’s a, like I said before, it’s a very broad and diverse field and I think it’s ever growing and ever changing. Specifically, I guess the best piece of advice that I could provide is if it’s something that you feel passionately about, pursue it and location data is going to continue to enhance other businesses and customers’ overall value and outcome. And so, there’s a place for you in almost every business, regardless of if that’s healthcare or utilities or defence or anywhere that’s keeping metrics and looking for optimisation, GIS is it can be a core component of that. The only other thing I would mention is because of the diversity of where you could get yourself aligned, there’s a lot of value in actually an underlying computer science degree or something to enhance your understanding of how these systems could be integrated and tied together, because that can be one of the most challenging components is gluing up what geospatial is with all of the other business needs that exist out in the market space. That could be a really good endeavour for folks that are interested to get started is some background in computer science.

ML: Great. Great. And Mike, I’m going to throw the same question to you. Any advice for someone who’s new to the industry or considering a career journey in the industry?

ML: Yeah. Well, I completely agree with Elliot, the opportunities and the variation of what you can do with location data and how you can become a part of the industry is really, really, it’s endless potential. Whether you like to do something more technical, whether it’s marketing related, whatever it is, just find something that you love and are passionate about and then become involved, right? Go to meetups, GIS meetups, there are plenty all over. You can find them online, you can join organisations. You don’t have to do the ones that have expensive dues, but definitely get involved and talk to people and go to the meetups to really further your career and get to know the people in the industry. Everyone’s great. And yeah, that’s what I would say is find something you love and get involved in the community.

ML: Excellent parting words there from both you. And I would like to say a big thank you to Mike Lane and Elliot Ferguson. We look forward to continuing the discussion on geospatial careers in academia in future episodes. And thank you for tuning in to Location Intelligence on HXGN Radio. For more great stories and podcasts, visit hxgnspotlight.com.