Where can you meet a COGS GIS Grad? Anywhere in the world
What can you do with a background in Geospatial? Oh, the Places You Will Go!
A background in geospatial assuredly can lead you to a satisfying career and the bonus of living in a dream location with limitless travel opportunities and personal leisure fulfilment.
Safe Software is a 20 plus year old company based in Surrey, B.C., boasting 50+ worldwide partners and over 100 employees. You can learn more about Safe and its applications here: www.safe.com
I recently had the opportunity to have coffee canal-side with Ken in Annecy, France. Annecy is indescribably beautiful.
Wikipedia snapshots it as:
“Annecy is the largest city of Haute-Savoie department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in southeastern France. It lies on the northern tip of Lake Annecy, 35 kilometers south of Geneva.”
Location. The possibilities tumble through your mind. Geneva. Lyon. Grenoble . Switzerland. Italy. Access. The whole of Europe and the world is at your fingertips. A sport-lover’s dream. Skiing. Boating. Hiking. Cycling. Epicurean delights. Food. Wine. Chocolate. Cheese. Ken is in a great position. His Twitter profile picture says it all. @KenAtSafe Looks like a happy geospatial professional and I can assure you he is.
How did Ken get there?
Before Safe Software and Europe, Ken attended the Centre of Geographic Sciences in Nova Scotia. Here are Ken’s recollections:
“I ended up at COGS (Centre of Geographic Sciences in Nova Scotia) due to an unfortunate accident which ended having a very positive outcome for me. In the 1990’s I was mostly working on and off at various temporary outdoor jobs. Among other things, I worked as a sea kayak guide, a tree planter and a forestry surveyor and lived mainly on Vancouver Island. In November of 1994, just few days after my 30th birthday I slipped off a snowy cliff while surveying on steep mountain hillside near Gold River. After a rather complicated helicopter rescue, it turned out I had broken my back and my right foot. During my recovery the doctor mentioned a few times that physical outdoor work was not going to be an option for me going forward and I’d have to retrain. At the time I was only dimly aware of what GIS meant but COGS had a cartography program and having always loved maps, I enrolled. I almost failed out in the first few weeks since back then the program still began with a manual mapping component which included scribing with pen and ink! But once we started into the more digital side of cartography and of course with GIS I did really well.
Toward the end of our graduating year at COGS it was amazing to see that virtually everyone had job offers if they wanted them. ESRI Redlands alone seemed willing to hire almost the entire graduating class of the GIS program and quite a few of my classmates from Cartography. I wanted to go back to BC, and so I held out for a job with a Geotechnical Engineering firm in Vancouver called BGC Engineering. After about a year there, together with a partner we spun off our own GIS consulting company called GroundControl GeoTechnologies and we eventually grew in size to about 6 people. Having our own company was a fantastic learning experience on so many levels. We did our own sales, business development, proposals, and of course, there was the work and the crazy deadlines! After about 5 years of having our own company, BGC Engineering made an offer to buy our company back again and I took the opportunity to make another move.
It was the product FME that attracted me to Safe Software in Surrey, BC and even after 14 years at Safe I still love the feeling of opening FME Workbench and building a workspace. FME is a software tool for transforming and translating spatial data. Our user community is full of fun people from the GIS world and increasingly anyone who needs to wrangle any type of data into its most useful form to use and share.
The first few years at Safe I worked mainly in support, consulting and training but I got heavily involved in the birth of a new product called FME Server and eventually became its Product Manager. I like to say that a Product Manager has all of the responsibility for a product while having no actual authority over what anyone does. In fact, I loved the Product Manager role. I really enjoyed the process of trying to build a consensus around where the product should go by working with our development teams, our owners, our partners and our users.
In 2010, after a couple of bike trips to Europe, my wife and I started thinking about moving here. The image of the “European lifestyle” was really attractive to both of us. Having given up our car a few years before, we were particularly drawn to the bike and pedestrian friendliness of European cities. I was already working a lot with our European partners at this time and I pitched the idea to my employer, Safe Software, as partner capacity building role. The night we got the approval from Safe to make the move to France we celebrated by going out for a French dinner in Vancouver and then to a totally bizarre film from Quebec at the Pacific Cinémathèque.
Of course now we had a classic GIS problem. Where to move to in France based on various geographic criteria? I needed to be near a major airport for work and having been in Vancouver so long, we both wanted to be near the mountains and some kind of water. We remembered watching the Tour de France on TV in 2009 when it passed through Annecy so we watched a rerun. On TV at least with the beautiful aerial shots of the lake and surrounding mountains, Annecy seemed to fit the bill perfectly!
The seven years we’ve spent in France have gone by in flash and I feel so lucky to be here. My job with Safe takes me to partner events and conferences featuring FME all over Europe, and most of what I do involves talking about this amazing software which I still totally have a passion for. At times I definitely feel a bit isolated and miss the closeness of my colleagues and other friends and family in Vancouver. But I have made so many lasting friendships among our partner community in Europe and here in Annecy that I never feel lonely.
Sometimes people ask me about the different work or business cultures in different European countries and it can be tempting to start trying to generalize different countries. But above all I’ve found that the “Geo” community, wherever you go is full of wonderful open people who love their work.”
And I’d like to add to Ken’s sentiments that some from the “Geo” community even drop by to have coffee canal-side in the Annecy October sunshine.