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Tech Turning Point With Matt Cooper

Building geospatial and information management solutions to analyze big data and make important decisions

Matt Cooper discovered his love of computers and data solutions very naturally.

Studying wildlife biology at Colorado State University (B.S., 2001), Matt took a class on integrated resource management. His interests immediately veered down a technology path, and he has not gone back. He describes the spark that the geographic information system platform provided, which led to another interest in software development.

Along with his colleagues, he takes relevant knowledge of environmental sciences, architecture, engineering and construction, pairs that know-how with information systems, and develops the most powerful solutions for clients.

Catch a glimpse of Matt’s work with this question and answer session.

Tech Turning Point

Q&A 

Q: Before we begin, what is a geospatial solution?

A: Technically, a geospatial solution is a piece of information that has a map or location component to it. We do a lot of great mapping work. More often than not, there is some sort of a spatial aspect to the solutions our team develops.

But, the work doesn’t have to be spatial. We quite frequently provide solutions that have no map or physical location. The technology, tools and skills we use for geospatial solutions are really just the foundation of software development. So, just about everything pertaining to software, databases, and mobile and cloud technology is in our wheelhouse.

Q: How did you get into geospatial and information management solutions?

A: I got into software development via GIS. It started with a college class in integrated resource management. We were assigned a team with six people, and we were responsible for writing a management plan for a state park in Colorado. I was the wildlife biologist on that team, and I worked with the GIS specialist to identify elk calving areas and habitat; and that really sparked my interest in GIS at that point. I thought that’s really relevant and really cool. 

I went back to school several years later and focused on GIS. That quickly evolved into software development and customizing GIS. I started dabbling in that. And, slowly, my interests transitioned into mobile applications and customization. Those interests just kept going, and I never really went back to biology; although I occasionally go out in the field, kick around and collect data.

The new opportunities in technology were really interesting and fun. I wasn’t just using the out-of-the-box tools — I got to apply very specific requirements to the software and make things happen. 

Any suite of software is not going to get you 100 percent to the answer. There’s always that little bit more that could be better. And that’s where it’s exciting that we can actually take an idea to the next level and customize it for specific clients and their specific needs. 

Q: Why does a company like HDR need software developers?

A: Obviously, software and technology are becoming more and more prevalent, and they evolve and grow in new ways all the time — every week it seems like.

That’s why software developers end up being directly relevant to HDR’s core services — the traditional architecture and engineering disciplines. A lot of times, projects aren’t just design and build anymore. They’re about planning and managing buildings and infrastructure after the fact. And we ask clients, ‘How do you collect data to help you make design and operation decisions?’ At HDR, we offer clients new and better ways to manage their data, infrastructure and workforce. 

Mobile data collection is huge and very important. So, we use technologies like drones and sensors, and we analyze the data across a client’s whole spectrum of information. We know that clients don’t want 15 different information management solutions, they want one. We’re here to integrate solutions too.

Q: What early accomplishment stands out in your career?

A: I started out with HDR in Alaska. It was always pretty clear that our team had something quite unique. We were told, ‘There are not many other firms that do this.’ 

I think that came down to a combination of things — it wasn’t necessarily one accomplishment, but I think it was this mix of having forward-thinking project managers and people who were looking at new ways to do their jobs. And then we had a combination of technologists — developers who were eager to promote these solutions and had the skills to develop. But then we also had access to great Esri software. We had our Esri enterprise license agreement, which gave us the ability to easily spin-up this newer, server-based software that changed the way web mapping worked and the way that we collected data in the field. And then we had the support of our information technology department that provided this infrastructure so we could easily have a web server. 

All of these components combined in a way that was unique for a traditional architecture/engineering practice. To this day, we have an innovative setup in our industry.

Q: What is the top challenge you see clients facing?

A: The biggest client challenge is information management. It’s easy to get overloaded with all of the data that clients are able to get from technology like real-time sensors. What do they do with all this information?

And, there are a lot of things moving to the cloud. Everything’s more accessible and open on the web now. That leads to security challenges for clients. We hear more and more of that in the news every day — a breach here or there. Passwords exposed. Security will definitely be an issue for clients.

Q: What is the most popular solution you have developed?

A: We developed an entire infrastructure for the Municipality of Anchorage. It includes web applications and web maps, and it also includes the foundational infrastructure — servers, network and firewall. That infrastructure, right now, is serving about 5 million requests per month with 5,000-plus users, so that’s a fairly popular solution we developed.

Anchorage knew that we had tech capabilities; they came to us, and we offered them consulting — ultimately building this cloud environment for them.

Q: What sets our team apart?

A: We have a deep bench of technologists with a wide variety of backgrounds and experience. I always like to say we’re not just an IT or software development company. We have developers who have wildlife biology or other environmental science backgrounds, or even civil engineering backgrounds — and that gives us that leg up with real-world relevancy.

We’re not just approaching solutions from an IT perspective. We’ve worked out in the field and collected data, and we understand the challenges. We get it better than other IT professionals. 

We sit in the same office with our planners, engineers, architects, constructors and scientists, and we develop solutions with them.

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