Industry Terrain: Kevin Hope Part 1 - A Government Career Retrospective
In the first of three posts in our Industry Terrain series, Continental Mapping's Kevin Hope reflects on a 34+ year career, all in the US government, from entry level to senior leadership, and the changes in the geospatial industry over that time. Having worked at multiple government agencies in varying realms from defense and intelligence, cartography, digitization, and others, Hope provides a veteran perspective on the industry and shares his career journey, experiences, and standout accomplishments.
Starting a Career as GIS Technology Prospered
Kevin Hope: Over the course of 34+ years, my career certainly took some interesting twists and turns. I started my government career right after graduating from college in May 1986 with the US Census Bureau in Boston, Massachusetts. As a recent graduate in Geography/Cartography, I was hired to update road networks as a digitizer in preparation for the 1990 Census. After about 7 months, the Defense Mapping Agency (DMA) called and offered me an entry level position as a Cartographer in their Louisville, Kentucky field office. That really started my career proper.
After several years in Louisville performing manual cartography and terrain analysis, DMA came recruiting for individuals to move to their new Reston, Virginia office to begin work on the new 'Digital Production System' or DPS. This was before the era of ubiquitous GIS COTS (commercial off-the-shelf software), so the chance to work on what was then the cutting edge of digital cartography was an opportunity I could not pass up. So, I made the move and got in on the ground floor of the "digital revolution"!
This was before the era of ubiquitous GIS COTS (commercial off-the-shelf software), so the chance to work on what was then the cutting edge of digital cartography was an opportunity I could not pass up.
I worked for several years on the first digital systems for stereo data extraction and product finishing, helping to bring those systems into the production environment. Even then, we were working closely with our industry partners on automation, particularly automated feature extraction. I moved into an Operations Engineer position and took training in Machine Vision, Machine Learning and Neural Networks, and Advance Image Processing. I worked for several years developing the first Knowledge Based Systems for data extraction and population and computer vision tools. That early work was a forerunner to much of what has developed today in the area of Automated Feature Extraction.
Working in Various Federal Agencies
Never being one to sit still career wise, my journey then began to take on a series of interesting moves between federal agencies. In 1994, I left DMA to work at the US Geological Survey (USGS) within the Department of Interior. For the next 7 years, I worked on everything from digital data standards to dual use remote sensing programs, eventually becoming the Director of the USGS Advanced Systems Center (ASC). The ASC was the nexus of interface with the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community on dual use capabilities to support Federal Civil requirements.
After working for USGS, I was recruited to come back to the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community sector into what had evolved into the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA). NIMA was sponsoring a major systems development and acquisition program to revolutionize their entire IT and systems development baseline. I had the opportunity to work on requirements development with a focus on industry and National and International partnership development. These requirements ended up supporting what eventually became the largest single acquisition program in NIMA history at that time.
Eventually I found my way back to USGS and became the Chief Architect for the developing National Map program. The National Map is the country's premier public facing portal for accessing geospatial data and products. I acquired my professional certification in Enterprise Architecture and was responsible for overseeing change management and overall architecture development for the National Map program.
Advancing to a Senior Role at NGA
While engaged as the Chief Architect for the National Map program in 2012, my boss at the time entered my office with a fantastic opportunity. NGA had just advertised for a Senior Executive to become the first National GEOINT Authority (NGA) for Cartography. My boss strongly encouraged me to apply and put my name forward for entry into the Senior Executive Service. I applied for the position, was hired, and in early 2013, entered the senior ranks at NGA. Once in the executive role, I held positions as the NGA for Cartography, the first Chief Data Officer, the Director of the Foundation GEOINT Group within the Source Operations and Management Key Component, and lastly as the Deputy Director of Source until my retirement from federal service in 2020.
"... follow your passions, don't be afraid to step out into new areas of endeavor, challenge yourself to learn and try new things and new positions, and always remember where you started!"by Author
It has been a long and varied career arc from my first entry level positions, all the way to the Senior Executive Service. If my career trajectory holds any useful instruction to the next generation, I would say follow your passions, don't be afraid to step out into new areas of endeavor, challenge yourself to learn and try new things and new positions, and always remember where you started!
I certainly had some incredible experiences during my career, with many highlights and opportunities to work on some truly amazing programs with some great people.
While serving at the USGS Advanced Systems Center, I had the opportunity to be the Program Manager for an activity called the Hazard Support System (HSS). This capability was a massive undertaking in data fusion. We were fusing, in near real time, national assets with unclassified civil and commercial remote sensing assets and ancillary data to detect and report on emergent wildfires, pre-eruptive volcanic activity, and volcanic ash clouds. This program was truly cutting edge and broke major ground in multi-data fusion. I look back at this program as probably my favorite program to work on in my entire career.
The opportunity to participate in the development of the Digital Production System very early in my career at DMA was another major highlight. In the early 1990's there was no ubiquitous COTS GIS environment. DPS was a forerunner in the development of advanced digital cartographic systems. We were truly on the cutting edge in this area. The work undertaken by the Govt and our amazing private sector partners provided the push toward the commercial GIS capabilities that we take for granted today.
As an individual who started his career at DMA, the opportunity to lead the Foundation GEOINT Group at NGA as a member of the Senior Executive Service was another tremendous highlight. The position is essentially analogous to being the Director of what was DMA, with responsibility for the end-to-end production and dissemination of the foundation content so critical to serving the needs of the warfighter. Leading an organization of 1500+ professionals was a major responsibility, but one that I was particularly proud to have undertaken. It was the highlight of my time in the Senior Executive Service.
There are many other highlights that I could note, but those three stand out particularly to me as I think back over the span of my career.