Women in GIS: Claudine Bianchi, Vice President of Marketing, MetaCarta

June 22, 2007

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Claudine Bianchi, Vice President of Marketing, MetaCarta

Ed. note: Our occasional series on "women in GIS" is making a come-back. If you fall into that category and would like to participate, please contact us!

I am Claudine Bianchi, the vice president of Marketing at MetaCarta. Founded in 2001, MetaCarta is the leader in geographic search and referencing technology. Using very sophisticated natural language processing, we combine traditional key word search (like Google) with geographic search and display the results on a map.

When Jane Elliott from Directions approached me and told me she'd like to add my profile to the series on women in geospatial, I frankly didn’t think I’d be a good fit. Maybe she should be profiling someone who was building the technology or teaching and writing about things geospatial. And, I’m sure she is. So, why should my story matter? Well, it matters because I have absolutely no background in geospatial - in fact, the last time I formally took a geography class, I was 12 - but I love this industry and am passionate about maps and I’m in a position to help put geospatial "on the map”!

I graduated from Dartmouth College in 1986 with a degree in English. I had been pre-med throughout college, but I was simply not destined to go into medicine (the failing grade in organic chemistry sort of clued me in ;-). Like a lot of liberal arts students and recent college grads, I really didn’t know what to do with my career, where to live, or how I was going to pay back my student loans. I moved to Boston because I had a sister here, but it was the mid-80s and there was a lack of job opportunities - especially for English majors. My sister worked in high tech, and I really wanted to join her at Wang. So, I taught myself some programming, but didn’t get a job at Wang even though I went on 50 some odd informational interviews. I had the perseverance, just not the skills.

I ended up as a tech support/junior person/gopher at a software startup. When they realized I could write, I was made documentation specialist, and when they realized I could write AND sell, they put me in marketing. And that’s where I’ve been ever since. My career has been mostly in start ups, always in marketing, and will forever be in high tech - it’s a great industry.

Early in my career, I did product marketing or marketing communications - first for a forms software company (this was the DOS world, so actually seeing a line or box on screen was a big deal), then for a Windows-based forms software company (yes, I remember the launch of Windows - now I’m dating myself). Then, it was off to a database report writing company (does anyone remember R&R Report Writer? - I think it is still around), and to throw everyone off, to ViewLogic Systems, which did electronic design automation software (EDA) - very techie.

Always, I was taking the very complex and communicating it in lay terms. I made the technology "people-friendly." I then joined Forrester Research and my career really started to take shape.

At Forrester, I was director of marketing. Forrester at the time, 1995, was still quite small, maybe 50 people. But, it was an exciting time - the beginning of the Internet and Forrester was right there in the middle of it - "helping businesses thrive on technology change" - they still use that tagline ;-). I got to meet all sorts of people in my role, was introduced to all sorts of technologies, and finally understood what marketing was all about.

By 2000, Forrester had grown to 600 people or so, and I was ready to spread my wings; I joined the dotcom boom. In the beginning of 2000, I took a position as vice president of marketing at a B2B site which had 20 employees and a solution to a non-existent problem.

By the end of 2000, I had joined eCopy, which also had 20 or so employees but had a solution to a genuine problem - making paper documents part of the electronic workflow. The company grew to about 250 employees, and by the end of 2004, I decided I wanted to be back in startup mode. But this time, I wanted to follow a technology area that I had always found fascinating - one that I was passionate about, but one that I also knew was about to burst (hey, after working at a technology research firm for four-plus years, you learn what’s going to be the next big thing). That was mapping technology.

The day I accepted the job at MetaCarta, Google had purchased Keyhole. A search company buying a mapping company! At MetaCarta, I felt I was at the right place at the right time.

So, once again I am smack in the middle of a new technology juncture - first, Windows; then, the Internet; and now, search. But more than just search - map-based search.

The era of the map has begun - and what a journey it is going to be -- as map-based technologies come out from back offices and educational institutions and become part of our everyday lives - from the way we drive to work, find a good restaurant, hear about the news in our neighborhoods - to how we analyze our businesses, build our strategies, and figure out where we are going. Geospatial is where it’s at!

For the first time, geospatial is friendly. People without degrees in geography or extensive years building complex GIS systems are using maps - all the time. The value of geography or geographic information is becoming more and more apparent. It’s becoming an important facet of our decision making; it’s making our world smaller as we all become more global.

So, that’s why I’m in geospatial. Now, why should you join the geospatial industry or continue your career in it? First, make sure you like maps. Seriously. Are you the type of person who as a child went to a globe to look up places? Perhaps you just stared at maps to figure out where places were, what the places looked like, or what kind of people lived there and what they were like? There’s an element of dreaminess and adventure about maps. There’s also an element of control - we map things to know where they are.

Maybe to be successful in geospatial you simply have to be a quizzical, adventurous, creative, visual thinker who likes to be in control of your own destiny. And, you have to be passionate about maps - because, life is too short and time, too precious not to work in a field that you love!


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