Women In GIS: Diane Thompson

July 26, 2000

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What is your position in your company?

I have been in the geomatics business for thirty years, and for the past three have been running my own consulting business, Earth Observation Services.I am a geographer by training, and began my professional career working in airborne remote sensing in Calgary for a small, start-up company.

Diane Thompson
Those were the days before the launch of Landsat-1 (ERTS-1), when remote sensing was a new term and an exciting new field of endeavour.The early work involved flying around the country in a little airplane, doing field surveys, writing reports, developing new applications for the remote sensing data, and writing proposals.

I was with the company for 24 years, and the company and my position continued to grow and change.I consider myself very fortunate to have been working in this field, on the leading edge of remote sensing applications development, the development of an international service business, the integration of GIS and other technologies into the field of geomatics, and especially in the field of airborne and satellite radar applications.

Finally, though, I moved on to a senior position in an engineering and environmental company based in Calgary, to help set up their geomatics business.A forward-thinking company, they had recognized the value of geomatics technologies, but needed assistance with getting from the use of very simple GIS applications into a fully integrated GIS/remote sensing/GPS functionality.I assisted with the acquisition of a small geomatics company and expanded their geomatics capability to handle large environmental and engineering projects.As that unit became self-sufficient, I left to form my own consulting business, providing geomatics business development and market evaluation services.

What is your background?

I have an M.Sc.in Geography/Remote Sensing, from the University of Western Ontario.My initial training was in physical geography/climatology, and I half-completed a Master's in that area before I began work in the emerging remote sensing field.That was so challenging and exciting that I changed fields and completed my M.Sc.degree in remote sensing in 1975, when very few universities even had remote sensing programs.

Would you recommend GIS to other women?

I cannot imagine having had a more exciting and constantly stimulating career.The opportunities seem to me today to be limitless, as they have throughout my own career.People are entering the geomatics field through every discipline imaginable, and the acceptance and use of spatial data is growing rapidly.I believe that you can make a geomatics opportunity happen in whatever area you choose, no matter what your gender.What is helpful today, though, is that there are more and more women in the field to act as mentors and role models.

What is the accomplishment of which you are most proud?

Much as I have been able to accomplish things during my working career, I am very pleased to have been able to spend time outside of my geomatics job, working in the geomatics community.I have been so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with national and provincial geomatics industry associations, with the Canadian Remote Sensing Society, with university and government advisory committees, in organizing technical conferences nationally and internationally, and generally trying to educate and inform others about the benefits of geomatics technologies.I would like to believe that has made some kind of difference.

And to cap all that off, my daughter is now a successful professional in the same field - that's her accomplishment, not mine, but I am very proud of it!

What does your typical day or week look like?

My work day begins with receiving and sending emails, and dealing with telephone communications as required.The rest of the day involves doing research on the Internet and obtaining information by telephone, and then writing reports.Perhaps once a week, I have a business meeting in the city to attend, possibly making a presentation at the meeting.I work from my home on an acreage, sitting at my laptop in front of the study window with a view of the Rocky Mountains about 100 km in the distance.When my back gets stiff, I take the dog for a walk.It's a great way to work.A considerable part of the week is spent dealing with the business of the industry association I am chairing this year - emailing, telephoning, organizing and attending meetings.

Why is GIS an exciting industry in which to participate?

So much about the technology is changing rapidly that it requires a large effort simply to stay up to date.The industry itself is changing just as rapidly.Companies are merging and being sold off, commercialization is increasing, and many new companies are starting up.A recent survey done here in Alberta showed that a large majority of the companies in the geomatics business are very small, home-based businesses.That in itself is a great change from a decade ago.

What is the most important "next thing" that will happen in geomatics?

We are likely to see a big explosion in the use of geospatial information as the technologies permit faster dissemination of large volumes of data over the Internet, and thus access to this information is greatly facilitated.

Before you came to GIS, what did you think your career would be?

As a kid, I planned to be a high school geography teacher.Then I wanted to be a climatologist.Although I'm sure I could have become involved in geomatics from either of those careers, I'm pleased that things worked out the way they did!

Email: eoservices@cadvision.com
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