It’s a weekday afternoon in Hexagon’s Norcross, Georgia, office, which sits in the northeast of metro Atlanta. You notice someone walking throughout the building with a large plastic jug, watering plants.
These plants have been in the office for almost two decades. Jeff Dooley, the Hexagon employee who takes care of them, has been here for four.
Jeff’s time at the company – and relationship to the city of Atlanta – are an interconnected part of his history, and you can’t explore one aspect without the other.
Atlanta – The Once-Small Town That Created a Community Among People of Color
Jeff is a bit of an anomaly. In the rapidly growing city of Atlanta, it’s hard to find a native, but Jeff was born and raised here. When he talks about the city he grew up in, though, it’s hardly recognizable as the area that we know today.
“Atlanta was a small town,” he said. “We only had one black high school at that time. It was a city where everyone knew everyone, particularly minorities, because minorities were sort of culturally grouped together.”
Jeff was born in 1955 in the front-end of the U.S. Civil Rights movement and grew up watching it evolve. He describes Atlanta as being at the forefront, especially given that it is the birthplace of activist and minister Martin Luther King, Jr., who was also a friend of his mother’s.
In the following years, the effects of the movement’s success were seen throughout the country, and integration took hold, putting a wider array of career options within reach for people of color.
“Atlanta turned out to be, I think, one of the forerunners of opportunities for minority cultures, particularly African Americas,” Jeff said. “It has also become home for a lot of high-tech enterprises. For me, it was ‘right place, right time,’ being in Atlanta.”
Seizing Opportunity in a Tech-Driven Career Path
In high school, Jeff took a drafting and architectural class, which led him to studying at the School of Landscape, Architecture, and Environmental Design (now the College of Environment + Design) at the University of Georgia in the late 70s.
During his time there, he took an internship at the Department of Natural Resources, which turned out to be a position preparing digital GIS databases for the state of Georgia. He interned for Bruce Rado, who went on not soon after to be one of the founders of ERDAS, now part of Hexagon.
“When the internship was over, given that GIS was a new discipline, you never knew what the job market would be for that,” Jeff said. “I thought my GIS days were over.”
But a phone call a year after Jeff graduated proved they were not. Lawrie Jordan, another co-founder of ERDAS (who Jeff never met during his internship), was on the line with a job offer.
“He was telling me that him and Bruce Rado were starting up a small remote sensing company called ERDAS and asked me if I would be interested in working,” Jeff said. “And the rest is history.”
Hexagon Then and Now: What’s Changed, and What’s Remained the Same
Like the city of Atlanta, ERDAS and its technologies grew rapidly.
“Remote sensing and GIS were growing nationwide and worldwide, and we just happened to be part of that growth here,” Jeff said.
Jeff’s own career at Hexagon has also seen some changes. His original role was project management, and the projects then were vastly different.
“When I started out, computers were very expensive things to own, and people were basically afraid of them,” he said.
So the company focused on consulting. Project Managers like Jeff generated data and provided it as a product, which customers would use for their own planning purposes.
Brad Skelton, Product Line Director for ERDAS IMAGINE and M.App X, remembers those days well. He recently celebrated 35 years at Hexagon and has worked with Jeff since 1982.
He recalls a significant project around a large environmental impact study for a nuclear utility. The hours were long, but the deadlines were much shorter.
“I would make changes to the software as needed to support, but I was never in the direct line of fire to do the work,” he said. “Jeff, however, was. I know that Jeff worked on that project day and night and helped to get it done despite high levels of stress.”
Then came the computer technology revolution. Once customers had their own hardware, the company began selling the same software it used to produce data for customers. Jeff transitioned to a support role, and he is currently a Senior Software Support Analyst.
The customers he assists aren’t the only ones who benefit from the knowledge he’s gained over the years. Sabrina Anderson, an Education Specialist who sits next to him in the office, says she has as well.
“Jeff has a positive personality, and he genuinely enjoys helping people,” she said. “Every time he takes a support call, I learn something new about our software.”
Despite how the technology and the company have grown, Jeff said the most memorable moments have been watching the career progressions of his peers.
“I remember when Mladen was a Product Manager here,” he said. “Little did I know, he’d end up being the President of Hexagon’s Geospatial division. I’ve seen many people change roles and grow in their roles.”
Jeff’s also seen many come and go during his 40-year career, but he has reasons to stay.
“The people, the culture, the opportunity, and being at home are part of the reason,” he said. “ My family is here. I also really enjoy doing what I do.”
Stepping Away from the Desktop
Jeff is enjoying his career at Hexagon, but he’s still looking to retire one day. He considers himself a bit of a handyman and moderate sportsman, but he expects a different hobby to take up most of the free time he will have.
“I’m the cook at home,” he said. “So I’m looking at spending some time doing volunteer work at church in the culinary ministry – maybe even consider catering.”
Caring for plants, however, is a hobby that he only enjoys at work. He doesn’t plan to keep the office plants (multiple ficuses and a corn plant) when he retires, so he hopes someone will take his place in maintaining them.
“At one time, I actually tried to give these plants up for adoption, and no one would take them, so I just continued to keep them,” he said. “Maybe I’ll try to talk Sabrina into taking care of them.”
Not only is Jeff interested in passing on the mantle of plant caretaker, but he also wants to pass on advice to young people considering a career around GIS and similar technologies. His No. 1 tip is to be prepared.
“Go ahead and pursue your dreams,” he said. “But think very carefully about what you want to do in life. And take the relevant courses in college and throughout school that will get you there.”