Competency and Teamwork

Q&A with Steven Truitt, Government and Platform Operations, Descartes Labs


After studying Aerospace Engineering, Steven Truitt had two choices: work on Wall Street or work on satellites. He chose satellites because it sounded more fun. Now working at Descartes Labs, Truitt started his career in real-time operations and quickly became interested in every aspect of the business, from space-based sensors to transmitting data to organizing personnel for the purpose of accomplishing complex goals.

What challenges have you encountered in GEOINT?

Steven Truitt

One of the biggest challenges we face in this community is the strong legacy of how things have been done in the past and its proven effectiveness. Today’s technologies and volumes of information require an entirely new way of doing business. However, the transition from previous solutions that function but do not scale to a new way of operating is quite challenging. There are acquisition issues, policy issues, and simply just ways of thinking about problems that need to change. These are relatively difficult things to alter and can’t be changed overnight. So, one thing I have encountered is that being able to prove something is possible is usually not always sufficient to make it happen. There are very real inertial changes that have to occur first.

What is your role at Descartes Labs?

At Descartes Labs, we aim to create a digital twin of the world and the first step in doing so is to have large-scale measurement and observation that is easily accessible and intuitively usable in a variety of contexts. We are currently building out a hyper-scale cloud environment that supports that type of measurement and observation work to go toward long-term understanding and comprehension.

I run our government business and our platform engagements with customers. On the government side, I make sure we deliver on our obligations and bring novel technologies to problems within the government space. In my platform role, I ensure we are maximizing relationships with governments, NGOs, academics, and other bright people in the field. People who are conducting large-scale analysis use our tools to provide a high-quality experience in a variety of forms, from technical support to coaching and transformation training.

What advice do you have for aspiring GEOINT professionals?

Learn as much about the world and how it works as possible. Be curious and learn to think from others’ perspectives. Understand and use the difference between complication and complexity when interpreting and communicating. Try to present ideas in a way that makes people question their assumptions in addition to simply conveying facts. Geospatial work can be illuminating when done with care, or it can be misleading and dangerous when it is not.

What inspires you about the future of GEOINT?

The growth of GEOINT capabilities in the commercial sector is exploding and this is really inspiring and optimistic for the future. There is a lot of injection of capital and brainpower into solving fundamental technology problems. When that translates over to the intelligence and defense mission, it’s going to reshape some of the ways these large organizations do business.

What led you to join USGIF as an individual member?

My main reason for joining USGIF was to take advantage of the GEOINT Symposium and some of the local meetings in the DMV area. These are good venues that bring together people who represent all sides of the value chain. USGIF provides a forum to have conversations that are fairly frank without a lot of corporate positioning or other internal politics taking control. The people attending these events often focus on meaningful technical issues.

How has a USGIF membership helped your career?

GEOINT is interesting because it is extremely complicated and tied to the real world. What that means is no one person can solve any one problem. At best, we all approximate portions of it. USGIF connects people who are all working on related issues. This is definitely an industry where “going it alone” is not going to get you very far. By taking advantage of the networking and training capabilities USGIF offers, we are able to talk to other professionals in the field. 

Featured image: Mineral and land classification in Santa Fe, N.M. (Credit: Descartes Labs)

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