Reimagining GEOINT Career Development

From college to workforce entry and beyond, community veterans discuss professional development and navigating the career “jungle gym”


As part of the GEOINT 2018 Symposium’s GEOINT Foreword, a panel of three GEOINT Community veterans discussed professional development for geospatial data analytics. The panel was moderated by Dr. Chris Tucker, principal of Yale House Ventures.

Dr. Todd S. Bacastow, a professor at Penn State University’s John A. Dutton e-Education Institute, began by acknowledging that accredited academic institutions are behind in developing graduates who meet the professional requirements of both commercial and government geospatial entities. He said the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and USGIF are both striving to build channels through the maze of academic programs, but much work remains. In Europe, for example, he said students are entering higher education with a much stronger base than U.S. students.

Given the advancement of machine learning and automation, Bacastow questioned how to teach human-machine teamwork.

“It will take practice, time, and understanding we don’t currently have,” he said. He recommended going back to the basics—such as physical, human, and time geography, and figuring out how to faster translate what we learn in the field into best practices.

Col. Steven D. Fleming, Ph.D., U.S. Army (Ret.), a professor with the University of Southern California’s Spatial Sciences Institute, said GEOINT needs individuals who are nimble and adaptable. “They need to be curious and have that twinkle in their eye,” he said. “They need to feel free to question and raise an eyebrow at you.”

Fleming envisions three types of courses in academia: essential, which cover fundamentals; advanced, which leverage what a student has already learned; and capstone, which build confidence. He also endorses more partnerships between academia and both industry and government.

“Work with industry and government for real-world problems,” he said. “Put it in place to allow discussion, for students to learn, and for industry and government to get assistance. And when it’s over, maybe the students go to work for the organization.”

Sue Kalweit, NGA’s director of analysis and a self-described fitness fanatic, used a jungle gym as a career analogy, with the gym’s bars representing self-development, challenging assignments, and new experiences.

“A ladder has one direction from bottom to the top,” Kalweit said. “A jungle gym has multiple directions—you go over, you go up, and you may go down to go back up.”

Kalweit referred to six critical competencies of any GEOINT professional: data, analysis, communications, teamwork, people development, and innovation. As one advances in his or her career, she explained, that individual develops more complexities in each of the competencies, as well as across the competencies.

She stressed the importance of mentors, sponsors, and advocates, no matter where you are in your career; lifelong cohorts, so students can continue to learn from each other after graduation; and teamwork, especially in capstone projects.

“We talk a lot at NGA about multidisciplinary teams—a software developer, an engineer, a data scientist,” she said. “They each bring a different understanding of the problems we’re trying to solve.”

Kalweit urged audience members to take advantage of the complexity offered to them in their careers.

“Even if you want to be a subject matter expert, reach for two levels above you on that jungle gym to something you can barely reach,” she said. “Develop yourself through reading and learning. Travel across the jungle gym into an area you’d never through you’d be. Reach for that bar, and take advantage of it to grow professionally.”

Headline Image: NGA Director of Analysis Sue Kalweit used a jungle gym as a career analogy during a panel discussion on analytic professional development.

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