Member Profile: James Gray of GPI Geospatial
First, tell us a bit about yourself – where’d you grow up? What do you consider you “hometown” to be? What do you like to do outside of work?
I grew up in Gastonia, NC which is a suburb of Charlotte. Outside of work I enjoy traveling, reading, collecting music, and creating contemporary art.
What’s your current role? Describe some of your day-to-day work.
I am currently a Senior Geospatial Manager for GPI Geospatial. My day-to-day involves managing a combination of survey and remote sensing projects, client management, business development, and collaboration with a diverse group of GPI staff.
How did you get into the geospatial industry? What was your first job in the industry?
I started out at a small local surveying firm in Gastonia a few years after college. I knew virtually nothing about the job but was attracted to working outside and liked math and problem solving. I enjoyed the work enough to stick with it and I’m still here.
What is your educational background?
I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute which is a design school in Brooklyn, NY. After I decided to make a serious commitment to surveying I took night classes at CPCC and earned an Associates Degree in Surveying Technology.
What have been some of your favorite projects and why?
I was the surveyor-in-charge for three phases of NC statewide lidar program from 2014-2017 which stands out as a favorite. Phases IV and V were one of the first large scale collections using Geiger Mode lidar and it was really exciting to be on the cutting edge at that time. Our own Hope Morgan won an award from ASPRS for that work. I spent a lot of time with the vendor team and learned a lot about that technology and made some lasting friendships in the process.
What is something you enjoy about your job?
I really enjoy the relationship part of the job more as time goes on. I’ve been able to meet and collaborate with so many interesting people in the industry and it’s fun to be a part of a team working towards a common goal.
How has ASPRS membership benefitted you?
ASPRS membership has benefited me as a great resource for learning and exposure to a lot of interesting work that’s being done across the country. It’s also a good network of peers in the industry that I’ve developed many relationships from that I might not otherwise.
Can you talk about any significant changes you've witnessed in the industry during your career?
Advancements and availability of lidar data has been a big change. When I started out in the early 2000s, lidar was just beginning to be a viable technology with more widespread use cases. Sensors still continue to get better and lidar has had enough time to prove to be a reliable and mature technology.
What do you see as challenges for the geospatial industry in the next decade?
I see a challenge with a shrinking workforce as people retire and there’s not enough younger people entering the profession. The industry workforce will also need to be more diversified as many projects will continue to require merging of disciplines to meet client’s needs and solve more complex problems.
What are the biggest advancements that you see on the horizon for the geospatial industry?
I think hardware, software, and areas of computer science have caught up enough to realize some of the things that were on the horizon for a long time. Many key pieces to a metaverse are more common and achievable and the trends will continue to mature at a rapid pace. This also feeds into more opportunities for more powerful task automation leveraging things like machine learning.
What advice would you give undergraduates that are interested in the geospatial field?
I would encourage them to have a wide knowledge bases across disciplines like surveying, remote sensing, and GIS. This diversity will help them become more viable to an employer as lines continue to blur between many of the facets of a complex project delivery.
If you could give advice to your younger self early in your career what would you say?
I would tell my younger self early on to be more confident in your natural strengths & interests and find ways to leverage those with work to be a stronger employee and also enjoy the work more. For my education, I would have encouraged my younger self to embrace computer science and coding earlier. I also didn’t take a linear algebra course in college which would have been a really beneficial foundation relating to much of the work I’m doing now.