Innovate Employee Spotlight: Mr. Michael Blair, GIS/IT

What is your role at Innovate?

I would say I have a diverse role at Innovate as one of the GIS/IT managers. Essentially, I do a bit of everything, from soup to nuts. I support various clients in everything from hardware, server, and network configuration. I gather architecture requirements. I operate as the Scrum Master and Project Manager. For application development, I primarily support the developers on the design, user interface, and user experience, which means taking my vision, building out the design, and turning it into reality. I also work with clients through training and documentation to integrate them into the final solution. I also assist the Business Development team by drafting proposals and offering technical perspectives.

When I came to Innovate, I self-coined my position as a Digital Strategist, which is just a catchy way of saying a liaison between non-technical and technical. I translate a client’s requirements and recommendations for our technical staff, like programmers and database administrators, so we can identify technical solutions and move forward from there.

What has surprised you about working at Innovate?

I wouldn’t say this was surprising—since it’s in our name—but I chose to work at Innovate because of our perspective on our solutions. We don’t look at problems as hurdles but as opportunities to deliver something great. Someone else may say a certain solution isn’t possible, but we make it possible.

What is refreshing about Innovate are our core values. It’s one of the reasons I joined the company. We have a great cast of people throughout the company who all feel strongly about what we do and have the technical chops to make the impossible possible. You give us a problem, and we’re going to try to figure out how to solve it for you. We bring that passion to our clients, which is why many of our current clients are long-time customers.

What have been some of your top accomplishments and success stories?

Our work with Engineering Consulting Services (ECS) is a great example of our innovation. ECS is a private business we’ve served for years. We started by supporting an existing application. We’ve since rebuilt and modernized the app. I’m talking about full-service; we worked through the requirements, engineered their backend servers and how the app would talk between databases, and brought everything together into a fully modern geospatial application that integrates into their business. We’re constantly building new functionality for it, and it currently services 5,000 users. I’ve helped grow the app with ECS, so it’s a project I’m proud of.

What are Innovate’s resources and opportunities for employees?

With Innovate’s emphasis on innovation, we have lots of opportunities to be on the cutting edge of technology. As an Esri partner, we have access to Esri resources, whether it’s early releases of software or direct access to their core developers. I recently completed a course on ArcGIS Enterprise through Esri. That kind of on-the-job training is invaluable, both for employees and our clients, who benefit from that knowledge. My team is also currently completing the AWS Cloud Certification. Innovate understands that training and certification are important for both staff growth and the maturity of the company.

What does Innovate’s mission and core values mean to you?

I would say Innovate’s value of “Love and Respect Human Beings” speaks directly to me. When you care about who you work with and who you work for, it speaks volumes. Clients appreciate that we want to get the task at hand done quickly and correctly. But we also value the client themselves and reach out to them on a human level. We have a client in Colorado who I reached out to during the wildfires to make sure they weren’t impacted. And it’s not just me who reaches out. I see it throughout the company, through our Slack channels when we celebrate someone’s work anniversary or birthday. That care matters. It’s not just, “Oh, I work for a company.” We truly are a big family, even though we work virtually.

Tell us about your career trajectory. How did you get to your position at Innovate?

I have a diverse background and have done a lot of different things, but I’m able to use those experiences and bring them to the table at Innovate. I earned my undergraduate degree in Human Ecology, so I am passionate about our place in the world and how we can make a difference, whether it is through recycling or building a new software technology. At school, I worked as a computer tutor, and the director recommended I take a course in GIS. I fell in love. At the time, I wanted to use GIS to track sharks and pelagic fishes, but it was too early for the technology. However, we recently modernized EPA’s sanitary surveys platform to help the Office of Water collect spatial data to maintain healthy waters and beaches. This project meant a lot to me because of my background in ecology and my love of sharks.

I then moved to New Hampshire, and one of the professors at Keene State College asked me to teach a course on GIS. I taught part-time for 20 years, so when clients ask for training, it’s a skill I can bring to the table. I was also president of a nonprofit in-school dance program and chair of the school board, which gave me great project management experience. I eventually started my own technology consulting business. However, I needed high-speed internet, which I couldn’t access from my 300-year-old home on a dirt road. I worked with the mayor to increase access to broadband throughout the city. This turned into a conversation with the state GIS director, who wanted to do a pilot on high-speed internet. We received stimulus money that allowed us to map high-speed internet in the state, which led me to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and then Innovate. Experiences and connections seemed to fall into place serendipitously. And it’s not just me. Innovate is full of people with interesting backgrounds, which means we all bring unique experiences and perspectives to the company.