I’m the Director of Service Delivery for Tensing and a Data Integration specialist with over 20 years’ experience of delivering Geographic Information (GI), data management and data integration consultancy services.
Throughout my career I’ve provided technical support, delivered software training and mentoring, run pre-sales engagements, delivered technical consultancy services, deployed software solutions, processed terabytes of data… and, focussed on sales, gathered customer requirements and prepared detailed tender responses. I’ve also managed teams, comprising multi-disciplinary personnel and I really enjoy helping and mentoring colleagues to reach beyond what they first thought was their limit.
In my role steering the technical service delivery for Tensing, I now do a little of all of these things and I’m proud of the team of data specialists I work with. Everyone, without exception gets stuck in. We work together, share and grow as a collective at Tensing. When I started my career working offshore in the oil industry as a vessel navigator I discovered that when you’re avoiding engaging with pirates and trying to keep everyone safe, whilst also ensuring a bare minimum of downtime to the project, you soon learn that it’s team work that matters the most. We’re always stronger together.
As a product specialist for Safe Software’s FME platform, I’ve maintained my Certified FME Professional and Certified FME Trainer status for over 15 years, as one of the first people globally to get accredited by Safe Software when they launched their certification scheme back in 2007. More recently I’ve also completed the set by becoming a Certified FME Server and Certified Business Professional. I’m proud to be one of very few people globally who has all four of Safe’s certifications.
Why did you join Tensing?
The people, the ethos and the collaboration attracted me through the door initially. However, having such strong partnerships with two of the biggest names in spatial data; Safe Software and Esri, as well as an eclectic customer base, means that I’m always kept on my toes! Don’t they say, “variety is the spice of life".
What’s your background with FME?
I was introduced to FME whilst working for an engineering firm back in the year 2000 and I haven’t looked back since; I cite the discovery of FME as a turning point in my career. As an end user of the FME Platform, for the first 6 years, FME formed part of my toolkit for handling data ‘challenges’. At that time this work consisted of a lot of data visualisation with AutoCAD Map, MapInfo Professional, custom MapBasic code (that I developed) and a number of dedicated transportation planning tools such as Arcady, Picady and PTV Vissim. At that time Excel, Access and Oracle tended to be the data containers I had to interact with most. Over time though, as data challenges became more complex and data volumes increased, FME began to take on a much more significant part of the workload.
Then in 2006 I hung up my MapInfo training hat and switched from delivering GIS training to delivering FME training and data management courses… and since then I’ve delivered FME Desktop and Server training to hundreds of future FME experts.
I’ve also been involved with the running of FME events in the UK since 2008. The “FME World Tour” schedule officially started in 2011 and I’ve hosted these innovative and fun user gatherings every year since, travelling around the UK, as well as online through the pandemic, bringing the latest innovations in data integration to users around the country.
Do you have a favourite transformer?
It’s pretty tough to choose really, so I’m not going to restrict myself to one! Let’s start with the WorkspaceRunner, back in my early years using FME, when I had to process vast amounts of CSV and Excel files this transformer saved the day many times.
In recent years the top spot probably goes to the HTTPCaller, since it’s close to weekly that I have to interact with a new API that I’ve never seen before. You can imagine then, that when Safe added concurrent request options to this transformer, I couldn’t be found for a little while whilst I thrashed a few APIs just to prove it was actually possible!
For sheer fun and impact though, the PhotoCoordinateExtractor, a custom transformer that was developed for an FME World Tour demo, sees a regular outing on my Advanced training courses. There’s nothing better than seeing a training delegate processing some of their own photos through FME and put them on a map. The power of FME hits home much harder when you help someone to process some personal data that really matters to them!
Which FME transformer would you like to use more?
I really enjoy the opportunity to use the family of “…Connector” transformers. I get a real kick out of the ones that leverage some of the cloud services like the AzureComputerVisionConnector and the similar RekognitionConnector that uses the competing Amazon Web Services API. These tools allow the detection of things in photos, like faces, they can even describe what’s in the image. I’ve only to date had one use case to give these a go. I’m hoping for another opportunity soon!
Tell us a little about some of your highlights from previous roles.
One of my early roles was for Cambridgeshire County Council. I’d written to them asking for hands-on GIS experience and they gave it to me, on one condition, I needed to drive a Land Rover Discovery around the county towing a trailer full of equipment and flyers detailing the Local Transport Plan. Over the next few weeks I helped with the roadshow around the county and true to their word, I got to make some of my first digital maps.
Some of my training experiences have also been really memorable as I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world delivering FME training. Learning the importance of enunciation and careful repetition is a real skill, especially when the delegates are learning often using their second language. I’ve done a number of courses in Kazakhstan for example, delivering sessions in a dedicated training centre, but where lunch is a real event. As a result the afternoon sessions require plenty of energy to keep people engaged while they digest their food!
What has been the most intriguing data-wrangling challenge you have encountered?
I was approached by a customer to see if it was possible to connect to a vessel tracking service, so that real-time location data could be pushed to ArcGIS Online. At the time connecting to APIs with FME with relatively new but I managed to build a process, host it on FME Cloud and schedule it to run every 2 minutes. It pushed the location of a fleet of vessels to AGOL, automatically refreshing a Featureclass with the new data, plus it archived all the location data to a database over time, so that it was available for scrutiny if required. The service was also configured to send messages to the team if vessels strayed into specific locations that were not part of the operational area. I built the entire solution from enquiry to production in 7 days, and it subsequently ran every 2 minutes for 4 years without needing any maintenance. I remain really proud of how well that bit of data -wrangling was managed.
The FME Bonn UC is in September, what are you most interested in learning more about at the event?
These events are all about seeing “capability”. Real-world examples of how data integration matters, paint a story and fuel the imagination. I’m always excited to attend the FME User Conference and this year I’ll hopefully meet plenty of the delegates, as I’ll be delivering some of the conference FME Training sessions.
When you aren’t working what do you enjoy…
I’m a casual cyclist for exercise and I also enjoy a hike in the hills, especially if there’s a decent meal or pint at the end of it. My children also keep me very happily occupied, albeit increasingly as taxi driver. But I really enjoy working with my hands, I like to fix things that are broken, I enjoy making things from recycled materials, I play at ‘rustic’ woodworking and I don’t mind a bit of DIY!