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How a Childhood Passion for Mapping Inspired Rob Eadie’s Life and Career

Erin Eckles

Rob Eadie’s love affair with mapping and cartography might be purely a function of well… Geography. Not only did Eadie grow up in rural Ireland, dreaming about exotic destinations to someday visit, but he also felt like geography was a noble calling. “When I studied geography in Ireland, I learned that going back to the Dark Ages or the Greek and Roman empires, the people who sat next to the monarch were geographers. They were the political advisers and intelligence agents of the time with the critical location knowledge of foreign countries and adversaries, from physiography to economics and everything between.”

“To this day, understanding the geography of other countries is massively important for intelligence gathering,” explains Eadie. “Geography is one of the neatest subjects because it's all encompassing. It covers science, art, philosophy, politics, economics and sociology all wrapped up into one common thing which is place and location. Once you’ve got that on the back of your mind, geography rules!”

By Eadie’s own admission, growing up he was a bit of a “nerd.” “I was always staring at maps, atlases or a globe, dreaming about going places and imagining what it might be like there.” And that’s the other part of the geography lynch pin that predestined Eadie for his career and calling. “My family has been in the Irish wool business since 1904. We have one of the last mills that takes raw wool to a finished product – manufacturing blankets, tweed, knitting yarn. I grew up next to the mill in the southwest corner of Ireland. There was no Internet then and we had only one channel on a black and white TV. So, I was dreaming of escape.”

Picture of Robert Eadie and Sons Ltd. / Kerry Woolen Mills, where Eadie grew up in Ireland. The business is still owned by Eadie’s brother: https://www.kerrywoollenmills.ie/

Eadie at 10 helping out in the woolen mill.

While Eadie’s academic studies and career path were inspired by his passion for mapping and cartography, the changes in the industry over the course of his career have kept him on his toes. “I was in college in the late eighties. Back then it was the dawn of wide-spread personal computing and geography was entering the digital age. With small personal computers appearing there was wider access to software and hardware to do remote sensing and cartographic work.

Eadie got his bachelor’s degree in Geography and Computer Science at University College Cork, Ireland, and his master’s degree in Remote Sensing and GIS at Aberdeen University, Scotland. “That was right around the end of the Cold War and Ireland was in terrible shape. The country seemed to be in perpetual recession and there were no jobs for young graduates. I knew if I was going to pursue my career, I would either have to get a job with the government - and those were really hard to come by - or leave the country.

Eadie started applying for jobs all over the world, and in 1989 won a lottery US immigration “green card” arriving into Boston the week before Thanksgiving. “I would sneak into to the libraries of Harvard or MIT and print out resumes and then mail them all over the country using the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) as a guide to the business I would be interested in working for.” By February he had landed four job offers, ending up in Analytical Surveys in Colorado Springs. “I worked for a company that was on the forefront of technology and one of the first aerial mapping companies to go from paper to digital.” But the kid in Eadie that dreamt about going off to explore places on the map reappeared after a few years, so he quit his job and took off. “I had been working the night shift some, and you know, right out of college you can think you’re a bit entitled. I had a master’s degree… whatever,” Eadie laughs. “I thought the production work was beneath me, so I took off and went to Mexico and Guatemala for three months just traveling around with a couple friends.

In fact, they drove all the way from Colorado in a very old Ford F150 pickup truck that broke down about every 100 miles. “It was quite an adventure. Staying at farmers' houses who would help us repair the truck and get back on the road. At one point, my two friends were overcome by altitude sickness, so I decided to go by myself up Mexico’s highest mountain, Orizaba, only to get lost on the way down – there were no maps! I foolishly nearly killed myself. I ended up sliding down the side of a huge ice field and tumbled off a cliff, luckily landing without breaking body parts. I spent the night in the freezing rain, and then hobbled back over 20 miles to basecamp at daybreak – the others were glad to see me still alive, and we continued our journey southward into the jungles of Chiapas.”

All good roads stories eventually come to an end – Eadie didn’t run into more trouble, but merely ran out of money. He headed back to the U.S. where his adventures took a different tack that moved him back and forth across the country to take on jobs in an industry that was transforming rapidly. Eadie worked for EOSAT which managed the Landsat program on the East Coast. Once the government made that data free, and he was laid off, Eadie once again looked West toward Colorado. He landed at EagleScan, a pioneering LiDAR mapping company that flew projects all over the U.S. From there, Eadie joined MapMart in 2008. MapMart was acquired by Harris Corp. in 2015 and today is part of L3Harris Geospatial. Eadie has now been with the company in some form or another for more than 15 years.

Eadie’s professional and personal narratives converge with the perspective he’s acquired, not only of the past, but of thinking about the future. “My philosophy has always been to be very direct and honest with our customers. That high level of integrity will stand to your benefit in the long run because the customer that you worked to build that relationship will be a customer for life,” says Eadie.

Because I've been in the industry a long time, I can make things less complex and scary for somebody new to mapping. I try to guide them to a solution that will be within their budget and meet their expectations,” explains Eadie. “I don’t ever want to fool anybody with unrealistic expectations, so I set the expectations early so that there's no surprises down the road.

One of the expectations that Eadie tries to tamp down is wanting information right now. “Customers expect instant delivery of data, of software, of information, and of answers. Google has given us instant gratification and that expectation is now the same when you're doing business,” says Eadie. “My job is to pull the reins back a little bit and get someone to think more deeply about what they really want or need instead of being so reactive.

Eadie has stayed ahead of a dramatically shifting professional landscape for decades, and repeatedly, he lands on his feet and usually right at the cutting edge. “I've always got an eye toward the future. “I ‘cut the cable’ in my house more than 12 years ago and made it an all internet house. I'm always looking at solutions to big world problems. I drive a Tesla and have solar panels on my roof. I try to guide my kids into the careers of the future that are going to be sustainable and give them an interesting career that will last them a long time.” From starting out map-gazing and dreaming about a noble profession, Eadie has managed to do just that.

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