Jamie Christensen '96
Founder and President, WorldView Solutions Inc.
Major at Wooster: Political Science
When Jamie Christensen founded WorldView Solutions in 2000, "it was just me, working above my garage, for the first three years." Today, the geospatial information technology company has grown to more than 50 employees, with a roster of clients that includes Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, and state, local and federal government agencies.
So how does a political science major wind up running a tech company?
"My first internship in college was with The Conservation Fund, out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina," Christensen says. "That opportunity led me to do my I.S. on the ways environmental organizations were using spatial technologies and how this was changing their worldview, from a qualitative approach to a more quantitative approach to conservation."
That I.S. experience, along with a couple of computer science classes he had taken at Wooster, landed him a job as a GIS specialist with the U.S. Forest Service after graduation. A year later he was hired by a company called GeoDecisions. By 2000, he was ready to take the plunge and strike out on his own.
When asked to describe exactly what it is that WorldView Solutions does for its clients, Christensen says, "Imagine Google Maps on steroids." The company builds custom software applications that layer proprietary data – for example, a natural gas company's pipes and wells and other facilities, or a town's sewers and water mains and electrical lines – onto satellite-generated maps, to support more efficient management of that infrastructure and better decision making.
A new market segment for the company is what Christensen calls precision agriculture: "A farmer can plug his laptop into a USB port in his tractor and find out precisely how much seed and fertilizer per square foot to lay down at any given season, based on temperature and moisture readings from yesterday's satellite data, and that can drive yields up by 20 percent."
He says the mantra behind WorldView's success is, "Employees first, customers second, profits third, because if you take care of the first two, the third will take care of itself." His vision is to keep his team members engaged, keep them excited about the work, and make sure they see WorldView as a place where they can stay and grow professionally.
Christensen wants to help them become what he calls "T-shaped employees." The idea is to develop as many broad skills and interests and passions as possible – the horizontal part of the T – and then choose the one where you want to dive deep. That vertical part of the T won't stay the same forever. "The goal is that over time, the top of the T gets wider and the vertical part, the deep dive, moves around to new places. Life is about specializing in lots of things over time."
For Christensen, this T-shaped approach to professional development echoes Wooster's approach to education, with a broad exploration of the liberal arts and sciences as the top of the T, and I.S. as the quintessential deep dive.
Too much of higher education, he says, focuses on teaching "how to push these buttons in this order and do these things in this way, but what Wooster does is the exact opposite of that. The goal is to teach you to teach yourself, to be a critical thinker, and to think independently. And as somebody who hires people, I can tell you those are rare skill sets."
"I can teach you which buttons to press. What I can't teach you is how to think and how to write and how to be critical in the way you look at the world."