Part 3 of “From the Slide Rule to the Metaverse” highlighted the most important career decision of my life. At the completion of my Ph.D. I had the opportunity to work in the offshore energy business for one of largest firms in the world, or see if I could build a surveying engineering firm from scratch. I chose the latter, which is where we will start Part 4.
The last time that we had inflation like what we are currently experiencing was in the early 1980’s. Interest rates were approaching 20% and the economy was a mess. It was not the perfect time to start a new business, but I had started to build a reputation and the phone started ringing. By that time I had become a licensed land surveyor and a Professional Engineer. That was a powerful combination at the time.
On the technology front the PC was a game changing technology. The challenge was the software. As I was living in the Seacoast region of New Hampshire, Seacoast Engineering Associates seemed like the right company name. After some research we decided to use a surveying software package from Charley Miller, the father of COGO – coordinate geometry. Charley had retired from MIT. He opened up his office in a store front somewhere in Florida. We had a lot of problems with the software at first, but eventually we were able to rely on it.
Once the economy began to get back to normal in 1983 – 84, real estate development in the Seacoast was exploding. All we had to do was answer the phone and find the right people and equipment. In 1986 we had 50 people on staff and 3 offices. Somewhere in that time period Topcon released one of the first affordable (under $10k) total stations. Those became our go to “gun.”
In what seemed like a few weeks, the real estate market across the country collapsed. This was the result of what became known as the Savings and Loan crisis. In what was one of the most painful periods of my life Seacoast Engineering went from 50 people to 5. We had made a huge mistake by being so tied into real estate development. We had started the first GIS consulting business in New England, but it was too little too late.
We limped along for a year or so and then one day I heard about a small software company in Henniker, NH that was adding surveying apps to AutoCAD. Dave Arnold grew DCA Engineering Software to over 300 people in less than 10 years and in 1996 he sold Softdesk to Autodesk for something like $90 million.
That was when I shifted from consulting to the software business. The 90’s were quite a ride.
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From the slide rule to the Metaverse.