TCAT Spotlight - Blake Stoker
“I’ll give up my running water to do without a crowd,” says Blake Stoker, software developer for the Computing and Information Technology group of TCAT. An avid outdoorsman, Blake’s hobbies include backpacking through the Rocky Mountains, skiing in Utah, and kayaking through the wilds of Alaska. Originally from New England, his parents relocated him to Austin while in middle school. Rather than attend University of Texas, Blake decided he needed some elbow room and a more open, greener campus. Thus, he ended up coming to College Station where he attended Texas A&M University and received both his bachelor’s and master’s in computer science.
Blake’s master’s focused on artificial intelligence but his area of expertise is general software architecture. He enjoys the full life cycle of software development from the gathering of requirements through design through implementation and finally maintenance. This, along with how each project naturally progresses into another, is why he finds the projects he works on at TCAT so satisfying. For example, his work on the Process Oriented Data Visualization Tool (ProDV) for the Operational Test Command later applied to other projects with data analysis needs. The flexibility of ProDV software naturally led to integration into the Hybrid Irregular Warfare Network-Defeat Toolkit (HINT) project to explore Human Social Cultural Behavioral (HSCB) data. ProDV is a tool that produces custom visualizations of large data sets. These visualizations provide a capability to capture the anticipated as well as the unanticipated data that are difficult and time consuming to recognize when directly examining the data. HINT is a federation of systems that combines game technology with military simulations to provide a training platform for decision making in culturally diverse theaters of operation. This will enhance preparations for troops who deploy overseas.
Another aspect of his job that Blake enjoys is the feedback from the clients. He likes knowing that he was able to develop software that the client finds useful. The impact the software TCAT develops has on the clients is one of the reasons he came to TCAT. While still acquiring his master’s he worked on school projects with TCAT co-worker Austin Riddle. Austin invited Blake to come see the “cool stuff” TCAT does at the TEEX fire field. The focus of the “Emergency Management Exercise System Software Development and Support” project was to design, develop, and support the joint Emergency Operations Training Center (EOTC) simulations system, Emergency Management Exercise System (EMES). EMES is the cornerstone software solution developed to support the training of emergency managers, supervisors, responders, and community elected officials in various programs offered at TEEX’s EOTC. These programs focus on teaching and application of emergency decision-making, resource management, and the incident management processes required after a community experiences a large-scale disaster from any hazard source, manmade or natural. Blake was impressed with the impact the work has on people. By working with TCAT Blake felt he could “have a bigger impact effecting lives and not just work on a widget.” Therefore, although he believed he would receive his degree and be out of College Station—he didn’t expect to stay—he now says “It’s been a good fit for me.” This is most surprising as when you ask him where he would most like to settle he invariably chooses the best locals for enjoying nature. “I would choose northern Alaska,” he says, “but the cold would eventually get to me. I would head to Alaska for the summers and maybe rural Denver in the winter months. Green mountains and away from people, clear of the city limits, but I couldn’t be employed there.” Thus, he follows the work and for now College Station provides both a satisfying work experience and a rural setting.
When Blake is not being a spokesperson for the Alaska Visitor’s Bureau—the normally quiet and retiring Blake, who reads science fiction and fantasy by authors David Weber and Jim Butcher, can talk for hours about the advantages of traveling through the Alaska wilderness. “Go in June. Everything is coming into bloom and babies are dropping if you are into wildlife,” he says—Blake is playing Lacrosse for a men’s team sponsored by Tony’s Tavern in Houston. Their season runs from the end of January through April. He played for A&M while in college and an old teammate talked him into joining the Houston league. And he still joins the A&M Alumni team for their annual game in November. But his true calling is nature and outdoor adventures. In fact, he claims his favorite pastime is to “go out with whichever friend I can get to go out and get smelly and dirty for a week.”