Get to know Propeller’s world-class team in our ongoing employee spotlight. Today, we talk to Tim Liu, who serves as a principal GIS specialist on the data success team. Tim is based in our Sydney, Australia, office.
What do you do at Propeller?
My job is to process photogrammetry data. I’m in charge of making sure it’s accurate and precise, which means coding and data transformations.
I also coach GIS specialists on the data success team on how to process survey data. When someone encounters a new issue and doesn’t know how to solve it, they reach out to me. I look into the cause and find a way to fix it.
In fact, most of my job is doing research, finding solutions for new problems, and teaching other people how to deal with these problems. Every day, when I come into the office, I ask all my team members who are online, “what kind of problems do you have?” and I help them fix them. (Most issues our data team can handle based on their own industry knowledge or from things we’ve solved before.)
If there’s an issue that I encounter often, I’ll write up some how-to tutorials for the team—for them to use in the present and for any future team members to learn from.
What’s your career background?
I did my undergraduate degree from a university in Shanghai in surveying and mapping engineering. After that, I came to the University of New South Wales in Australia to do research for my master’s degree in surveying and spatial information systems.
In Australia, there are two kinds of master’s degrees: one by course and one by research. I did a master’s by research, which is more like a PhD in the US. Basically, the degree takes less time and there are fewer publishing requirements, but do you do tons of research. I focused on surveying and GIS about remote sensing.
When I was waiting for the university panel to review my thesis on satellite interferometry radar, I joined Propeller. I started as a data specialist and now work as a principal GIS specialist.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the southwest part of China in Guizhou Province. My hometown was small and less developed as compared to Shanghai and Beijing. It’s a mountain area. Very quiet. The town has another name, “Cool Capital,” because the weather there is quite good.
I spent most of my life there, only leaving when I went to Tongji University in Shanghai. It’s ranked in the top two for surveying and seventh for engineering in China.
Before working at Propeller, what’s the strangest or most interesting job you’ve held?
After graduating from university and before I came to Australia, I spent half a year at a German company named VMT. They did tunnel boring and engineering—they’re the top company in the world for that.
I was a survey assistant. I’d do surveying in the actual tunnels. VMT uses a laser system underground when building tunnels to get everything aligned. They start building the tunnel from each end, digging from both sides, and they have met each other in the center. If there’s a misalignment as small as 5cm, the whole tunnel will collapse.
What do you like best about working at Propeller?
I also love that I have a lot of time to do interesting problem-solving. That is so good. I get to apply my skills and learn new things. And, while I learned a lot in school about data transformation, it wasn’t so applicable to the actual job. But in coming to Propeller, I was able to learn so much more while doing my job.
Any talents, secret superpowers, or fun facts about yourself to share?
I do like to play table tennis. It’s a hobby of mine. Only Rory and Dan, our finance manager, have beat me before; the other guys cannot beat me.
If you could be any piece of technology, what would you be and why?
I would actually say that photogrammetry is a kind of technology. So I’d pick that because it’s one kind of theory that applies to many other industries. It’s so interesting.
For example, if you go to the dentist and get a 3D scan of a tooth—that’s photogrammetry. Or when a car is being built, they scan the surface in 3D to make sure the body of the car doesn’t have any flaws. It’s all photogrammetry.
In my master’s study, when I used satellites to observe changes in the Earth and monitor how cities change, building up and filling up, and any earthquake information—that’s using the theory of photogrammetry.
If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
I’d want to ability to learn fast and remember everything. There was one superhero I remember from a novel I read who could read a book, understand it immediately, and never forget a word it said.
Do you have an office nickname? If so, what is it?
Most people call me Timmy or Timbo.
What’s one thing you wish people understood better about Propeller?
I think the strength of Propeller comes from how we handle precise, accurate data and how we can process the data in special local grids. This is something I feel is quite advanced, and I wish more people knew about that.
Also, our ability to show a site model in 3D—like it looks in the real world—is a first. We don’t require expensive computers to run the Propeller Platform. Because of all that, I really want more people in the construction, mining, aggregates, and waste management industries to know about us.