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How a Passion Developed: Providing Remote Sensing Insights to the Government

Erin Eckles
 

Starting a new job during a global pandemic might have phased some people, but not Christian Ruenzi. He’s been on the job with L3Harris Geospatial as the senior account manager for federal civil engagements since September 2020, and Ruenzi said the transition has been very smooth. “Usually you have onboarding in person where you meet the team. Obviously, that didn't happen. So that was a little bit unusual, but other than that, it has all been great. Adapt and overcome; something my mentor Sal Diaz del Valle (GySgt) taught me early on when I worked at Esri” said Ruenzi, who feels like he is well beyond the “drinking from the firehose” stage of starting a job.

Making inroads and connections when new on the job might have been difficult for someone truly new to an industry, however, after 17 plus years of supporting the federal government in the area of remote sensing, Ruenzi has developed and nurtured longstanding relationships that meant he didn’t have to rely on in-person tradeshows to make connections. Ruenzi’s first job out of college was with Esri, and in terms of working with the remote sensing community, he hasn’t looked back.

Education and Early Life

Ruenzi got a Bachelor of Science in Economics and International Business from Strayer University, and then a master’s degree at Georgetown University in I.T. Management. “When I finished college, I started doing inside sales for Esri in Northern Virginia. That's how I really got thrown into this whole notion of doing analysis and selling into the client space.”

Ruenzi didn’t formally study remote sensing, but in retrospect, he sees that his upbringing predisposed him to the career. “I am from Germany, but I grew up in Africa due to my dad’s work in the foreign service. My family moved in and out of various countries in Africa until 1994 when we moved to the US.” Ruenzi explained how his father’s diplomatic service mirrored a military posting and how the family would primarily be posted in various countries in Africa for four- or five-years stints but would go back to Germany in between postings for a couple of weeks to a couple of months.

The family also occasionally left a post for refuge in a bordering country due to regional military conflicts, social unrest, or economic upheaval. “Growing up I learned different cultures, going to various kinds of schools throughout my time when I was in Africa and Germany; however these experiences also gave me an understanding and appreciation of what it means to inhabit a different country, not just from diplomatic or historical point of view, but also from the perspective of territorial disputes and land classification.”

In the German school system, Geography (Erdkunde) is a mandatory subject like math, English or German. Ruenzi explained how studying Geography takes into consideration not just land mass and topography, but politics, economic analysis and regional conflicts over territory.

“So, this is going down a little bit of the rabbit hole of my interests in imagery and maps. It’s good to think about the objective when going into a country? If it's going in with funding to prop up farmers, then you need an understanding of land classification. For example, is there a river or water source near the land? Is a river compromised because there is a chemical plant or any kind of pollutant upstream? Because that has the potential to flow downstream and then the farmland you are propping up is in fact not inhabitable or usable?” said Ruenzi. “And then just looking at water generally, where is it coming from and does the availability or potential lack thereof have the possibility to create chaos or war within a region? These are the areas that have fascinated me from the start. Whether from the German point of view, or other nations in terms of propping up other countries,” says Ruenzi.

A Career Path Emerges in Remote Sensing

During his seven years with Esri, Ruenzi primarily supported the Defense and Intelligence (D&I) space, and his focus since then has been supporting D&I as well as the federal civilian community. “With Esri, I got my legs understanding the ins and outs of remote sensing, but also understanding what the analysis behind the software can do for someone.” In that way, the trajectory of Ruenzi’s life has extended into his professional career, from living and migrating to various lands and regions, to mapping it with Esri, to digging deep and analyzing areas of interest with ENVI.

In the last five months with L3Harris Geospatial, Ruenzi has been reaching out to his network and having discussions about their current projects and missions. “Having previous relationships with the majority of the customers I work with has come in handy for sure,” explains Ruenzi. “When I have one-on-one conversations, I ask what problems they’re experiencing and then come up with ideas as to how we can help alleviate some of the pain points. Maybe it’s usability, because ENVI has an extremely user-friendly interface. Or maybe a module in ENVI can help. Or some customers may be using software from another vendor, so they aren’t aware of what a powerhouse tool ENVI is.”

Ruenzi said that a major consideration his customers find compelling is the interoperability of ENVI. “There is something to be said about the fact that our software is interoperable not just with Esri, but with other software and systems too. Not to mention that ENVI is a standalone product as well. That goes a long way with the customers coming on board.”

“Because I'm coming in new to ENVI, there has been a bit of a learning curve, not only in understanding the capabilities of the product, but also the variations and modules. So, I rely on our in-house subject matter experts like Joey [Joey Griebel, North America Sales Manager] or Austin [Austin Coates, Solutions Engineering Manager], both in and outside of client meetings,” says Ruenzi; “it’s all about teamwork” he goes on to say.

If the Customer Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy

Along with ENVI being a powerhouse tool that might be missing in somebody's tool kit, Ruenzi points to another advantage for his customers going with L3Harris software and services, and that’s customer service. “I always try to go above and beyond what my customer wants and needs. It is gratifying to know you are making a difference to clients who are new to remote sensing or to experienced remote sensing analysts alike,” explains Ruenzi.

“It may sound cheesy, but customer service is extremely important and symbolizes the backbone to our work. It goes back to what I have said early on about the relationships I have cultivated with my customers over the years. They have come to expect a high-level of service, and our team backs me up 100 percent to make sure I can deliver what I promise,” says Ruenzi. Never one to take too much credit, Ruenzi adds “I wouldn’t be in this position if it wouldn’t have been for my dad’s work-ethics and continued dedication to make a difference in this world.”

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