From Kingdome to KCGIS: Gary Hocking reflects on 25 years of King County GIS

A successful Geographic Information System needs a visionary to get started, a technology and business leader to plan, and a champion to launch and nurture the program. For more than 25 years, Gary Hocking wore those hats for King County. After 39 years with the County, Gary retired on April 28, 2017.

201705HockingaGary started with King County in 1978, working in the ticket office at the Kingdome, which opened in 1976 (and was demolished in 2000). In 1978 there were no computers and no networks. The only enterprise system in the County was the mainframe. The scoreboard system in the stadium was the closest thing there was to a computer in that facility. It filled a room and took three people to operate.

In the early 1980’s Gary helped the County implement a computerized system to print tickets as they were purchased. Later a single PC was acquired (a Tandy TRS-80) that Gary used to account for ticket sales associated with the 1984 NCAA Final Four hosted at the Kingdome.

That proved successful, and the TRS-80 was replaced with a Compaq PC, the database application dBASE, WordPerfect, and Lotus 1-2-3 to account for ticket assignments for the next NCAA Final Four the Kingdome hosted in 1989.

Soon all the office staff at the Kingdome had a computer and printer, but they were still printing everything that they needed to share with each other. At about this time a small group in the King County Courthouse had installed a network to connect their computers and used a server as a place where everyone could store and share files. The Kingdome management asked Gary to figure out how to do the same thing at the stadium.

Collaborating with the IT folks in the county courthouse, and attending courses and reading on his own, Gary learned about networking, the Novell NetWare server operating system, and MS-DOS for our PCs. Being the only “IT” person at the stadium, Gary got to do everything—lay cable for the networks, set up the servers, set up the office PCs, etc. He even got to install and manage one of the early email systems, but all of this was running just within the Kingdome.

201705HockingdAs IT was developed across the County, Gary became more and more involved with countywide IT issues and planning. In 1991 Gary was asked by the then County Executive to chair the first GIS Technical Subcommittee to launch development of a comprehensive GIS.

A couple of years later, as the County launched its merger with Metro (the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle), Gary shepherded a GIS consultant to complete a GIS needs analysis and implementation plan. By 1993 a final plan was completed and funding secured from the County. A GIS capital project was launched and Gary’s role receded into the background.

By 1997 KCGIS was fully functional, but as it went into operation and maintenance, some organizational issues surfaced. In 2001, County Executive Ron Sims asked Gary to lead a reorganization of the GIS program. This resulted in the formation of the King County GIS Center as a distinct unit and a separate county internal service fund.

Shortly after the King County GIS Center was in place, the County started its slow progress on reorganizing all of IT into one department. It took until 2011, but that is where KCGIS resides now.

Gary lists these as his proudest accomplishments.

201705HockingbWhile it’s not work related at all, my two sons have grown up to be fantastic young men

Managing ticketing for huge events at the Kingdome like the NCAA final four in 1984 and 1989, big concerts, etc.

Working on the team that implemented the first King County enterprise-wide network.

Helping create the King County GIS Center—a hugely gifted group of folks, and an asset for the whole County.

Being part of the formation of KCIT—we still have a long way to go to reach excellence in all of our service areas, but as long as we follow our own words on how to achieve excellence, we will.

Gary left us with one rule of advice:
“The world around us is always changing. To be successful, you have to embrace change and help shape it.”

Greg Babinski is KCGIS Center Finance and Marketing Manager.

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