Dakota McDurham has loved maps since the beginning of his days. And we’re not talking about some liberal or deeply technical meaning of the word. We’re talking good old-fashioned cartographical portrayals of the world around us. He even helped build Apple Maps. With a fascinating past like that, how the heck did he turn the corner to join the world of ecommerce? Well, it just may be the one route he’s ever taken without a map.
The Big Switch
Dakota has worked as an Onboarding Engineer on the ShipperHQ team for just under a year. Before joining our team, he worked at a small mapping startup as a project manager. In true startup fashion, though, he spent his days doing a bit of everything. A big part of his job was helping large companies identify ideal places for new locations, using “people mapping.” In this discipline, he studied demographics, to understand where companies’ customers lived and shopped. He worked with a variety of well-known businesses, making a big impact on decisions about the ultimate placement of locations.
After his time at the startup was over, he was ready for a change of direction, one might say. He wanted to venture away from mapping, and was more interested in relationship building. With a roommate who worked for a major ecommerce platform, he’d met many friends who’d worked in the space. Through friends, he connected with our COO, Quentin Montalto, and knew it would be a good fit.
“I liked the size of ShipperHQ, and it was a super quick process. Plus, they needed an onboarding engineer ASAP. I interviewed Wednesday and started Monday,” he remembers. “The move to ecommerce was different, but the atmosphere of the company was what I was excited about.”
Real Life Superheros
To say the least, Dakota has not been disappointed in his experience with ShipperHQ.
“I’ve been really lucky in my role, I’ve worked at different times with Jared, Quentin, and Daniel. I feel like I won the boss lottery,” he says smiling. “At this point, I want to be Quentin when I grow up. Daniel too! Daniel is a superhero.”
As a kid, Dakota was pretty certain how his life would turn out. Born in Austin, but raised in Waco, he planned on becoming a park ranger for most of his childhood. He was an avid Cub Scout and Boy Scout, and those experiences unquestionably shaped the direction of his career. In college, he studied Environmental Science, with a concentration in Geographic Information Systems, also known as: mapping.
“I always knew I wanted to work outside with the environment. But when I got to college, I quickly realized that wasn’t the path for me,” he remembers. For his environmental science studies, he knew he’d be required to take a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) class, but was dreading it from the start.
“I was actually determined from the start NOT to take the GIS path, and I planned to put off the class as long as possible. But it just so happened that when it was time to sign up for classes for my very first semester, I was out of the country and my mom had to do it for me. I specifically asked her not to add the GIS class, but I guess she just remembered the name, and signed me up instead,” he says. “As soon as I got back, I thought ‘fine, this is a drag, but may as well get it done early.’”
“It turned out to be a very fortunate mistake, and one that totally shifted the course of my college career.” Pursuing a degree in GIS is what led him to his first jobs in mapping, and to his contribution to Apple Maps.
Maps + Montessori Schools
As a kid in public Montessori school, Dakota met a little girl named Melody. They didn’t like each other much at first, but after having gone to school for over a decade, and with their class dwindling to just 11 students by 8th grade, the pair began dating in high school. Ten years later, they’re still going strong.
Dakota remembers himself as a precocious kid, whose life was defined by his involvement in Scouts. True Texans, his family owned a wiener dog named Wilheimina (after Willie Nelson himself). Today, the couple is on the prowl for a new pup, but are currently parents to a pet tortoise.
In his free time, Dakota still enjoys playing with and developing maps. He helps a lot with GIS classes doing guest lectures at his alma mater, Southwestern, often.
“I like to play with Google mapmaker here and there, and add a few things. It’s like what I used to do at Apple Maps, but with Google, anyone can do it. It gets peer-reviewed, but if you do it for a while, you can go in and add stuff on your own,” he says, of his job-turned-hobby.
Flagging His Interests
Another of his major interests is flags, and the traveling that inherently comes with them. In every place he visits, he buys a flag.
“I like to decorate with them, especially during COVID while we’re stuck in our homes. I’ve recently re-broken out the maps and flags and put them all on the walls.”
But nothing will replace maps for this cartophile. (Yes, it’s a word, I looked it up.) His favorite maps? Easily, he says, are metro maps.
“The one I’ve been re-thinking about a lot lately is the London tube map. It isn’t geographically accurate. It’s kind of close but it isn’t accurate, but the spaces in between stops are completely wrong. Where they are is not really what London is shaped like at all. But it gets you all of the information you need from a map and that is really neat. The ability to read it and the ability for anyone to pick it up is more important than knowing where in London that tube stop is. It is indeed a map, one of the most commonly seen maps in the world, but it isn’t at all a geographically correct.”