Don Cooke has been a leading proponent of making government data available for public use. He started his career in the public sector where he quickly recognized the potential of that data to incubate new industries that would improve the quality of life for all Americans.
In 1967 Don was a member of the Census Bureau team that developed the predecessor of today’s TIGER system. The approach was called Dual Independent Map Encoding (DIME) and provided a major breakthrough by using topology in its database design. This work was part of New Haven Census Use Project, looking for innovative ways to use digital Census data to deliver useful product. He quickly saw that the raw data needed a third party to manipulate that data into something of greater value.
Cooke soon became a leader in the GIS industry. In 1968 he co-founded Urban Data Processing, Inc., now Harte- Hanks Data Technologies (HHDT), which is a leader in supplying MCIF services and software to banks. Cooke founded Geographic Data Technology, Inc. (GDT) in 1980, which was the major TIGER digitizing contractor in the mid-1980s, and data supplier to the Census Bureau. GDT was acquired by Tele Atlas in 2004 and Cooke remains an integral part of the company as Chief Scientist.
Don served on the URISA Board of Directors in the 1970s. He was very significant in moving URISA to see GIS as the most significant change agent in urban and regional information technology. He taught workshops in DIME and founded URISA’s Special Interest Group, first called SIG/GBF (Geographic Base File). He was famous for bringing a gallon of New Hampshire maple syrup to serve as a door prize for conference participants.
Cooke continues to be a significant voice in the public sector. He served as a member of the National Academy of Science's Mapping Science Committee from 1989 to 1993. During that time, he continued his advocacy for sharing public data. He became an advocate for parcel data and is quoted in the 2007 report, National Land Parcel Data: A Vision for the Future. The quote gives a good example of the clarity and humor he brings to his arguments.
“Currently municipalities and counties with 17th-century land records systems are systematically crippled in their ability to administer taxation equitably, conserve their natural resources, plan for rational growth, and educate their students in geospatial technologies. It's really amazing that there are no digital parcel maps readily available in large areas of the country. This is the 21st century, Hello?????”
Don has documented some of the early days of GIS with a chapter in the 1997 book The History of Geographic Information Systems. In 2005, he wrote Fun with GPS, an educational guide designed to inspire global positioning services (GPS) enthusiasts and help educators incorporate GPS mapping technology in the classroom.
He is a graduate of Yale and studied Civil Engineering Systems at MIT. He still plays ice hockey and chamber music. He is an avid amateur astronomer/astrophotographer and windsurfer, and he enjoys driving his ’59 Mercedes 220S and ’59 AC.