A fan of mountains and outdoor activities, Katie Gibson choose to go west from the Midwest for college, where she could also find schools strong in engineering. She received her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at University of Colorado Boulder, and her master’s in computer science at Oregon State University.
After many “twists and turns” in her career, Gibson created her current job by co-founding High Country Apps.
“Over the years I gravitated toward opportunities that either had the kind of work I like, or the topics I enjoy. And so when opportunities come open I try to consider, ‘Does that topic matter to me?’ Is it something where I could make a difference?” she said.
Gibson knew she wanted to be an engineer, so she was not deterred by being one of just 10 females in her class of 90 that graduated from UC Boulder in 1984. She chose electrical engineering as her major because she enjoyed math, but admits she did not have a good idea of what a job would be like.
Right out of college she was hired by Hewlett Packard in Fort Collins where she built computer workstations as a component engineer and a quality engineer. During that time she also worked on several software projects, and realized that computer science was her passion.
“Software development is so engaging. I’d find the whole day flies by because I'm so involved in a project. It’s like solving a puzzle every day and I love that,” Gibson said. “It's also very fast-moving, so you're constantly learning new technologies. Plus the rate at which you can turn around projects is really fast compared to other types of engineering.”
After receiving her master’s in computer science at Oregon State, Gibson stayed in Corvallis and worked for HP where her husband also worked as a chemical engineer. Initially they thought they would live in Corvallis for 2 years, but ended up staying for 10 years until they got the itch to return to the Rocky Mountains and moved to Montana.
“The joke in Bozeman is that you have to create your own job to live here,” she said.
And so she did. Gibson was interested in learning how to create mobile applications and an opportunity came up to transform a field guidebook on the flora of the Yellowstone region into an app. The project blossomed into three more apps of different regions: Glacier National Park, Colorado Rocky Mountains, and Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. Soon universities and other organizations started to call and ask if High Country Apps could build an app for them, including the University of Washington’s Burke Herbarium and Oregon State University’s Oregon Flora Project to build the “Oregon Wildflowers” app.
“I love the entrepreneurial aspects of my work. And I love that I get to hear the feedback directly from end-users,” she said.
To top it off she gets to live in a beautiful area where she enjoys long-distance hiking, telemark skiing, and biking. She happily returns to Corvallis at least once a year to visit friends and family.
–by Rachel Robertson