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The NV5 Geospatial Pinball Wizard

Erin Eckles

When Adam Lefkoff watches the silver ball whizzing around a pinball machine, he doesn't see just a game, he sees a challenge – an engineering problem waiting to be solved. This attitude has not only led him to become a top-ranked pinball player but also a key contributor to the creation of ENVI®, the groundbreaking image processing and analysis software.

“The voyage of the silver ball is more than a game. It's a reflection of my love for engineering and problem-solving," says Adam, a senior engineer at NV5 Geospatial. “Just like in pinball, where every machine has its own unique layout and ruleset, engineering problems require a systematic approach, creativity, and often a lot of trial and error.”

Early Beginnings in Geospatial and the Creation of ENVI

After graduating from UCSD in 1990 with a BS in Computer Science, Adam began his journey into the world of geospatial analytics at the Center for the Study of Earth from Space (CSES) at the University of Colorado. His initial work focused on developing the Spectral Image Processing System (SIPS), a software tool to visualize and process hyperspectral data from NASA's Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS).

“Most image processing systems at that time struggled with the large amounts of data associated with hyperspectral cubes. We saw an opportunity to develop a tool that could handle this data effectively,” recalls Adam. This led to the formation of Better Solutions Consulting (BSC) and the development of the Environment for Visualizing Images (ENVI) in 1994.

ENVI, written in IDL®, provided scientifically validated analytics to interpret remotely sensed images, transforming the way information is derived from such data. Adam, who has worked on ENVI for over 30 years, expresses the dynamic journey of ENVI, "While I’ve worked on ENVI non-stop, the ownership has changed several times. From BSC, it went to RSI, then Kodak, ITT VIS, Exelis VIS, L3Harris, and now NV5."

Family Pinball Wizards

Adam Lefkoff (right) and his son, Escher (left.)

Pinball: A Family Affair

While Adam's passion for geospatial technology was growing, so was his love for pinball - a hobby he shares with his son, Escher. Today, Escher is the top-ranked pinball player in the International Flipper Pinball Association at just 20 years old. Escher's accomplishments were recently highlighted in a Colorado Public Radio article.

“I started taking Escher to pinball competitions when he was four years old. The more you do it, the more comfortable you are doing it. The same is true for both pinball and engineering," says Adam. "Just as I've mentored younger programmers on my team, I've enjoyed teaching Escher the art of pinball.”

Parallels of Problem-Solving

Adam draws a compelling parallel between his work in software development and the game of pinball. "To effectively solve tough engineering problems, you need to break the problem down into smaller parts and then elegantly put all the pieces back together," he says. "Similarly, to be successful in pinball, you have to understand the ruleset, plan your strategy, and execute it properly."

This perspective is reflected in Adam's professional contribution to NV5 Geospatial and his approach to pinball. In both, he seeks out challenges, hones his strategies, and thrives on the thrill of problem-solving. “Often, it’s best to get the hard stuff done first and not leave it until the end.

NASA Desis Mountain Pass CA

EMIT JPL Methane Emissions Turkmenistan

Work-Life Balance and the Future of Pinball

For Adam, pinball and work serve as necessary counterbalances. He explains, "To have a successful career, it's important to have interests outside of your day job. I find both work and pinball extremely satisfying, and they help me maintain a balance."

As for the future of competitive pinball, Adam points to a growing interest among the younger generation. "Like many Esports, pinball competitions are now streamed on Twitch and easy to watch as a spectator. Unfortunately, without sponsorship, it's hard for the sport to grow much, but for those that love to compete, there are tournaments available all year long all around the world."

The journey of the silver ball symbolizes Adam Lefkoff's extraordinary journey – from a young engineer working on an innovative geospatial analytics tool to a top-ranked pinball player and mentor. Whether he's navigating a pinball machine or pioneering new geospatial solutions, he exemplifies the power of passion, problem-solving, and perpetual learning.




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