Employee Spotlight: Matt Havin
Meteorologist, storm chaser, computer scientist, innovator, former Parks and Recreation manager, outdoor enthusiast, and father—these are all titles that describe Matt Havin, Data Services Manager at Baron. Born in Missouri, Matt developed a passion for weather at an early age. Now in his sixth year as Data Services Manager, he combines his interests in computer science and meteorology to generate new weather innovations, assist with domestic and national proposal responses, work with the sales team and much more.
In a recent discussion, Matt shared his background as a storm chaser, gave details about his interview with the Discovery Channel and explained some of the unique challenges that come with his position.
How did you become interested in weather?
I grew up in Missouri, that’s all you need to know. At one point, I think we had a dozen people in the Baron office who were born in Missouri. They probably have more meteorologists per capita than any other state—the weather is insane. Alabama is nuts, yes. But it’s nothing compared to Missouri.
My babysitter lived on a giant hill that allowed you to see for miles around town. When I was 7, we had a severe weather event. I was able to view the entire thing from her front porch, including multiple simultaneous tornado touchdowns in the distance. Experiencing events like that—winter weather, severe weather, extreme heat, extreme cold, tornadoes, ice storms—made me very interested in weather and how it affects us.
What was your education like?
I attended the University of Missouri in Columbia where I earned my B.S. in Atmospheric Science. When I started my education, I planned on a dual major in meteorology and computer science. At some point in the middle of that I realized that I didn’t want to be in school for six years. Instead, I wanted to be out in the field working.
Some people thrive in traditional classroom environments. I do better with a self-taught, hands-on approach. The program at Missouri was really great; it was a mixture of research and operational meteorology. You really had to know what you were doing in class to succeed. I owe a lot of my success to the University of Missouri. They prepared me well for my first position as an operational meteorologist.
Tell me about your first job.
Right after graduating from Mizzou, I somehow ended up becoming a manager at a Parks and Recreation department in my hometown of St. Clair, Missouri. I was only there for about 3 months, and there was no way I had more than an hour of work to do each day. Have you seen the television show Parks and Recreation? That was my life. I needed a faster pace, and I got it when I landed my first meteorology position at Surface Systems Incorporated (SSI).
SSI was located in Maryland Heights, a suburb of St. Louis. Our claim to fame was winter weather equipment, and we handled around 90 percent of the Road Weather Information System (RWIS) market. We had technology that could detect road temperature, road treatments and other important details. We also offered forecasting services. I remember the days when we did over 400 forecasts in a single 12-hour shift. The job was crazy stressful and a huge learning experience. I think I worked with the single greatest group of winter weather forecasters ever assembled in a single place. They were amazing at what they did, and I’m very thankful for my time there.
How did you hear about Baron?
The first time I heard about Baron was when I was storm chasing. I used Mobile Threat Net with an XM receiver when chasing on the Plains. Back in 2004, only a handful of people in the storm chasing community had even seen the equipment. Getting a reliable cellular data connection while chasing storms was near impossible back then. There were a few Wi-Fi spots set up at truck stops and stuff like that—certain key locations. Otherwise, it was a very data-void area.
It was a lot of work to chase back then. Now, people can just go outside with their smartphone and pinpoint every storm. It’s cartoonishly simple, which is why you have so many people out there who are chasing. I’m going to sound like an old man, but if we could go back to the old days I would love to storm chase again. It was a lot more fun that way, because it was so challenging to try and figure out what was going on. You were starving for information and you had to go through every possible hoop to get it. Sweet-talking librarians in random small towns into letting you get on their internet terminals even if you weren’t a resident—you did stuff like that all the time. I did a lot of social engineering just to get basic information.
When did you start working at Baron? How did you get connected?
I actually heard about the position from Bob Dreisewerd. Bob was also my boss at SSI. Soon after he moved to Huntsville to work at Baron, I received a call about becoming an operational meteorologist. I was apprehensive about moving to Alabama at first, but after my wife Jessica and I visited we were pleasantly surprised with the Huntsville area. Bob asked me to get the forecast operations up and running, so I spent time getting the software set up and researching what tools we needed.
How has your career progressed at Baron?
At some point in the summer of 2007, I proposed the creation of the Baron Tornado Index (BTI) after hearing our President and CEO, Bob Baron, wanted a new tornado detection tool. The company loved the idea, but wondered how we could make it work. I did everything I could to get the project completed and make it successful. We released the product in January 2008, so we got most of it done in only a few months. A station in Memphis decided to try it out on-air just a few weeks later, during the Super Tuesday tornado outbreak. We handed them the keys to the kingdom and they hit it out of the ballpark. It performed beautifully. Every event that used the BTI after that showed us how accurate and powerful the tool really was. A few years later, I was promoted to Data Services Manager, which is where I have been for the last 5 years.
As Data Services Manager, I have to be available 24/7. During severe weather or hurricane season I know my sleep isn’t guaranteed. Although to be honest, I would probably be awake at home watching the whole event anyway. I also spend a fair amount of the week assisting with the viewing and assessment of domestic and international proposal responses. I help architect the technical solutions that goes into the proposal response and answer all questions throughout the process. Sometimes, I travel with the Sales Team when they need assistance in the technical realm. I’m really there to assure the potential customer that we can actually do what we claim.
You were recently interviewed by the Discovery Channel. Tell us about that.
It was interesting. I think my first major television interview went well enough. The interview actually lasted the whole day just to get a 10-15 minute segment. They were filming part of a documentary that will air next spring, which will cover the “Huntsville Mystery Blob” that appeared on radar June 4, 2013. It turned out to be military chaff from Redstone Arsenal that was showing up on the Huntsville Hytop Radar. But, it looked like a thunderstorm. People were really confused because we didn’t have any thunderstorms that day. So, every meteorologist in Huntsville (and many others across the country) was trying to figure out what it was and what it could have been. I explained how to use radar data to determine what the mystery blob was, and broke down a lot of the complicated science so any viewer could understand what happened and what it meant. I can’t really give away too much right now, so stay tuned for more details on the show.
What is the greatest challenge in your job?
I guess the most challenging moments are when all things phase at the same time—significant weather, projects with deadlines, and giving immediate support to our customers. When notable weather is going on, we have to make sure we monitor everything closely. At the same time, my team might have a project that absolutely has to get done on the same day. Excuse the pun, but it’s the perfect storm. As a manager, I have to juggle all of these balls successfully. Situations like that require me to prioritize and make sure the most important things are taken care of first.
What do you love about your job?
The culture at Baron is what I love. Everyone trusts that you will do your job, and you will do it well. It’s always been a very trustworthy environment with flexibility. Everyone here is very passionate about what they bring to the table. It’s great to have a team on my side that is highly motivated and works well together. We are a big family here, and I think that really helps us all get through the challenging times together when they come up.
What are some of your interests outside the office?
I have four kids and another on the way. It doesn’t seem that bad now, but it will be a handful again in October when our daughter arrives. Obviously, I spend a lot of time being a parent. I enjoy all kinds of outdoor activities, so we try to go camping and hiking when we can. I really liked the more dangerous stuff before I had kids, like storm chasing and rock climbing. Finance and entrepreneurship are now hobbies of mine that are a tad safer (I really enjoy the show Shark Tank). I guess our take on the American Dream is to succeed at our current endeavors so we can finally afford that family vacation home built inside of a volcano on our private island that my wife and I have talked so much about. It’s good to have dreams.