The case for open-source GIS

Logos of Open-source GIS projects

I have nothing against ESRI, they have been innovators in the geospatial software world from the beginning. I got into GIS from a natural resources background and I know that they have supported the conservation community for decades through their conservation grants program and many other ways. Jack Dangermond’s recent donation of $165 million to the Nature Conservancy to purchase one of the last large undeveloped parcels of southern California coastline stirred my heart and made me well up in tears with pride in the GIS community. I am not opposed to companies selling GIS software for profit. I believe in capitalism. I believe that entrepreneurs should be rewarded financially for producing high quality products at a fair price. Continue reading “The case for open-source GIS”

What can a spatial database do for you?

Is spatial really special?

Many GIS professionals come into the field from a specific discipline and become interested in GIS as a tool with which to accomplish their goals in their original field and by attrition or intent begin to shift their focus towards GIS. I followed this path myself.  After going to school to study wildlife biology, I learned about GIS and enrolled in a minor program in GIS and spatial analysis. I think that this is a good thing in many ways. People with an interest in solving problems in other disciplines will push the field forward in directions that someone who’s sole focus was on GIS would be unlikely to go. We need those people in the industry.

But GIS is a technical discipline. At its core GIS is database technology, albeit with a spatial focus. In my humble opinion many university GIS departments, especially at the certificate level, focus too much on the “spatial” aspects of GIS and not enough on the underlying database technology. As a result these programs produce GIS professionals who are very good at cartography and spatial analysis but who find themselves unprepared for the modern GIS job market where there is an increasing need for people with skills in enterprise level database administration, SQL, and web-based GIS. Even if they are not performing those tasks themselves, GIS professionals should at least have an understanding of the technology in order to be able to communicate effectively with those who will be performing those tasks. Continue reading “What can a spatial database do for you?”

Do I need to know how to code to be a GIS professional?

The short answer is no. But it will help you more than you can imagine. The GIS world doesn’t need everyone to be coders. Most GIS software is sufficiently complex that one could easily spend their entire careers working with one program and never use all of it, let alone have to improve on it.  It would certainly be possible to specialize in a specific aspect of GIS or a specific type of analysis and never learn to write your own code.  If the thought of programming sends tremors of fear down your spine, fear not. You will always be needed. Continue reading “Do I need to know how to code to be a GIS professional?”

Why your organization needs a web GIS strategy.

What is web GIS?

When most people think about web GIS, they think about publishing a map or a data set for the world to see.  That’s certainly part of it, but only a small part.  For many years when I would try to sell my employers on the concept of web GIS they would reply “We don’t want everyone to see our proprietary information.”  After digging in and learning more on my own I began to realize that there was much more to web GIS than publishing content. Continue reading “Why your organization needs a web GIS strategy.”

Why QGIS should be part of everyone’s GIS toolbox

QGIS is an open source desk-top GIS program. It plays the same role as ArcMap in the ESRI ecosystem. QGIS even comes with QGIS Browser, which is similar in function to ArcCatalog. Most GIS analysts in the US learn ArcGIS in college and work for companies that have ArcGIS available. Many people are under the impression that if they have access to ArcGIS, there is no advantage to their company for them to learn QGIS.

I felt the same way for over a decade. Over the past several years I have come to believe that QGIS has many advantages over ArcGIS.  This is true  even for companies that already own ArcGIS licenses. There are some things QGIS does much better. Some things it does much cheaper. And admittedly, there are some things that ArcGIS does better.  The important thing is to understand the differences and when to use QGIS and when to use ArcGIS. Continue reading “Why QGIS should be part of everyone’s GIS toolbox”

What is the optimal GIS data storage architecture for a small to medium sized consulting firm?

This is a loaded question as there is probably not one single answer for everyone. There are important considerations, however, that do apply to all.  I have earned a living for the past 14 years as a GIS/Database specialist for a number of small but growing environmental consulting firms.  This post is specific to my experience but I suspect that at least some aspects of it are common to small consulting firms in other fields and possibly small non-profits as well.  I will focus specifically on optimizing the GIS data storage of large datasets in a single-user environment with this post, but I will follow shortly with a second post dealing with moving from single user desktop GIS to multi-user enterprise level systems.

Continue reading “What is the optimal GIS data storage architecture for a small to medium sized consulting firm?”