Don’t be such a geomagician!

I was dealing with a client the other day and they said to me; “The reason I like you so much is that you make this GIS stuff so easy to understand…”
When I enquired further, the client compared GIS to a magic box which was only known to a select few….they even pointed out that the name “GIS” was confusing and Google really didn’t help. I then look in the newspapers and see the headline:

Missing flight MH370: Robotic submarine to begin search

Referring, of course, to the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) which will be used to collect multibeam and SSS of the seabed. Though this is a true reflection of how far us specialists can be from the real world when it comes to conversation. So where does the problem lie? Is it that people need education or is it that we need to carry around geogeek dictionaries around with us? … and what is it that I do differently?


Is it me?

Here’s a little secret (Shh! don’t tell anyone!)….I didn’t leave school and go to University to study GIS, in fact I studied electrical & electronic engineering, after that I managed a pub/nightclub before moving to mapping and GIS (it seemed like an obvious choice). What I discovered upon entering the GIS industry was quite scary, lots of very clever people working in their own little boxes, not sharing, each thriving off the credit for their work.

I’ve got to be honest, the open source community scared me. My first steps were hard, not knowing who to go to with questions and searching for answers online was hard…..obviously, 15yrs on a lot has changed but it can still be a baptism of fire. That’s not to say that the proprietary software community didn’t scare me….there was a lot of time where I would be asking “Why can’t I do this” & would spend a lot of time reading manuals which were bloated full of text without much content….and let’s not mention the training courses!

So, enough about me….how can this help you to be a better geogeek? Well here are my top tips for getting on with the normal people on this planet (I by no means count myself as one anymore either!)

  1. Because someone is nodding, don’t expect them to really understand you – to the average person longitude and latitude are stuff geeks deal with and z factor is a poor cousin of a Simon Cowell show. Break it down assume you are talking to a 12yr old……or your mother!
  2. Help your fellow geogeeks – spending 2 mins helping a noob might repay you further on. Within this business we all specialise and go niche, so one day you’ll find those people you helped being valuable pools of knowledge.
  3. Get involved – I spent years working in my little bubble, being quite successful doing what I do. The day I started talking with people on Twitter and joining the little GIS groups was the day I REALLY started to learn.
  4. Be honest, if you dont know, ask – Nothing is worse that assuming you know and baffling a client with bull. Be honest, ask other geopeople and not only will you get a better understanding, but you may just earn a little trust and respect.
  5. Google is your friend – I sound stupid right? Not really…I often Google terms & if they are translated or have a more “normal” term – like, for example, the “Robot Submarine” term. This makes sure that when you speak with people you are using terms they will understand.
  6. Share – Don’t be afraid to lose your “specialism” if you share some of your skills. What I found is that by sharing some of my geodetic know-how, I got to see a better system for dealing with coordinates in GIS software & the inclusion of OSTN02 (a personal mission of mine) into all the major systems.
  7. Get to know at least One GIS Developer, One Surveyor, One Manager & One person in the same field as you – This will keep you & the others relevant. The developer will help you put things into perspective from the software side (You can help by feeding detail on how it SHOULD work). The Surveyor will keep things in perspective by making sure the correct references are used and is grounded in the “real world” (you can help by showing how the data can be utilised and analysed). The manager will help you to to understand the business needs and thinking (you can help by keeping them up to date on technology).
  8. Stop using the word “GIS” – What is it? Is it REALLY what you do or do you really work as a data manager or as a geospatial system operator? Nothing turns people off more that beginning with the word GIS! (Yes, I am still employed as a GIS Consultant BTW)
Group Hug

Please feel free to suggest more do’s and don’ts, the more the merrier. I have definitely found the above has helped me to understand the geo-world around me and kept me from sitting in a corner measuring different vertical datum,

Below are some more links to groups worth getting involved in (mostly UK centric)

Links to groups:

UK QGIS User Group

British Cartographic Society

Association of Geographic Information

Twitter people worth following

@Dragons8mycat, @UnderdarkGIS, @Timlinux, @QGIS, @ESRIUK, @OrdnanceSurvey, @Geospatialnews, @Directionsmag, @ElliotHartley, @Boundlessgeo, @Nordpil, @Geosmiles

Data sources:

The Spatial Blog Data Sources

Nick D

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