David Bitner on the open source advantage: “It’s not just the money — it’s the scalability”

David Bitner
David Bitner

David Bitner is the owner of dbSpatial LLC, an independent consulting firm providing services that focus on the use of geospatial open source software. A 14-year veteran of the GIS industry, David has served on the board of the Sahana Software Foundation, is an OSGeo Officer, and was Conference Chair for FOSS4GNA 2013.

David was interviewed for GeoHipster by Mike Dolbow.

Q: How did you get into mapping/GIS?

A: I started working with GIS during my undergraduate work in geology, when I took a class in GIS and remote sensing. For my Master’s degree, I decided to roll straight into studying GIS and remote sensing in forestry at the University of Minnesota. I had a very unique opportunity to work with the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, studying the benefits of geospatial data sharing with Will Craig. My graduate work was spent interviewing professionals in the Twin Cities learning about how they used geographic data. That work set a great foundation for my career in this region.

After that, I worked for the National Weather Service for almost four years, then the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) for nine years.

Q: Last year you left a full time job at the MAC to focus on your consulting work with dbSpatial. Was there something specific that prompted that change? What is different now that you’re your own boss?

A: Well, during nine years at a small agency like the MAC, one of the nice things was having a lot of flexibility and encouragement to go and learn new things and technology. The flip side of that was, being the only GIS person at the agency meant nine years of doing the same thing over and over. So, I had been moonlighting for several years, and then finally had some good opportunities that enabled me to take the leap and go out on my own. It’s been the best move I’ve made in my career — I’ve been able to stay in touch with my colleagues at the MAC while still branching out into different work.

Working for yourself, you never really get a full vacation because you always have to be on call if something you’ve made goes down. But you can also work from anywhere. Next week I’ll be working from the shore of Lake Superior – as long as I have my laptop and an internet connection, I can work anywhere. While I might not get a full vacation, I can stretch out a lot more.

Q: Is there anything you didn’t expect with the transition?

A: I’ve been lucky in that most of my work has been in a small number of long term projects. It’s nice to have the variety; I’m kind of an ADD personality, so having a mix of projects is a great fit. Working with larger teams on some of the projects has taken some getting used to compared to my prior situation. It takes a lot more discipline when you know the code you’re writing is going to be seen by more than just you. Instead of just hammering through something to get it to work, you need to have a lot more discipline because it has to work and others need to understand it.

Q: What are some of the more interesting projects you’ve been working on lately?

A: There are two big projects that have taken most of my time and both are really interesting. The first is working on NOAA’s emergency response management application (ERMA), which is a portal that NOAA uses to provide a Common Operating Picture (COP) as well as some analytical capabilities for emergency response. For example, it’s being actively used for the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Another project is working with FireStats, a consulting outfit that helps with Fire Departments, providing analyses for accreditation and services like siting stations. They also provide a tool that allows individual fire chiefs to explore their own data. As a subcontractor, I’m building out their analytical engine, which provides a lot of powerful information for Fire Departments, such as their response time, incident locations relative to resources, and other analytics. It’s been nice to get in-depth with those two groups.

Q: Running a small business is hard. Does specializing in open source software implementations make it harder or easier?

A: I would say that specializing in open source makes it possible. The things that I do and the products that I’m able to provide are only possible because I build on top of open source solutions. First, being able to deliver a full package that someone can implement without any strings attached makes the price point very competitive and marketable. When you’re a very small outfit (dbSpatial is just two folks, David and Dan Little), it’s hard to demand a premium price. But when we can provide a turnkey product that can be implemented without additional software licensing, it’s a tremendous advantage.

Also, the reason I got into open source software was not because of the cost. All of the work I did in government was on the fringe of what was possible with the proprietary desktop solutions provided by Esri and ERDAS. I always needed to tweak and go beyond the standard solutions, because those solutions didn’t’ fit the projects I had.

My work at the MAC, for example, was with four-dimensional data such as flight tracks with an X,Y,Z, and time for every point. Nothing handled that out of the box at the time. So my only recourse was to extend things myself and work with other open source providers such as Paul Ramsey’s Refractions Research. I was able to contract with Refractions to extend PostGIS to meet my needs, and then use the results within a few weeks. Compared to relying on proprietary software solutions, the turnaround was much faster, and the result was a tool that met the exact specifications of what I needed.

Also, I was able to more quickly stand up highly responsive services with open source software. When an airport noise lawsuit was settled with the MAC, that proved advantageous. We had a web map where people could see where they were in relation to the contours. This was the first time an airport was going to provide noise mitigation to this degree, so it hit the national news. And given the surge in traffic, that server came crawling to its knees. Luckily, I had moved everything to use MapServer a few weeks before, so within a few hours, we were able to repurpose a few other servers to distribute the load (without worrying about license limitations). If I had had a node-locked license, we would have been dead in the water; the acquisition process to get more licenses would have been too onerous to respond to the demand, and then we’d be stuck paying for higher licenses even after we had overcome the initial wave of higher traffic. It’s not just the money – it’s the scalability.

I got started in open source because it was the only way to actually solve the problems I needed to solve. Then, I was also able to show my employers how much money we were saving. As a result, I got more buy-in and was able to participate more actively in the community.

Q: Your Twitter handle is “bitnerd”. Did you consciously arrange your last name and first initial to include “nerd” in the name?

A: That is the first e-mail name I was given when I went to college. So, I was given that handle by the IT people at Carleton College, and it stuck and became a nickname, especially among anyone working with computers.

Q: We define hipsters as people who think outside the box and often shun the mainstream (see visitor poll with 1106 responses). Would you consider yourself a hipster? How do you feel about the term hipster?

A: Can someone who has a GISP be considered a GeoHipster? I don’t think I would consider myself a hipster because I tend to try to work within the mainstream, although I do try to push the boundaries. I try to do things as efficiently as possible, which often means using different tools than the ones used in the mainstream.

Plus I could never be a hipster because I like good beer too much.

Q: Geohipster (and geohipsterism as a concept) is sometimes criticized for being exclusive and/or attempting to foster divisions within the industry. Or sometimes for being different for the sake of being different. You have advocated for open source software for years. Did you do it to be different?

A: I did it to get the job done. I think that there are too many walls and too much dismissiveness by folks in both the “neo geo” and “traditional geo” worlds. I think too many folks in the traditional geography world are leery of change and just want to do things the way they always have. I think too many folks in the “neo geo” camp are dismissive of the technical expertise and experience that a lot of the traditional geographers have. I try to sit in the middle, and definitely come from the more traditional background, but I understand that the tools move fast, and if you can stay current with the new tools and apply the traditional knowledge, you can grow along with the industry, while still maintaining the quality control and standards you have the formal training in.

In many presentations I’ve given on open source and proprietary solutions, I describe a tendency – not an inherent property, but a tendency among the two types of software. With proprietary software, it often tends to be a giant swiss army knife that will do anything you want it to. But if you need it to do one thing, like drive a screw, you’re better off with a screwdriver. Open source software tends to follow the UNIX philosophy of being more specific and focused on specific needs. It does make it harder to approach in that you need to know what specific tool to use during specific situations, but once you have that knowledge, the tools are typically much more efficient and faster at that task.

Q: You volunteer to support the City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival, and you’re an active bike rider. Do you think it’s a coincidence that a lot of Minnesota geographers are skiers, bikers, and “outdoorsy”?

A: I don’t think it’s something that is inherent to Minnesota geographers, I think it’s common among geographers in general – from both the traditional and “neo geo” camps. If your job is expressing geography and knowing where you are, I think you’re likely to be someone who likes to be out, traveling, skiing, biking, running. When you look at the MN GIS/LIS Consortium conference, you see people getting up in the morning to do fun runs before sessions, and I don’t find that surprising. I think you see a lot of people who are interested in geography are also people who like being outdoors and engaged in the areas they study on maps or in data, and I definitely identify with that.

Call for maps for the 2015 GeoHipster calendar

We are planning to publish a 2015 GeoHipster wall calendar, and we invite you to submit your GeoHipstery maps or other images for the calendar (email to atanas@entchev.com). We will credit the authors, obviously.

The first submission (below) has come from Markus Mayr in Vienna, Austria (thanks, Markus!). We need twelve more.

[UPDATE July 06, 2014] There is no deadline for submissions. We will accept submissions until we receive at least thirteen, at which point we’ll make an announcement. So far we have received 7 submissions from 5 authors [count updated 2014-07-27]. Several more mapmakers have expressed interest but not submitted yet.

Trees of Türkenschanzpark by Markus Mayr, Vienna, Austria
Trees of Türkenschanzpark by Markus Mayr, Vienna, Austria

Josh Livni: “Depth is important; breadth is more useful”

 

Josh Livni
Josh Livni

Josh Livni has been making maps ever since he started getting lost in the wilderness. He works on the Google Crisis Response team, helping to make actionable information more accessible during times of disaster. Before joining Google, he ran a consulting company, integrating cartographic and statistical tools on the web.  He cuts his own hair, likes his beers bitter, and his salsa spicy.

Josh was interviewed for GeoHipster by Atanas Entchev.

Q: How did you get into mapping/GIS?

A:  Well, my wife thinks it’s because I can’t find my way around anywhere. Which is generally true: I don’t have a great sense of direction.  Starting in high school I spent a lot of time in the wilderness, and maps were like magic to me as I figured out different routes.  By the time I got to college I started to think that the integration of technology and maps was imminent and I really wanted to be part of it all.

After working at a streaming media startup during the first “.com” boom, I decided to make a career for myself that allowed me to focus on technology and the environment. I had a degree in environmental studies, and GIS seemed like a great way to mix some computer skills with figuring out how the earth works, and hopefully having a positive impact.

I started out volunteering at an environmental non-profit, where I taught myself how to use Esri and related proprietary software. From there, I slowly switched to using open source as I needed to programmatically handle bigger datasets, longer running processes, and webmaps. I never turned back and I’ve been working in geo now for over 12 years. I feel lucky to have found a profession that is so perfect for me and that I enjoy doing everyday.

Q: You recently transferred within Google from being a geo developer advocate to the Crisis Response team. What will your new duties include? Will you be doing more or less geo stuff than before?

A: There’s almost always some spatial component in getting useful information to people who have been affected during a disaster, so I’ll still be working with lots of geo data. But as always, there are many more ways to effectively communicate spatial data than simply placing it within the context of a map. My colleagues on the Crisis Response team have put a lot of thought into this (and many other areas), and I’m going to be focused on helping automate and scale more of our response processes to bring actionable information to those affected, more quickly, across the world.  The exciting part here is mixing spatial content with other data, where the concept of geo goes beyond maps and cartography.

Q: I was an early user of your shpEscape tool, which loads shapefiles into fusion tables and now also converts shapefiles to GeoJSON and TopoJSON. I love shpEscape — it fills an important void. Will you continue to enhance and add functionality to shpEscape?

A:  shpEscape was actually a weekend project of mine many years ago.  The Fusion Tables API doesn’t accept shapefiles as an input, but it was gaining a following amongst non-GIS folks who weren’t sure what to do with this “shapefile” thing they had downloaded. The code was originally designed to be throwaway, and the site was never really advertised; I’m constantly surprised it’s still running, let alone used.  But I’m glad you like it!  When people tweet me if the queue seems stuck (usually when someone uploads a few very large complex files), I often say:  ‘Yup, I should really think about working on that sometime.’  Maybe it’s that time now and I’ll check it out again: What enhancement would you like to see?

Q: How about the ability to handle all features of the “enhanced” KML output of Google My Tracks, which currently comes across as just two points (beginning and end) in most mapping applications?

Well shpEscape only accepts shapefiles as input.  But adding more formats, including KML, is definitely a good idea.  I’ve had in the back of my mind a total rewrite that turns it into a general interchange site for any spatial data for a while now.

You may also be interested to know the OGC KML Standards Working Group is currently discussing whether to put gx:Track into the upcoming 2.3 spec. While some of the gx: extensions to KML don’t make sense for 2D-only applications, or those without robust temporal visualizations, this one certainly does.  If and when it becomes part of the KML namespace, I’m optimistic we’ll see more applications accepting it.

Q: Do you think the current open/closed source balance — within and without the geo industry — will change significantly in the near future? Will open source continue to gain market share?

A: There are a lot of different markets, and in some niche verticals open source may never gain traction.  But overall yeah, I expect open source software will continue to play a bigger and bigger role in both geo and the rest of the software ecosystem.

Q: Heartbleed and the recently-discovered OpenSSL vulnerability have bolstered skepticism regarding one of the main advantages of open source. Does it make a difference that the code is available for review if nobody reviews it?

A: I’m not convinced that security is a priority for most developers.  That is the real problem, and I think it affects both open source and proprietary software similarly.  There are exceptions on both sides, but developers are mostly interested in features, like ease of use, or interop, or whatever.  Getting stuff to work is hard, so most developers focus on just getting stuff working, which is why everything is broken.

Q: We define hipsters as people who think outside the box and often shun the mainstream (see visitor poll with 1106 responses). Would you consider yourself a hipster? How do you feel about the term hipster?

A: I think that poll has me nailed: I almost always prefer GeoJSON (my only complaint is no explicit winding order), and I would never refer to myself as a GeoHipster.

Q: Geohipster (and geohipsterism as a concept) is sometimes criticized for being exclusive and/or attempting to foster divisions within the industry. Or sometimes for being different for the sake of being different. You have published the source code for shpEscape. Did you do it to be different?

A: Cliques can be important for building depth within a specific community, but I lean towards breadth as being more useful (at least for me).  When webmaps became popular, the neo-geography crowd purposely avoided a lot of knowledge from the GIS community. By passing up a lot of unnecessary complexity, one result was a tremendous upswell of simple and elegant tools, but also a lot of mistakes and miscommunication that still hinder us today.

Looking at the poll results it seems like people who responded to being geohipsters are bridging that divide more than coming up with anything particularly exclusive, which wouldn’t have been my initial definition of a hipster, but I think it’s good in this case.

As for publishing the source code for ShpEscape, I did it because open sourcing stuff like that just makes sense.  I recall being a bit embarrassed by the code quality, but that wasn’t the point of the demo, nor is it a good excuse to keep it hidden.  I doubt many people have actually tried to deploy it though; I’d like to go back to it one day with a fresh rewrite as a generic swiss army knife for transforming data, with a more reasonable architecture.

Q: You fly paragliders, which is something I always wanted to try. How did you get into that? Did you do that to be different? :)

A:  No, I tried paragliding to see if it would be awesome. For as long as I remember I’ve had dreams of flying, and when I first heard about paragliding I thought it might be boring (sitting in some kind of chair didn’t compare to my superman-style vision).  But a friend of mine convinced me to give it a shot, and I was totally hooked.  In some ways, it’s more amazing than my childhood dreams were.  Unfortunately I have not been up for a long time.  As a personal goal, I’m going to go flying before I work on shpEscape.  Sorry!

Anita Graser: “Cooking is similar to coding: there are rules, cookbooks, and if you practice you’ll get better”

Anita Graser
Anita Graser

Anita Graser (Twitter, blog) is an open source GIS advocate and data visualization geek with a background in geographic information sciences, working with the Mobility department at the Austrian Institute of Technology, Vienna. She is part of the QGIS project steering committee and an OSGeo Charter member.

Anita was interviewed for GeoHipster by Atanas Entchev.

Q: How did you get into mapping/GIS?

A: Since my parent’s house is reasonably difficult to find, I had to learn how to draw a map of the neighborhood quite early on if I wanted to have a new friend come over and visit.

My first encounter with projections was in upper elementary Geography class when I realized that all those maps I had collected for my presentation about Hungary just would not fit together. I gave my best to hand-draw a combined map anyway. It would definitely have been great to have a GIS at hand back then.

I discovered the Geomatics study program when I was touring some local universities after high school. It looked like a great way to combine my love for maps and technology and that’s how I got into GIS.

Q: You work for the Austrian Institute of Technology in Vienna, Austria. What do you do there?

A: I am working as a researcher at the AIT’s Mobility department. The focus of my work lies on spatial data analysis and visualization. Naturally, this means lots of GPS tracks and street network data. My recent work (http://anitagraser.com/publications/) includes, for example, analyzing OpenStreetMap suitability for vehicle routing or the impact of elevation data accuracy on estimating electric vehicle energy usage.

Q: At Geohipster we are fascinated with what drives people such as yourself to embrace open source. How did you get into open source? What is your reason?

A: Like most students, at university, I first got introduced to proprietary desktop GIS before my first experience with open source GIS in the form of PostGIS and UMN Mapserver. I really learned to appreciate the freedom of open source during my internship at Arsenal Research (now part of AIT) where I was able to set up my own PostGIS databases to experiment with different datasets and build web visualizations around them.

I started looking into QGIS mostly because I needed a tool which allowed me to automate data preparation and visualization to evaluate algorithm results. I ended up writing my first QGIS Python plugin which I was also able to use in my thesis. This success, the welcoming and helpful community, as well as the increasing range of QGIS functionality, motivated me to stick with open source. Additionally, I found it very liberating not to have to go to the university labs whenever I wanted to do some GIS work. Instead, I was able to have my GIS with me and install it wherever needed. For my use cases, I simply found the flexibility of open source GIS tools more convenient and better suited.

Q: You are part of the QGIS Project Steering Committee (PSC) and an OSGeo Charter member. This is both a great recognition and a great responsibility. What is your function on these boards?

A: OSGeo Charter members, like regular members, can support the foundation in a variety of ways including coding, teaching, documenting and much more. Additionally, charter members have the responsibility to elect the OSGeo board. To become a charter member, one has to be nominated and elected by the existing members.

On the QGIS PSC, I’m currently acting as design advisor. This role includes overseeing activities related to branding, user experience, icons, and other graphical elements of the application and the website. With QGIS 2.0, I think we took a big step towards a more professional look of the application. We also relaunched the website and started a new usability mailing list (http://osgeo-org.1560.x6.nabble.com/QGIS-UX-f5095867.html) to name just a few of the recent activities in this field.

Q: You are informally referred to as the High Priestess of QGIS. How involved and time-consuming is your involvement with OS and QGIS? How many hours/week do you spend on OS- and QGIS-development-related tasks?

A: On workdays, when the QGIS mailing list and GIS.StackExchange are busy, I spend my time on user support mostly. Depending on the number of issues raised, I spend somewhere between one and two hours most of the time. Weekends are generally less busy and I’ll  try out new features, write blog posts, or prepare other material as needed. Additionally, the QGIS PSC meets once a month to discuss organizational issues.

I also really enjoy when I get around to doing some development work, for example, on my Time Manager plugin or testing new Processing script ideas. But that’s only a relatively small part of the time I spend on the project.

Q: Your mother tongue is German, but your English is impeccable. Does it bother you when native English speakers are too cavalier with English spelling and grammar?

A: Thank you for the compliment! In my experience, most English speakers I’ve met will try to help people who are not native speakers even if it’s sometimes difficult to grasp the exact meaning of the question or issue raised. A spelling error here or there usually won’t bother anyone but unfortunately, misunderstandings can become very common if some people in a discussion are less familiar with the workings of English grammar.

Q: Your Twitter handle is @underdarkGIS. How did you come up with that? What does it mean?

A: I like reading fantasy books. One thing led to another and I registered underdark.wordpress.com and started blogging. When I joined GIS.StackExchange and then Twitter, it just seemed to make sense to choose a username or handle which people could recognize and connect with my other web presences.

Q: I understand that you enjoy cooking. Is it a coincidence that a disproportionately high number of software designers and developers love to cook? Is there a similarity in the processes of software design and cooking?

A: On some level, cooking is very similar to coding: there are rules, cookbooks if you want, and if you practice, you’ll eventually get better at it. On the other hand, I find cooking has the clear advantage that it’s an activity with a clear and most of the time rewarding end. You cook, you eat, and that’s it. Coding is quite different in this regard. You can write code, test it and use it but once you put it out in the real world, the actual work of bugfixing and updating has just started.

Q: What is your favorite dish to cook? What is your favorite dish to order when you eat out? Wiener Schnitzel is mine (really), when on the menu (rarely in the US).

A: I really enjoy cooking curries and pasta. If I would have to pick a favourite, it would probably be chicken with carrots in red coconut curry sauce. That’s something I cook – with slight variations – at least twice per month.

When eating out, I always try to order either local specialities or uncommon dishes which I would or could not prepare at home. I like to experiment and there are only few things which I don’t eat at all.

Q: Do you ever cook for a large number of people? If you do, how do you handle the inevitable differences in tastes and preferences of the diners? The parallels with QGIS development should be obvious.

A: Luckily my family is not particularly picky but if I cook for a group of people and I’m not sure about the preferences, I’ll usually prepare a couple of smaller courses and different side dishes so that everyone should be able to find at least a couple of things they like. I guess I’m building a modular meal if you want to put it that way, and everyone can customize their dining experience.

Q: Thank you very much for the interview. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

A: Thanks for having me! You can find out more about my work with open source GIS as well as my research on http://anitagraser.com and if you want to get in touch, just contact me on Twitter or drop me an email.

GeoHipster 6-month anniversary recap

GeoHipster launched six months ago. At the time we didn’t know what to expect, and where it was going. But the response has been encouraging, and we’ll keep forging full speed ahead.

First of all, I want to thank Glenn Letham for encouraging me to launch GeoHipster, and GISUser for the initial financial support. Next, I want to thank all interviewees who graciously agreed to answer my (sometimes silly) questions. I will be remiss if I didn’t specifically mention Renee Sieber, our first interviewee, who came up with the idea for the interview format. Thank you, Renee! Last but not least, a huge thank you goes out to all readers, commenters, tweeters, etc.

A growing number of volunteers are helping make GeoHipster ever more interesting. We have more great interviews coming up, as well as articles and other surprises. Any and all comments, suggestions, and critiques are welcome — just email me at atanas@entchev.com.

Finally, a few announcements. Firstly, we are planning to publish a 2015 GeoHipster wall calendar. We invite you to submit your GeoHipstery maps or other images for the calendar (email to atanas@entchev.com). We will credit the authors, obviously.

Secondly, we have a new logo (like the new design?), and have GeoHipster t-shirts for sale to help offset our costs. Show your support and GeoHipster pride in style.

GeoHipster t-shirt
GeoHipster t-shirt

Bill Dollins to Geohipster: “Programming feels very similar to writing a poem”

Bill Dollins
Bill Dollins

Bill Dollins (Twitter, blog) is a programmer and partner at Zekiah Technologies, responsible for leading Zekiah’s geospatial consulting business.

Bill was interviewed for Geohipster by Atanas Entchev.

Q: You are a Senior Vice President at Zekiah Technologies. Do you consider yourself a mapper, a coder, a businessman, or a social media guru?

A: I tend to think of myself as a programmer first and then a businessperson. I have been programming for a very long time so that’s primarily how I think of myself. I’ve been at Zekiah since 2001 and I take the responsibility of keeping a stable flow of work for our staff very seriously so my role as a businessperson ranks high in my identity. As far as mapping is concerned, I can use my code to make maps but I am definitely not a cartographer. I had no formal training in geography prior to getting into GIS and learned a lot from some very patient professional geographers early on. I have a lot of respect for cartographers and geographers because the knowledge required to do what they do well is very complex and I’m not certain I would be doing them proper justice to hang my hat on that peg.

Social media is an interesting question. I don’t consider myself a guru with it. All of my presence on social media has its genesis in my blog, which was my first social media “property.” That really is an outgrowth of another component of my identity not mentioned above; which is that of a writer. I have written from an early age and programming, for me, is actually a creative experience that feels very similar to writing a poem. Writing is as core to me as programming.

Q: You do contract work for the US Navy, which we probably can’t talk about. So let’s talk about your extracurricular geoactivities which you document on your blog geoMusings. You write about integrating open source with Esri technologies. Tell us more about this. Do you do it for fun?

A: I have been programming in one way or another since I was ten years old. I am exceedingly blessed to be able to make a living at something that I truly enjoy. So, yes, I do it for fun and recreation. That said, very little of what I blog about is purely recreational. I, like many people, started in the geospatial world with Esri technologies. It will come as a shock to no one, especially Esri, that Esri tools alone rarely meet all of a user’s needs. So I have always been involved in integrating various technologies with Esri tools. I’ve gotten fairly adept at abstracting concepts and techniques out of my customer-focused work and turning them into free-standing examples for posts. That abstraction process is very recreational and keeps me mentally flexible.

Since the mid-2000s, I’ve been working more and more with open source geospatial tools. Given that most of my customers are Federal, they also tend to be long-standing Esri shops. As a result, my initial work started out focused on integrating open-source with Esri. My first visible effort with this was participating in zigGIS, which enabled direct read of PostGIS by ArcMap. PostgreSQL and PostGIS were of great benefit to one of my Navy customers and zigGIS was a natural fit. Since then my work has evolved to a point where about 50% of my work is purely with open-source tools, including some current Navy work. Part of that is due to the fact that open source tools are making significant inroads, and part of it is due to my intentionally seeking such work. As a consultant, I think proficiency with a diverse toolset benefits my business and my customers. As a programmer, it’s just damn fun!

Q: We define hipsters as people who think outside the box and often shun the mainstream (see visitor poll with 1106 responses). Would you consider yourself a hipster? How do you feel about the term hipster?

A: I think I’ll answer this through the prism of Geohipster. One common thread I have noticed in everyone you’ve profiled so far is a high level of energy, commitment, and enthusiasm for the work that they do. In that regard, I identify with them. I genuinely love what I do and can’t wait to solve the next problem.

The term “hipster” is a passing fad that is already losing its meaning. It is ultimately harmless.

Q: Is there a mainstream of geospatial data handling/representation? Who/what is part of it?

A: There is a mainstream and we are all part of it. The mainstream of handling and representation of geospatial data is, has been, and continues to be the layer. Regardless of technology provenance, geospatial data, especially vector, always distills down to layers. It is the most basic representation in GIS and also its continuing greatest limitation.

Given that GIS descends from map-making software, the continued prevalence of the layer is understandable. Maps were compiled from mylar separates which became layers in our software. We structure our data as layers. This is a function of both schema and common limitations of our visualization software.

I never really thought much about this until a project I worked on in 2005. It was an R&D project focused at modeling and analyzing infrastructure interdependencies. The system used an agent-based modeling approach and my role was to to provide some ArcObjects interfaces to access the geospatial data. The relevant features were used to instantiate objects in model space that began to interact with and respond to each other. The layer constraint did not exist and each object’s relationships to other objects, regardless of type, were more easily modeled.

I will confess I got a little obsessed with this concept and began delving into it more. Most geospatial databases allow you to remove the geometry constraint to store heterogeneous geometries in a table, including ArcSDE. The biggest limitation was with visualization. In the case of ArcMap (at the time), it would crash if you tried to add such a layer. At a minimum, it is inconvenient in terms of symbology and geometry collision. Layers make that easier.

If I were ever to get the opportunity to dedicate myself to a problem, it would probably be this. I find my mind wandering back to it these many years later. I think that we will probably not get past this until, as an industry, we recognize that map-making is a distinct use case from modeling and analysis and we allow our tools to diverge accordingly, similar to the way CAD and GIS diverged long ago. I could go on about this topic ad nauseam but your readers would probably fall asleep.

Q: Geohipster (and geohipsterism as a concept) is sometimes criticized for being exclusive and/or attempting to foster divisions within the industry. On the other hand, the just-ended State of the Map US (SOTMUS) conference in Washington, DC looked like a huge geohipster lovefest. Where is the industry going? Further fragmenting into tinier factions, or consolidating into a homogeneous whole?

A: The idea that geohipsterism could foster divisions in the industry could possibly be valid if it were approached without irony. I think the direction you have taken Geohipster should allay any such concerns. I was skeptical of it at first but have come to find it quite informative. I appreciate the Q&A format with other-than-the-usual suspects.

I did not attend SOTMUS myself, due to prior family commitments, but there was a photo tweeted from it that I think sums up the current direction of our industry: https://twitter.com/ajturner/status/454809703315668992. There’s Esri, Boundless, and Google at MapBox, all in one photo. It represents the flowering of innovation across our industry from numerous sources, whether traditionally proprietary or fully open source or in between. I see integration as the rule for at least the next few years. With the exception of Google, that photo represents the spectrum of technologies that I am currently using in my consulting work to support customers.

I am integrating MBTiles into a mobile situational awareness system, I am part of a contract team that is placing Boundless technology at the core of a major solution for a civilian Federal agency, and my company is using Esri technology to produce maps and automate infrastructure analysis for defense and homeland security users. This is all current work and tracks with diversification seen by others I talk to.

I see absolutely no evidence that our industry is consolidating to a homogeneous whole. I suppose the risk of fragmentation is there but, right now, each tool suite has its strengths and all of the players have been great about implementing de facto and/or de jure open standards so it’s very easy to pick the right tools for the job and integrate them all.

As a programmer and integrator, I hope our industry never returns to days like the early 2000s, when Esri had little to no credible competition and the whole industry just seemed stagnant. I actually considered leaving the industry at that point. The current level of innovation and competition seems to be pushing everyone forward and even Esri is responding. I’m not sure that would have happened without the competitive stimulus of the likes of Boundless, MapBox, Google, and the wider, independent open-source geospatial community in general.

Q: You own a John Deere and georedneck.com. Do you consider yourself a (geo)redneck? Any plans for georedneck.com?

A: I will confess that my Deere is a baby one; a 17-horsepower lawn tractor. My father owns several farm tractors that would put mine to shame. I bought mine several years ago and it has been a tank. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend one if you are in the market.

It has become stylish to tack the prefix “geo” onto the front of just about everything, so I parked georedneck.com to head off any irrational exhuberance. I haven’t taken time to decide what, if any, concept may arise from it.

As far as actually being a redneck, I’d say I probably don’t quite fit the bill, but I will say that I am very comfortable with the culture and ethos. It is more nuanced than it is often portrayed and there is a lot to respect about it, if one takes the time to scratch the surface. Labels such as “hipster” and “redneck” can quickly descend into caricature and make it easy to forget we are just talking about people from different backgrounds who are trying to live their lives.

Q: You are always very nice and cordial online. Almost too nice and too cordial. Do you ever say anything bad about anyone?

A: Yes. Myself. I am my own harshest critic.

I was raised by a Southern mom who taught me to praise in public and criticize, directly to the person, in private. That practice has served me well. I strongly believe that a person or company should not initially learn about any negative opinion I may have via social media. I sincerely hope that others would extend the same courtesy to me.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with the Geohipster readers?

A: Share your work. Share your thoughts. Share your experience. Share your talent. It has more value than you know.

All one planet

I am just going to leave this here while I work on my tractate (Working title: “Is (geo)hispterism exclusive?” (Thesis: “No”)).

Matt Richards, Josh Livni, Andrew Turner at SOTMUS 2014
Matt Richards, Josh Livni, Andrew Turner at SOTMUS 2014

Andrew Hill: “What are the limitations of what we call a map?”

Andrew Hill headshot
Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill (Twitter, website) is Senior Scientist at Vizzuality and is responsible for innovation, education and community engagement at CartoDB.

Andrew was interviewed for Geohipster by Atanas Entchev.

Q: You hold a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. How did you get into mapping? Do you consider yourself a “map guy”?

A: When I was an undergrad, I started working on a project to study the spread of influenza. As part of that work, we were using Google Earth to map how different mutations spread around the world and what host species were responsible. They were pretty ugly, but they were new and definitely got a lot of people in that field thinking about data visualization and mapping. I ended up doing a masters in epidemiology, where I learned Python and PostgreSQL/PostGIS. At that point, I feel like I unknowingly sealed my fate to work on data visualization and mapping. In my Ph.D. I shifted to focus on the overlap of big data, data visualization, and global biodiversity. Maps weren’t really a specific topic in any way, my advisor just encouraged me to play with data and scientific questions and see what would emerge. So much of that play ended up taking place on maps.

With all that being said, I don’t consider myself a “map guy”, no. I just like to experiment and to solve puzzles. It is something I really learned to appreciate studying biology. I look for problems and just play with them until I get something interesting and worth sharing. I’m confident it is a skill totally outside of maps, but maps are fun.

Q: You work at Vizzuality, where — as the name suggests — you focus on data visualization. What do you say to those who say that data visualization is not “real GIS”?

A: I should confess right now that I’ve never taken a GIS course in my life. To me, GIS is a lot of things, visualization only being one of them, that all together give us the ability to gain insights from geospatial data. “Real” or “not real” seems like a rather silly distinction to make (unless you are struggling to give a justification for why you don’t do any visualization). I do think that data visualization is advancing fast. While many of the fundamentals remain unchanged, new technologies are giving us ways to see data like we never could before and it’s helping us extract the stories hidden within. I think the challenge for GIS now is to ensure that the methods we use lead us to telling stories that are truthful. This is especially important the further we venture into a world of dynamic and animated maps.

Q: You talk about the future of mapping. Will data visualization and data analysis further diverge in the future? Does “GIS” artificially clump together disciplines that are otherwise separate, just because of the spatial component in the data being handled?

A: Have you ever read E.O. Wilson’s Consilience? For all the criticisms of that book, I think it gives a nice and simple way to think about how knowledge emerges from diverse domains of study. In this case, it seems obvious that GIS and visualization come together because they can give us insights that neither domain could give us alone. Where the two domains overlap is an area still not fully explored. A lot of the exploration has been progressing lock-step with technology, in particular web technology. So I feel that this is just the beginning, not the end.

Q: We define hipsters as people who think outside the box and often shun the mainstream (see visitor poll with 1106 responses). Would you consider yourself a hipster? How do you feel about the term hipster?

A: Labels, they come and go. A few of my co-workers call me hipster not too infrequently. They mean it in the kindest way though… I think. The word “shun” might be an extreme here, but if you are defining geohipster as thinking outside the box and engaging in dialogue outside of the mainstream, then sure, that is where I want to be.

Q: What do you think about some Geohipster readers’ concerns that “geohipsterism” (and hipsterism in general) implies exclusivity and elitism and engenders division?

A: Does it? I’m a social dunce so I might be the worst to comment on this. I guess, the times in life that I’ve felt most excluded from a group it has been because of people not labels. I’m sure some sociologists would pick a fight over that statement. But really, do geohipsters want to be exclusive? I doubt it.

Q: Is there a mainstream of geospatial data handling/representation? Who/what is part of it?

A: It’s funny, with biologists, when you talk about GIS you talk about things like Mantel tests, kriging, niche modelling and of course mapping. I collaborated with a couple groups in school that were doing shit like, comparing the microbial diversity in extreme environments to see if they were more related to one another an ocean apart than they were to local communities a few meters apart. These questions mixed geospatial proximity, genetic distance, community composition and all sorts of nuance. Then they’d be like, oh, can we map this!? Those are the death metal groups of geospatial data handling. The mainstream is latitude & longitude and most of us are part of it.

Q: We first met when you gave a CartoDB presentation in Philadelphia. I was impressed by the technology. Where is this going?

A: The development of CartoDB moves really fast. As always, we are trying to make it easier for you to turn data into maps. We just launched some new services to turn things like IP addresses or Postal Codes into geospatial data. We are pushing hard to make it easier for teams to work on CartoDB. We are also releasing new public map pages, so you don’t even need a website to share your maps and create community discussions around them. Those are all happening right now.

In the medium term, we are aiming to lower the bar for nonprofits, startups, and students to use the platform. We think there is a beautiful ecosystem of doers and creators, and we want to give them a tool that really makes their work shine. We are just finalizing new ideas to make this happen and should have some announcements soon. We are also trying to make sure that we see the original mission of Vizzuality flourish in CartoDB. That means making the world better through our work and the work of those who share our vision. It means finding better ways to tell the stories that matter.

That leaves the longer term. I could spend a week talking about this part of the answer alone but am going to spare you. In 2013 we spent a lot of time figuring out what the mappers of 2014 would want. We built our roadmap around that vision and got to work. Now suddenly here we are, a few months into 2014. I think we did a pretty good job and became a driving force for dynamic maps on the web. We aren’t finished and have a lot more we want to develop. While development continues we are going to be forming a vision for 2015 and beyond. Two years ago, could you have guessed where online mapping would be today? It was only about two years ago that we put the SQL and CartoCSS editors into CartoDB’s browser-based mapping interface. I remember writing a query in my browser and seeing the map display the results live, it blew my mind then and still blows my mind sometimes today. But look how far it has come. Our vision for the future is still coming together, but through experimentation, collaboration, and honest desire to navigate uncharted water, I know we will be in the right place when we get there.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with the Geohipster readers?

A: There are a lot of reasons why geo is so in-focus right now, mainstream or other. Maybe a major one is that maps seem to be the right proportion of truth and deception to make data accessible, to make data approachable, and to contextualize otherwise foreign concepts. Whatever the reason though, journalists, data scientists, artists and many others are picking up maps as a regular tool in their work. The exciting part isn’t really that more people are using maps. What’s exciting is that a small portion of them, but still more than times gone by, are thinking about how to break maps. Asking questions like, what are the limitations of what we call a map? Where can we change the notion of a map to enable new types of knowledge transfer? How can we bend map technology to do totally new and unexpected things? These people are pushing maps into the future. These people make this such an exciting time to work in this field.

Andrew Turner: “Share, experiment, fail, try again, share — ride that geofixie like a boss”

Andrew TurnerAndrew Turner (blog, Twitter) is the CTO of the Esri R&D Center in Washington, DC.

Andrew was interviewed for Geohipster by Atanas Entchev.

Q: You became an Esri employee when GeoIQ became part of Esri. Tell us about your mission at Esri.

A: Esri has had a long and storied mission to transform the world through geography. This philosophy was directly in line with our vision at GeoIQ. The difference is that I now have the support of a global community of users across government, business and organizations that are already using our tools and platform to manage their data, ask questions through spatial analysis, and ideally share this with the public.

My mission at Esri is to connect this community into the web where it has the immediate potential to connect with billions of people and give them direct access to their government, scientists, and local community organizers.

More specifically we are currently developing capabilities of the platform that leverage the best of both worlds — GIS and the Web. This includes adapting to community-adopted data standards for discovery and interoperability; interactive visualizations that realize the potential of hypermedia interfaces; and easy to use developer tools for anyone to experiment and share their own ideas.

Q: The GeoIQ acquisition signalled Esri’s commitment to open source. But can a software company with “closed source” embedded in its DNA reinvent itself? Is your role there to catalyze a metamorphosis?

A: If you want to talk about DNA, Esri has actually deeper roots in open-source. Anecdotally I’ve met colleagues at Esri that were hired by submitting patch requests to software when we used to ship the source code in printed binders.

The obvious benefit of building in open access through a system is that developers can better learn the capabilities and are given the freedom to experiment and develop custom solutions that fit their particular goals. Esri works across nearly all levels of government, business, and domains of science and engineering. This open access is imperative for each industry to best serve its own needs.

The concepts of open access have evolved over the past decades. Previously it meant libraries, SDKs, and APIs. Increasingly, and fortunately, modern declarative programming languages combined with the web have given us the ability to quickly share code and also to make it easily understandable and reusable. Imagine trying to comprehend someone’s Fortran77 code or COBOL — no wonder Esri used to hire anyone with the diligence to decipher the machine code!

Regardless, Esri has not had the awareness and perception of being an open company. So my role is multi-purpose. To clearly demonstrate where we are and have been effectively making our platform, standards, and code open and available. And secondly to work within our teams to improve where it is lacking and has a real benefit to the community to improve access.

Q: How much of today’s (geo)technology choices are driven by fashion? How much are driven by ideology? Open source development and adoption, in particular: Is it driven by fashion, ideology, or pragmatism?

A:  This is a long discussion by itself. Generally I think people are both pragmatic in using the tools they have available, but aspirational in what they want to become. So anyone choosing technology is going to look at their mentors and determine the best path from where they are to how they get to be like that person — for whatever value reason that may be. Open source in particular espouses so many different meanings to different people it would be nearly impossible to understand the difference between fashion, ideology and pragmatism. Fortunately we all have the freedom to vote with our time — and can choose the tools that we like using and hopefully also get the job done.

Q: You manage to command respect even in the most anti-Esri corners of the Twitterverse. How do you explain that?

A: Maximal SPM (Slides Per Minute).

Thank you for saying so. I am dedicated to share what I’ve learned and listening to others’ ideas. I keep an open mind and always ask for honest feedback — as I would rather know what can be better than accepting things just because.

Q: We haven’t heard much about GeoCommons lately. What is going on with that?

A: Look at our recent Open Data initiative, let your eyes unfocus like an autostereogram (magic eye) and you will begin to see the new shape emerging. We are committed to continuing and growing the GeoCommons community and vision — and you’ll hear more on that soon.

Q: In recent months we have seen the rapid growth of MapBox and Boundless — both serious Esri competitors. Just today (Monday, March 3, 2014) Gretchen Peterson — a top geospatial influencer — announced joining Boundless. Is this a trend? What do you make of it?

A: Foremost that there is a positive growth in the availability and utilization of location data. That alone is something to celebrate as it’s been talked about for decades and is finally part of the vernacular.

Second it indicates a positive trend in the desire for technology that improves geospatial data management, analysis, and visualization. It demonstrates that despite the common moniker “spatial isn’t special” that in fact it still requires some “very special spatial people” to solve the unique (and interesting) problems. ‘A rising tide floats all boats’

Q: The Esri International Developer Summit is coming up. Any exciting announcements we should look forward to?

A: Chris Wanstrath, CEO and Co-Founder of GitHub is our keynote speaker. That alone should signal our commitment, and validation, to open-source initiatives. Besides that — you’ll have to wait and see :)

Q: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Is there anything else you want to share with the Geohipster readers?

A: Make your own path. Technology today lets you conceive an idea and deliver it to millions of people in a matter of minutes. Share, experiment, fail, try again, share — ride that geofixie like a boss.

Lyzi Diamond: “Make things. Put them on the internet.”

Lyzi_DiamondLyzi Diamond is a 2014 Code for America Fellow with the city of Lexington, KY. She has spent much of her career in government GIS, but is now tinkering in the land of open source geospatial technologies. She spends her free time organizing geo meetups, writing tutorials, making silly web maps, riding bikes, and playing handbells. She lives in Oakland, California.

Lyzi was interviewed for Geohipster by Atanas Entchev.

Q: How old are you?

A: Twenty-four, although I’ll be turning twenty-five in April. April Fools’ Day, actually. So I might just be messing with you.

Q: How did you get into maps/GIS?

A: I kind of fell backwards into GIS in college through my original degree program, and I loved it so much that I added a geography major and stayed for another year. While in school, I worked at the University of Oregon InfoGraphics Lab as a Student GIS Technician and interned with the GIS group at the City of Eugene Planning and Development Department.

Not too long after, I got a GIS Technician job at the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries in Portland. This is when I started pursuing extracurricular activities in the geospatial tech world, through attending my friend Michelle’s Women’s Python Workshop and attending the 2012 State of the Map conference. I became lonely without other folks to hack on map stuff with me, which is how MaptimePDX came to be.

Q: Your website runs on GitHub Pages and uses Jekyll. This is some serious geek cred. Do you consider yourself a mapper, a coder, a geek, or something else? Do such classifications even make sense?

A: Why should we limit ourselves with a one-word definition? We all do so many things! I would say I’m a map geek, but I think that is just because I have a hefty interest in maps. I’m also a college football geek and a government geek. We’re all geeks about something! But as far as “mapper” or “coder” are concerned, not so much. I’m just a lady who enjoys doing a bunch of different things.

Impostor syndrome is a real thing in the tech community. There are a lot of people in tech who have learned and are learning through a variety of online resources strung together in their free time. There’s no graduation, no certification, no person affirming that you’ve achieved a certain status. I know many developers who would never call themselves a developer. I don’t even consider myself to be a developer. But the truth is, if you write any code, you are a developer. We have so much anxiety around these terms, but in truth, they don’t mean anything. Doing things is the most important part. Everything else is secondary.

As far as the Jekyll/GitHub Pages thing, I started reading about Jekyll one day and it seemed pretty cool, so I tried it. The documentation isn’t great; it was kind of hard to pick up. But like anything else, if you chip away at it enough, it works out pretty well. And I get to have complete control over my site, which is a nice added bonus.

Q: I know (of) you from Twitter, where your blog posts and presentations on open source tools get a lot of traction. Your posts are very well written, and you manage to bring clarity to complex concepts. (Your blog post about GitHub prompted me to create a GitHub account.) Have you considered a career in education?

A: Aw, thanks. And yes, I have been toying with the education idea for a long time. I have some thoughts on tech education, and my friends know I can get really ranty about this stuff, so I’ll try to keep it short.

Basically, effective education (at least in tech with adults who want to learn) is about a combination of accessibility and empowerment. The problem with many resources out there is that they’re written by folks who are very well versed in their field. It is great to have knowledgeable people passing that knowledge forward, but most of them haven’t been beginners in a long time. This can make it harder to remember what it was like before they knew anything about the field, which means they don’t know how to write in a way that beginners will understand.

This is important. If you’re a beginner, and you’re looking at a tool that is marketed to you, and there’s a term in the first sentence that you’ve never heard before and don’t understand, you’re not very likely to continue. You’re going to give up. The only environment in which we can get people excited about learning is one where we meet them where they’re at, provide resources that they can understand, and do as much as we can to make them feel good about where they are in the process.

Q: You are a Code for America Fellow, which is awesome. What are you working on there? What are you getting out of it?

A: I’m a fellow this year with the city of Lexington, KY, where I’m living until the end of February (after which point we’ll head back to the Bay Area). There are 30 fellows, with teams of three working in ten different local governments (mostly cities, but one state and one territory), and our goal is to work with the local government and citizens to identify some challenges the city is facing and work to implement new solutions using technology. We are currently in the research phase of the project, actually living in Lexington, having meetings with government officials and journalists and neighborhood associations and really anyone who wants to talk to us. We want to learn as much as we can about Lexington in order to build something that’s actually going to be useful, and then we will compile our research and start building when we get back to SF in March.

Q: There is a certain quirkiness to open source geo geeks. You play handbells, which is definitely quirky. Do you think geo/open source begets quirkiness, or vice versa?

A: Geographic pursuits on their own require the ability to simultaneously exercise the highly technical and highly creative parts of your brain. Open source only compounds this, because there are so many different people working on a project that are thinking about it in so many different ways. You have to be able to work creatively inside the confines of the rules, which can be difficult. There are not a ton of activities in the world that fit this mold, but handbells are certainly one of them.

For those who don’t know, handbells are typically rung in a choir of 10-15 individuals who each are responsible for somewhere between two and four notes of a five-octave set. Unlike other types of ensembles, where everyone is playing a different instrument and has the full chromatic scale at their disposal, handbells require you to work as a team to play a piece without any notes missing. In addition to just playing the right notes at the right time, there are a ton of different sounds you can get from a bell depending on how you move it. (This piece is a really nice example of all the different things you can do with a bell.)

There are lots of complications and moving parts. You have to adapt to what other people are doing. You have to remember the physics of what you’re doing and the constraints you have, while thinking creatively about how to make it work. Maps are just like that. And I think the people who are really great in this field are involved in other “quirky” activities that exercise those same mental processes.

Q: We define hipsters as people who think outside the box and often shun the mainstream (see visitor poll with 1106 responses). Would you consider yourself a hipster? How do you feel about the term hipster?

A: If I’m going to be really real, I don’t think I’m particularly hip. To be honest, I haven’t heard the word “hipster” used in a really long time, except to make fun of something. I’m not sure I know what it means, but if we’re going with the poll results: the fact that we are interested in the nuances and technical elements of maps and geography makes us inherent outside-the-box thinkers inherently. Most people don’t care about this stuff. They don’t consider it. When you tell someone that a Mercator map isn’t an “accurate” world map, and indeed there’s no such thing as an accurate map, they’re most likely surprised, but ultimately don’t care very much. The fact that we care so much about the way maps are constructed and the science behind them puts us outside the mainstream, I guess. I don’t know if that really answered the question.

Q: Is there a mainstream of geospatial data handling/representation? Who/what is part of it?

A: I don’t know about a “mainstream” per se, but I definitely divide the geo world into two camps in my head: the folks who came to it through a traditional geography/GIS curriculum, probably through a university or an Esri training program through work, and those who came to it through the developer/programming world. The ways these two groups think about geospatial technology are very different. The first group are largely desktop mappers, or at least learned about geospatial using the term “GIS,” and worked inside a desktop application doing spatial analysis and cartography. They tend to use proprietary software (ArcGIS or MapInfo, typically). The second group are largely web mappers and developers, don’t really use the term “GIS” very often, and work on the web trying to display information adequately. There are some who are doing so through the Esri ecosystem, but more often than not they’re using Google products or open-source products.

These two groups tend to… argue. A lot. About a lot of things. And I think it can be damaging to beginners, because they aren’t coming to geo from anywhere. They just want to learn. And walking into a fight about what should be taught when can be strange and alienating to people who are new to the field. They don’t know what’s going on, they don’t know where to start, and it sucks.

So why are these groups arguing? What can we do about it? I think the fact that the trajectory of learning is so different underscores a lot of the issue. A nice example of this is the value of teaching about projections. In desktop GIS, projections are very important. You learn them first because in the analysis and static map visualization world, a projection will make or break your project. In the web mapping world, everything is in the Pseudo (Web) Mercator projection (unless you’re using D3). Any projection issues that come up have to do with massaging projected data to get it back to an unprojected state, which you don’t really need to know how to do when you’re first learning. Knowledge of projections can come later when you’re learning through the web mapping lens.

Both routes are valuable. Both skills are valuable. The developer side is certainly newer, but the ubiquity of mapping applications and the fact that most people think of geography in terms of Google Maps leads me to believe that the “mainstream” sits in that camp. I think most people would disagree with me there. But it doesn’t matter, because the landscape of geospatial technology needs both sides, regardless of which one is in the “mainstream.”

Q: You call yourself an “an ambitious perfectionist”. According to David Foster Wallace, “Perfectionism is very dangerous because if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high you never do anything.” How do you find the right balance between fidelity to perfectionism and getting stuff done?

A: Short answer: I haven’t yet. When I write something and put it on the internet, it’s because for some reason I got a spurt of focus and banged it out without taking any breaks. That or I’m working under the gun. It really is a massive struggle. I think for those who are like me, who hold themselves to impossibly high standards and get frustrated when they don’t meet them, it can be really hard to step back and recognize the fact that they’re actually doing something worthwhile.

But therein lies the answer. The truth is, there aren’t a lot of people out there who are taking the time to do things they care about. I tend to remind myself of this when I’m dissatisfied with something I’ve done, and that helps me just put it out there. The nice thing about the internet, too, is that if I messed something up or it’s not to my liking, I can always go back and change it. :)

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with the Geohipster readers?

A: I get a lot of emails from folks who just graduated from school with a GIS degree or certificate and are having trouble getting jobs. My advice is always the same, and I’d like to write it here as well:

1. Make things.

2. Put those things on the internet.

3. Make more things.

4. Write about those things and how you made them.

5. Put that on the internet.

6. Write about something you want to make.

7. Put that on the internet.

8. Make another thing.

9. Put it on the internet.

… I think you can see where this is going. Put your stuff out there! Even if it’s not groundbreaking, even if you don’t even think it’s that cool, even if you messed up and it doesn’t work correctly. Write about that. Write about what was hard for you and what you learned. Get yourself out there. That’s the #1 way to make a name for yourself.

And just to prove I practice what I preach, here is a Leaflet map of places to buy cupcakes in Portland. It is not that cool. But it is a web map that I made, and I am proud of it. Put stuff on the internet! I promise it’ll yield at least some positive result, even if that result is simply you feeling accomplished.

Also, one of the links above goes to a Youtube video of my handbell choir performing in Portland this past December. See if you can pick me out. ;)