Rachel Stevenson is a recent graduate from the University of Colorado Denver and an active member in #GISTribe. Rachel currently works for the United States Geological Survey as a Pathways Intern, where she works on The National Map Corps, a citizen science program that collects structure types for the USGS National Map. Rachel is currently working on developing Interactive web maps for the National Map Corps and hopes to build her skills in development.
Rachel was interviewed for GeoHipster by Todd Barr.
Q: Why Geographic Information Systems?
A: In 2012 I was completing my undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice and I took a course entitled Crime Analysis, and it was this class where I learned about ArcGIS and databases and it was also during that class where I learned that I was good at creating maps and working with data. However it wasn’t until 2014 when I moved to Colorado that I decided to take an Intro to GIS Course to see if I was indeed good at it and more importantly, if I liked it. It turns out, I am good at it and I love it!
Q: You’re really active on social media. How do you think social media, specifically Twitter, has influenced you on your path?
A: I don’t quite recall how I found #gistribe on Twitter, but when I did, I found this whole community of very smart and intelligent people who wanted to share their knowledge and their passion for geospatial science. In finding this awesome community, I was able to learn and grow in so many ways both academically and personally. By starting with #gistribe I’ve been able to network and become friends with various different geo types and learn from them. It has been such a benefit to hear about new technology and to get feedback from people I look up to and idolize.
Q: You were recently elected to URISA’s Vanguard Cabinet (congratulations). What prompted you to run for this?
A: Aly Ollivierre, a colleague of mine from Maptime and the larger geospatial community, suggested that I apply for it. I’ve known about URISA and the Vanguard Cabinet for a while and was familiar with their work, so I applied because I think I’ve seen a lot of growth in myself over the last 3 years and am now in a place to be able to give back to the next generation of geospatial students, and that is an exciting opportunity.
Q: I work with a bunch of students, but you’re one of the few who are active in the FOSS4G community. What do you attribute this to?
A: I attribute this to the #gistribe. Anything that I’ve wanted to do but was unsure about, the tribe has always been super supportive of. Seeing other members of the #gistribe give presentations and workshops about an interesting topic has really inspired me to give presentations and to try and work hard in order to grow in this field.
Q: Since you’re just starting out in the big wide world of Spatial, where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: I would like to build my developer skills in Python, R and SQL as well as increase my understanding of databases in order to become a lead data scientist for NASA. When I first started out in geospatial science I was amazed at how vast and wide this industry is. Geospatial science and location data are applicable to everything. This includes NASA; I think a lot of people, when they hear the word “NASA” they think space exploration and science. But NASA does so much more than that, they also explore and answer questions related to problems we are having here on Earth. Their work is far reaching and I’d like to be a part of that.
Q: You’re active in the Unitarian Church, how do you think GIS could help solve a problem that Church faces?
A: I think Geospatial Science could be used to show Unitarian Universalists what impact they are having in conducting social justice work throughout their communities. The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations has a data science component, and one thing I think they could benefit from is adding a geospatial aspect to understanding where Unitarian Universalist are located throughout the US.
Q: Favorite projection and why?
A: When I first got started in geo, a friend of mine gave me a book entitled “Spaceship Manual for Planet Earth” by Buckminster Fuller, who designed the Fuller or Dymaxion projection. So my favorite projection is the Fuller Projection because it was the first projection I was introduced to as a geography student. I have never used it in any of my projects, either professional or personal, but maybe one day I’ll find a need for it.
Q: What is the one technology you wish you could master overnight?
Q: Do you consider yourself a geohipster?
A: YES! I love being early to geo-centric technologies and related things happening in the community while also being able to share these same technologies with the students I work with.
Jim Hughes is a mathematician at Commonwealth Computer Research, Inc. in Charlottesville, Virginia. He is a core committer for GeoMesa which leverages Accumulo and other distributed database systems to provide distributed computation and query engines. He is a LocationTech committer for GeoMesa, JTS, and SFCurve, and serves as a mentor for other LocationTech projects. He serves on the LocationTech Project Management Committee and Steering Committee. Through work with LocationTech and OSGeo projects like GeoTools and GeoServer, he works to build end-to-end solutions for big spatio-temporal problems. He holds a PhD in algebraic topology from the University of Virginia.
Q: Your background is that of a mathematician. How did you find geospatial, or did it find you?
A: Geospatial definitely found me! I started at CCRi in the summer of 2012. That fall, I was working on the code base that eventually became GeoMesa, our Hadoop-based open-source geospatial database. I liked the project enough that I requested to work on it more, and after a few other rotations, I made it back to the project and have been working on it ever since. During my time with GeoMesa, I’ve had a chance to participate in the OSGeo and LocationTech open source communities at code sprints, and also to attend conferences like FOSS4G NA. The conferences and code sprints have been a great way to learn the eco-system while meeting a bunch of great people!
Q: One of your projects is GeoMESA, one of geospatial’s first real applications to deal with Big Data. How did it evolve? Was it a grouping of client requests, or something created in house?
A: CCRi focuses on solving interesting data science and machine learning problems. A customer asked us to transition one of our spatio-temporal analytics from a single server infrastructure to the cloud. We had been using PostGIS for our geospatial data management and processing, and we asked if that (or an analogue) was available in the cloud. When the customer said that the only database was Accumulo, and that it didn’t do geospatial, we wrote the code to make it do just that. After a few months, we realized that this software was a compelling product on its own. From there, GeoMesa has evolved in response to direct use cases.
Q: Most of us in the geo community have ideas about what we want to bring to market. From your experience on GeoMESA, do you have any lessons learned or warnings for those of us who want to do this?
A: Have great documentation and demos! Standing up a distributed database is tough, and adding software to that can be challenging. We’ve used a simple ‘quickstart’ project to show how to use the GeoTools DataStore API to write and read with GeoMesa. The documentation also explains how to set up GeoServer. When sample code and docs aren’t enough, be ready to respond to questions from users. We field questions on mailing lists, Gitter, and Stack Overflow. From those questions, you can get a sense of what folks are using your product for. Recently, I had some great questions about one of GeoMesa’s less well-known features. Those questions can drive simplification of deployments and improvements to documentation. If users can see what they are getting, see it work for them, and get help along the way, they are going to be happy.
Q: Over the past few years there has been an increased presence of the federal government at FOSS4G. What is your take on the adoption of open source spatial technologies both widely across the federal government and with your clients?
A: Having the US federal government involved is great! At that level of government, they have ‘big data’ and a vision to fund and drive innovative work for storing and processing the data. NGA and other agencies are definitely ‘getting it’ by funding and fostering open source technologies. When our work can be shared publicly, many organizations benefit; everyone can get the same code up, running, and working together to achieve more than what we were able to previously.
Q: As you sit on the board of LocationTech, who recently announced LocationCon, is this the first move of LocationTech to finally leave the shadows and become a driving force in the FOSS4G community?
A: I’d say that LocationTech has been moving forward the geospatial software community for a few years now. Some of that has admittedly been ‘behind the scenes’…As the logistic organizer for FOSS4G NA 2015 and 2016, they increased inclusivity for women at the conferences through both a code of conduct and a scholarship program.
Also, behind the scenes, LocationTech reviews its projects’ dependencies. Through that process, LocationTech projects like uDig, GeoMesa, and GeoGig have had lots of GeoTools code reviewed and, in a number places, those project teams have worked with the GeoTools team to clarify licensing and clean up code.
In 2016 and 2017 GeoMesa, GeoTrellis, and GeoGig all completed incubation. These projects represent complex libraries and products which address several areas of innovation in geospatial software. On the basic library level, Spatial4J was the first project to incubate, and JTS is close to graduating. Those two projects are libraries that are widely used: Spatial4J came out of Lucene’s spatial indexing needs, and JTS has been foundational to a number of Java projects. LocationTech is home to basic libraries (like JTS, Spatial4J, and SFCurve) and complex products such as GeoMesa, GeoTrellis, and GeoGig.
Q: CCRi is known for their “Friday afternoon parking lot BBQ.” What is your favorite style of barbeque?
A: Finally, an easy question! I am a big fan of pulled pork and pork ribs. For sauce, I favor spicy and sweet options over vinegar and mustard-based ones.
Q: How do you define a “geohipster” and do you consider yourself one?
A: I suppose a ‘geohipster’ is a geo-/gis- professional or enthusiast who is up on the new trendy, cool technologies (perhaps bearded and wearing plaid?) in the geo-domain. I’ve been working on big-geo and streaming geo data for the few years, so if that’s en vogue, then sure, I can be a ‘geohipster’. From my interest in many of the low-level libraries and the math/geometry behind the field, the moniker ‘geonerd’ might be better.
Andy Dearing is the CEO of Boundless and previously held the role of the Vice President of Professional Services. A commercial pilot and self-taught geographer, Andy has been working with GIS for nearly 15 years. He can often be found working from one of Boundless' many locales, or at a number of industry events and philanthropic endeavors throughout the year. Andy resides in Missouri with his wife and four kids, where he enjoys hiking, fishing, and woodworking - when he is not out camping with his son’s Boy Scout troop.
Q: For those in our audience who do not know, please describe Boundless.
A: Boundless provides a commercially-supported open geographic information system (GIS) ecosystem, which includes a unique combination of technology, products, and experts. We provide expertise and support around many world-class open source geospatial projects – PostGIS, GeoServer, OpenLayers, QGIS, GeoNode, and more.
More than 90 fantastic team members call Boundless home. Although we are a pretty virtual company, we have offices in St. Louis, New York, Washington DC, New Orleans, and Victoria, BC. We work with many organizations worldwide who understand the value of GIS, the power of open source, and the world-class support Boundless is known for.
Q: Did you find your career in spatial or did the spatial career find you?
A: You can definitely say spatial found me! My college degree was in Aviation Science and Aviation Management, where I was a certified flight instructor and commercial pilot. However, this was not too long after 9/11, when the aviation industry had hit rock-bottom. So with few pilot jobs available, I by chance went to a job fair where a mapping startup was looking for pilots to make aeronautical charts in GIS. From then on, I have been in GIS… it’s been a fun ride!
Q: Each city’s geo community has its own flavor; how would you describe the spatial community in St. Louis?
A: I would consider St. Louis a very strong center for GIS. There are a couple anchor tenants in St. Louis who drive the vocation – namely the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), Monsanto – as well as many more local organizations who have adopted and are using GIS extensively in their business operations.
There are several organizations around the area that are evangelizing GIS. The Maptime STL chapter has been a strong group, promoting open data and GIS technologies for collaborative learning, exploration, and map creation. The St. Louis GIS User Group is also a fairly active group in the area.
There are several educational institutions in and around St. Louis that have fantastic geography and GIS programs. Southern Illinois University Edwardsville has a phenomenal Geography department with focused programs in GIS, cartography, sustainability, and more. Washington University and Saint Louis University also have growing geography programs and GIS labs as well.
Q: What have you found to be the largest hurdles to organizations adopting an open source solution? What strategies have you developed to alleviate these concerns?
A: Many organizations still have not heard about open source, nor are they aware of what open source geospatial tools are out there. So many times, we have to help organizations understand how open source works, how the community around open source governs the code (contributors, steering committees, etc.), how new features are contributed to the product, and for Boundless, how the projects can be supported. Once organizations understand what open source is, they quickly realize all the benefits of adopting open source for their operations.
The second challenge we see organizations (including many of our customers) experience is understanding where to start. Open source geospatial projects are extremely powerful, robust technologies. But for customers transitioning off proprietary technologies or new to GIS, it can sometimes be overwhelming to figure out where to start. Boundless helps make open source geospatial technologies easier to adopt and integrate through training courses, certification programs, and professional services… all backed by our helpdesk and online support.
The biggest hurdle we see is that many business do not want to completely scrap all the work they put in with proprietary solutions. Having been in the GIS community since the early 2000s, we know that, historically, there have only been two options – proprietary or open source – and not much in between. Boundless makes it easy to have a hybrid solution that utilizes both open source and proprietary tools. The product is affordable and user-friendly, yet very powerful and professional, enabling organizations to have the best of both worlds.
Q: I volunteer at CSU, and the students I interact with simply haven’t heard of open source solutions. Is Boundless currently doing outreach to students or planning on doing so in the future?
A: Yes! Boundless has developed an Academic Engagement initiative, where we support colleges and universities with software, documentation, and training to jump-start their programs – for free! Also, with the recent launch of Boundless Connect, we offer a full suite of software, videos, training, tutorials, documentation, and more to make the most out of your open source experience – this is all free for students and educators as well.
From an outreach perspective, Boundless staff supported many GIS Day and Geography Awareness Week events – a detailed recap can be found in this blog post.
For me, one of the most inspiring events was being able to sponsor 51 teachers to participate in the Geography 2050 Symposium on November 17-18. These high school AP Human Geography teachers and American Geographical Society AP Teacher Fellows participated in a Mapathon to learn about OSM and open data, as well as listened to powerful presentations on sustainability from industry leaders. These educators are transforming the next generation of geographers, and we could not be more honored to support them.
Q: With the “stew” of GIS, data science and big data all fusing together, there have been a number of open source projects, like GeoMesa, popping up. How is Boundless adapting?
A: This is a great example of how quickly open source projects have been established to handle and support emerging IT trends. We are seeing many great projects, like GeoMesa, become the technology of choice to handle specific big-data analysis and visualization. This is not easy, but smart engineers (like the folks at CCRi) have been able to assemble code that massively scales to crunch through all the information you throw at it. We see numerous open source projects popping up that are solving some of these complex problems: GeoWave for big data analytics, GeoTrellis for imagery and rasters, and many more.
The cool part about all these projects is their interoperability with GIS projects like GeoServer. There is a great case study from CCRi on how GeoMesa integrates with GeoServer here. And likewise, we package the GeoMesa plugin for GeoServer with Boundless Suite, so our users can seamlessly set up and start seeing value from their big/large data sources.
So what is Boundless’ position? We do GIS, and we do it pretty well. If there are other open source projects out there that feature complex data science, imagery processing, or data analytics, we want to build connections to those projects. Let the GIS technologies do GIS, and likewise, let the big data / analytics technologies do big data / analytics. The beauty of open source is we can make these things work together, without trying to crack proprietary code, and give the users the most powerful technology platform to solve their business needs.
Q: Is there anything exciting coming out of the Boundless Skunkworks you can share?
A: C’mon, there’s always something exciting coming out of Boundless! We have been working hard on several cool projects recently and I am super excited to give you a sneak peek.
First, we are set to unveil a massively scalable version of GeoServer for large-scale enterprises in early 2017. This will blow any existing server-tier GIS platform out of the water. Code-named GeoServer EC, we are able to instantly scale up/out hundreds, if not thousands, of GeoServer microservices to process however much geospatial data you throw at it. So as the amount of location-based information exponentially increases over the next five years, GeoServer EC can scale up/out to meet those demands:
Second, we are going to be launching our Connect API, which will sit behind Boundless Connect, to stream content and services directly to your Desktop and Web applications. And to let you in on a little unannounced secret – we have established data partnerships with two premier geospatial content firms just recently… so you will soon be able to directly access beautiful base maps, driving directions, imagery, and more, directly inside the Boundless suite of products with your existing Boundless subscription. And we will be continually adding more data services throughout 2017:
Q: According to your LinkedIn profile, one of your hobbies is woodworking. Do you have any piece you’re particularly proud of?
A: Ha! Let’s just say I am a very amateur woodworker and am humbled by all the amazing work out there from those who are true artists. Me, I tend to hack at it when I get a few free moments – which seem to be fewer and farther between these days!
For me, woodworking is an opportunity to actually produce something (outside of emails) with my hands. Even if the output is not perfect, it is something you can call your own. Whether you are molding clay or carving wood or knitting or crocheting, it is so rewarding to be able to spend time making something you are proud of with your own two hands.
Personally, there are two (different) pieces that I am proud of. My favorite piece of furniture that I made was a hutch that took me, well, it took me forever to make. But I learned so much along the way.
The second was more of a “construction” project, creating built-ins in the laundry room to attempt to tackle all of my four kids’ coats, shoes, book bags, and whatever other junk they can manage to fill them with. This was one of the more fun projects, and it made my wife rather happy. 🙂
Q: Lastly, do you consider yourself a geohipster?
A: Ah, this question… I figured I would get away without you asking it. I consider myself in the “GeoHipster Fan Club.” I have a GeoHipster shirt, attend geo meetups, and get excited when I see dots on a map. Now I just need a GeoHipster sticker…
But in all seriousness, there are so many awesome geohipsters out there who continue to push the science of geography, GIS, remote sensing, and spatial analysis further and deeper. It is such an amazing time to be in the geospatial profession, and I could not be happier to be a part of a company and a community who continue to push it forward in new and more open ways.
Dr. Terry Griffin (@SpacePlowboy) is the cropping systems economist specializing in big data and precision agriculture at Kansas State University. He earned his bachelor’s degree in agronomy and master’s degree in agricultural economics from the University of Arkansas, where he began using commercial GIS products in the late 1990s. While serving as a precision agriculture specialist for University of Illinois Extension, Terry expanded his GIS skills by adding open source software. He earned his Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics with emphasis in spatial econometrics from Purdue University. His doctoral research developed methods to analyze site-specific crop yield data from landscape-scale experiments using spatial statistical techniques, ultimately resulting in two patents regarding the automation of community data analysis, i.e. agricultural big data analytics. He has received the 2014 Pierre C. Robert International Precision Agriculture Young Scientist Award, the 2012 Conservation Systems Precision Ag Researcher of the Year, and the 2010 Precision Ag Awards of Excellence for Researchers/Educators. Terry is a member of the Site-Specific Agriculture Committees for the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. Currently Dr. Griffin serves as an advisor on the board of the Kansas Agricultural Research and Technology Association (KARTA). Terry and Dana have three wonderful children.
Q: Your background is in Agronomy and Agricultural Economics. When along this path did you discover spatial/GIS technologies, and how did you apply them for the first time?
A: During graduate school my thesis topic was in precision agriculture, or what could be described as information technology applied to production of crops. GPS was an enabling technology along with GIS and site-specific sensors. I was first exposed to GIS in the late 1990s when I mapped data from GPS-equipped yield monitors. I dived into GIS in the early 2000s as a tool to help manage and analyze the geo-spatial data generated from agricultural equipment and farm fields.
Q: Precision Agriculture is a huge market for all sorts of devices. How do you see spatial playing a role in the overall Precision Agriculture sandbox?
A: Precision Ag is a broad term, and many aspects of spatial technology have become common use on many farms. Some technology automates the steering of farm equipment in the field, and similar technology automatically shuts off sections of planter and sprayers to prevent overlap when the equipment has already performed its task. Other forms of precision ag seem to do the opposite — rather than automate a task they gather data that are not immediately usable until processed into decision-making information. These information-intensive technologies that are inseparable from GIS and spatial analysis have the greatest potential for increased utilization.
Q: What do you see as hurdles for spatial/data analytics firms who want to enter the Precision Agriculture space, and what advice would you give them?
A: One of the greatest hurdles, at least in the short run, is data privacy issues as it relates to ‘big data’ or aggregating farm-level data across regions. A tertiary obstacle is lack of wireless connectivity such as broadband internet via cellular technology in rural areas; without this technology agricultural big data is at a disadvantage.
Q: While there have been attempts at an open data standard for agriculture (agxml, and most recently SPADE), none have seemed to catch on. Do you think this lack of a standard holds Precision Agriculture back, or does it really even need an open standard?
A: Data must have some sort of standardization, or at least a translation system such that each player in the industry can maintain their own system. Considerable work has been conducted in this area, and progress is being made; we can think of the MODUS project as the leading example. Standards have always been important even when precision ag technology was isolated to an individual farm; but now with the big data movement, the need for standardization has been put toward the front burner. Big data analytics relies on the network effect, specifically what economists refer to as network externalities; the value of participating in the system is a function of the number of participants. Therefore, the systems must be welcoming to all potential participants, but must also minimize the barriers to increase participation rates.
Q: What is your preferred spatial software, or programming language?
A: All my spatial econometric analysis and modeling is in R, and R is also where a considerable amount of GIS work is conducted. However, I use and recommend to many agricultural clients QGIS due to being more affordable when they are uncertain if they are ready to make a financial investment. For teaching I use Esri ArcGIS and GeoDa in addition to R.
Q: If money wasn’t an issue, what would be your dream Spatial/Big Data project?
A: Oddly enough I think I already am doing those things. I am fortunate to be working on several aspects of different projects that I hope will make a positive difference for agriculturalists. Many of the tools that I am building or have built are very data-hungry, requiring much more data than has been available. I am anxious for these tools to become useful when the ag data industry matures.
Q: You tend to speak at a number of Precision Agriculture conferences, you have spoken at a regional GIS group, have you ever considered speaking at one of the national conferences?
A: I’m always open to speaking at national or international conferences.
Q: Lastly, explain to our audience of geohipsters what is so hip about Precision Ag, Big Data and Spatial.
A: Agricultural big data has evolved out of precision ag technology, and in its fully functional form is likely to be one of the largest global networks of data collection, processing, archiving, and automated recommendation systems the world has ever known.
Jan Erik Solem is the CEO of Mapillary and is passionate about all things computer vision-related. Prior to co-founding Mapillary in 2013, he founded Polar Rose -- a face recognition software for mobile and web, which Apple bought in 2010. Solem has published over 15 patents and applications, and is the author of a best-selling computer vision book called Programming Computer Vision with Python. Solem resides in Sweden, and is an associate professor at Lund University.
Q: Each city has its own “flavor” of geo-scene, what is the geo-scene like in Copenhagen / Malmö?
A: It is a mix of community groups, GIS companies, and location services startups. There are regular meetups for GIS geeks in a forum called SamGIS, and more-entrepreneurial events like the LocationDay conference. Wayfinder was an important node in Malmö before Vodafone shut that down. If I were to add a “flavor”, I’d say that it is mobile-focused. Traditionally, a lot has revolved around mobile because of the strong presence of Sony Mobile (formerly Ericsson, then Sony-Ericsson, now Sony).
Q: Your background is in applied mathematics, and you built a company around facial recognition. What brought you to geo?
A: I’m a computer vision person. My work from undergrad to PhD all revolved around reconstructing scenes and recognizing objects from images. I started a face recognition company during my PhD days and worked on that for about 6 years, then at Apple for a few years.
Since my PhD days I have always been interested in building a system for collaboratively reconstructing places from photos, and over the years I saw the connection between that and geo grow in importance. Me and the team at Mapillary are all fairly new to geo and are constantly learning. We’re approaching things from a computer vision angle and have no past technology choices or biases in geo.
Q: Describe your “A-HA” moment when you conceptualized Mapillary?
A: I built a prototype iOS app and persuaded two friends to bring their phones and map a newly-built area in the Malmö harbor. We spent one hour on a cold Sunday morning collecting data. When I looked at the results, that was the real a-ha moment. Things became very concrete once I saw that data from phones would be good enough. One of the friends who helped me that Sunday morning was my PhD student Yubin who also became a co-founder of Mapillary.
Q: What do you see as Mapillary’s biggest challenge in the geospatial business space?
A: Delivering a great experience worldwide. We’re a global company, anyone can contribute anywhere, and our community is in over 170 countries. What we’re seeing is that in developing countries devices are just catching up now, and making the app run well is a challenge sometimes. Also connectivity is poor in many areas where we have a challenge in effectively serving and collecting content. This goes for both our community and for our customers.
Q: The niche that Mapillary is filling is exciting and is applicable in a number of areas. Describe for our readers some of the swank things your users have done with your technology?
Q: Judging from your Twitter feed and blog, all you do is work. What do you do when you aren’t grinding on a keyboard?
A: Honestly, it is mostly work. I have three young children. Besides work and family there is little room for other activities. I don’t watch TV, play games, follow sports, or other “normal” everyday activities. I ride bikes when I have the time, and I love to do longer rides and races.
Q: Where do you see Mapillary in 10 years?
A: We’re aiming to be the best solution for visualizing places and for exploring and visiting places through photos. As a side effect, if successful in that, we are also a great provider of data for mapping, navigation, and automotive. We want to build an independent entity that can be integrated anywhere — in apps, in mapping platforms, websites etc.
Q: As the founder of two successful startups, what advice do you have for the geohipsters out there?
Only start something if you are willing to spend at least five years of your life on it. Building something great takes time and commitment. Even fast-growing companies take years to develop.
You are not your education. Most skills can be learned. The engineer can learn basic business skills, the business graduate can learn to code, etc. Pick up what skills you need to do the necessary work and continue learning, always.
Small teams can do amazing things. It is entirely doable to have the best solution without having a large organization.
There is no shortcut to hard work. The “work smarter” advocates have it all wrong, the hours you put in are crucial.
Brian Monheiser (Twitter, LinkedIn) is the Director of Defense and Intelligence Programs for Boundless Inc. Brian works with US Government agencies and contractors to provide freedom from the rigid architectures and unsustainable pricing models of proprietary geospatial software with packaging, expertise, maintenance, professional services, training, and more. Prior to Boundless, Brian honorably served in the United States Marine Corps as Geospatial Intelligence Analyst, and as a contractor responsible for advising and consulting the Department of Defense (DoD) and Intelligence Community (IC) on the use of geospatial technologies, supporting a number of large projects, programs, and applications using geospatial technology.
Q: You’ve been involved in GIS, specifically military GIS and GeoINT, since 1998. What do you think has been the biggest advancement of GIS during your tenure in the field, both within DoD, as well as the field as a whole?
A: I have to tell you, the technology advances from what I used to have to work with to what’s available today have been amazing to say the least. When I got started in the Marines as a veritable kid, they had me using command line desktop GIS. Think about that experience for the moment. I was asked to build and deliver standard and mission-specific hardcopy products using 32-bit clients and the command line. Now analysts are in a world where mission planning, situational awareness, visualization, analytics, and key intelligence questions are answered by mobile and web applications that are driven by tradecraft, algorithms, and workflows developed to interrogate a wide variety of spatial and temporal datasets for almost any purpose. I’m the old GIS analyst yelling at kids these days about how we had to walk uphill both ways to school. Now, kidding aside, it was possible to foresee the technology advances thanks to watching advancements in other areas — but what I’m most impressed with is the advancement, understanding, adoption, and growth in the GIS (at Boundless we like to call it Spatial IT) user community. There was a time not so long ago when GIS was a tradecraft for only those who had been formally trained. That’s no longer the case.
Q: You’ve been with Boundless now for over a year. Have you seen a perception change within your client base on the adoption of FOSS4G Technologies? As a follow up, are their any metrics on how hybrid systems function?
A: Oh, you mean beyond understanding hybrid systems can lower clients’ costs and avoid vendor lock-in while still accomplishing, if not exceeding, all the same objectives? Then yes, I’ve seen a very drastic and positive change. When I got started everybody — including myself — used a solution from a single proprietary vendor, which forced us all to take the formal training I previously mentioned. I at least was in an environment where someone paid for my training and said this was the work I needed to focus on. Now FOSS4G technologies have matured and can reduce the risks of a single-vendor solution, extending the value of existing investments in proprietary mapping software, while reducing costs and increasing potential for interoperability and innovation. Open source geospatial software complements and interoperates with existing proprietary geospatial tools, meaning you don’t lose sunk costs. I’d say there are few homogeneous FOSS4G implementations, because that’s exactly the point of them — you can transition to new implementations at an appropriate pace for your organization.
Q: What do you see as the largest hurdle for FOSS4G technologies and their wide-spread adoption?
A: This is a layup. It’s all awareness and education. The reality is the large vendor in this space — and we all know who I’m talking about — has done a great job of indoctrinating users in said vendor’s software, to the detriment of awareness of what other options are out there. More people need to not only be aware of the existence of FOSS4G, but also of its comparable if not superior functionality. Once upon a time I was as guilty of this as anybody — so I’d like to think I’ve had my mind expanded as I gained knowledge of FOSS4G. In addition, when I’m out there talking about FOSS4G to people who have heard of the software, I’m finding people are not truly understanding the total value and cost of ownership in using open source. We’re guilty of drinking a certain flavor of Kool-Aid for so long, we don’t realize fruit punch is crap, what you really want is blue raspberry.
Q: The Magical Money Fairy flies down and grants you 5 million dollars a year to pursue any geospatial project you want. What would you do?
A: I would map my permanent move to the Caribbean. Seriously. I’d go so far off the grid you’d need geospatial analysis to find me. But if you want me to not be completely self-serving and think for a moment about the good of the community, then I’d work to fix content (data) management. For all the advancements in geospatial technology, the way we manage our data, and the knowledge we can extract from our data is embarrassing. Versioning is poor, our ability to move it is inefficient, and if you look at the technologies other industries are using to manage data sets, then we’re behind the curve. It’s solvable and we’re focusing on it, but the Magical Money Fairy is certainly invited to come party with us.
Q: The standard #GeoHipster interview question: What does the phrase mean to you, and are you a #geohipster? Note: the more profanity used here, the better.
[Laughs] Well, I’d like to consider myself a #geohipster, as long as I don’t have to conform to some Brooklyn definition of a hipster. I mean, have you seen me? I’m built like a rugby player, cue-ball bald, bushy goatee, and the temperament of a Marine. Now if a #geohipster is someone who advocates for kick-ass FOSS4G technologies, who walks the walk in understanding the benefit of geospatial analysis, who believes we should all be working more openly and collaboratively, then count me in.