Category Archives: Interviews

What does a GeoHipster listen to? — Everything!

Music & Maps : A GeoHipster Mixtape

On most days, we listen to the soundtrack of work:  phones, email notifications, office chatter, or the sound of the city. For some of us, our daily soundtrack is a carefully curated playlist of our favorite tunes. Being in the latter group, music can provide the white noise needed push through an hour of getting the labels “just right”, or the inspiration that sparks the fix for that problem with your code.

I was curious about what others are listening to during the day – What does a GeoHipster listen to?

As you might expect, asking anyone who likes music to pick a few songs can be a near futile task. A desert island playlist would be drastically different from a top side one, track ones playlist. Making a mixtape is subtle art, there are many rules – like making a map. I recently talked to several of our interesting colleagues in geo to see what tunes get them through the day. I asked the impossible: pick  3 tracks they love to share for a mixtape.

A GeoHipster mixtape. 

For your listening and reading  pleasure we have hand-crafted a carefully curated playlist from the GeoHipsters below, complete with liner notes of the cool work they do while listening to the tracks they picked.

Ps. i couldn’t help but add a few selections of my own.
Sorry/Not Sorry
jonah



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Joey Lee @leejoeyk // Open Science Fellow at the Mozilla Science Lab

A font made from satellite imagery. WAT. Joey is one of the minds behind  Aerial Bold  – a kickstarter funded project that finds letters in buildings, ponds, trees, and everything else  in satellite imagery.

Generationals – “Reading Signs”
Banoffee – “With her”
Kings of Convenience – “I’d rather dance with you”


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Vicky Johnson @hurricanevicky // GIS Specialist at USAID via Macfadden

A self-admitting geogrump, Vicky regularly talks about maps, all things Buffalo, and nostradamus-style death predictions. Her writings on maps, like “The Maps We Wandered Into As Kids”  are some of best out there. Seriously. Read her stuff.

Ludovico Einaudi – Night
Michael Daugherty – Lex
Grimes –  Kill v Maim


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Jereme Monteau  @jerememonteau  // CoFounder & CTO @ Trailhead Labs

Jereme works on making trail data accesible and open. Through the smooth OuterSpatial platform he’s working on, organizations can provide beautiful maps of their trails, like the Napa County Regional Park & Open Space District

Jereme provided some DJ set links with the caveat:
“……Basically, for any kind of work, especially geo/maps. I’m into DJ sets, which is also kind of the only time I’m into DJ sets. :-)……”

https://soundcloud.com/atish/atish-038-september-2013-anti …
https://soundcloud.com/odesza/no-sleep-mix-04 …
https://soundcloud.com/robot-heart/eric-volta-robot-heart-burning-man-2014 …


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Amy Lee Walton @amyleew // Designer @Mapbox

Amy Lee’s recent map stylings like “Vintage” and “Blueprint” have wow’d us all and she continues to produce amazing examples of modern cartographic design.

The Beatles – I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
Fetty Wap ft. Drake – My Way
Drake – Hotline Bling


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Jim McAndrew @jimmyrocks // Developer, CSU Research Associate at the National Park Service

Among many of the cool OpenStreetMap related work at NPS, Jim is working on synchronizing ArcGIS Online Services with the OpenStreetMap API via Places-Sync

Kraftwerk —Computer World
Boban I Marko Markovic Orkestar — Devla (Khelipe Cheasa)
Mad Caddies — Down and Out


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Lauren Ancona @laurenancona // Sr Data Scientist at City of Philadelphia

When she’s not sciencing the shit out of data, she’s learning all the things by making projects like Parkadelphia – a project that let’s everyone from Von Hayes to the pope view when and where they can park in Philly.

Farrah Fawcett Hair / Capital Cities
Genghis Khan / Miike Snow
Light Up / Mutemath


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Chris Pollard @CRVanPollard // Manager, Geospatial Application Development Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC – Philadelphia’s MPO)

When Chris isn’t fracturing bones from shredding rails, he’s spinning up apps like RideScore & CyclePhilly and for the greater Philadelphia region’s planning authority.

Beach Slang – “Ride the Wild Haze”
Interpol – Heinrich Manuever
Band of Horses – Laredo


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Mamata Akella @mamataakella // Senior Cartographer, CartoDB

Mamata’s cartography as inspired so many of us over the last few years. She cooks up fancy visualizations at CartoDB, and is giving us a special sneak peek at a current project – only to be described as….seismic!

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Ant Banks/ Mac Mall / Too Short / Rappin4Tay / E-40 – Players Holiday
Whitey Morgan and the 78s – I’m On Fire
Phoebe Ryan – Mine (The Jane Doze Remix)


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Will Skora @skorasaurus // Operations Manager at SVDP Cleveland

Way back in March of 2015, we interviewed Will for GeoHipster where he talked about his awesome project Marilliac , a hot meal finder app for Cleveland. More recently, he’s been working on transit data and isochrones with OpenCleveland’s RTA project.

BT – Dynamic Symmetry
Tim Hecker – Virgins (Virginal I or II)
The Future Sound of London – Lifeforms (Life Forms End)


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Atanas Entchev @atanas // O.G.

Our very own OG, Original GeoHipster , resident cross bike, definitely not fixie, driver and all around shaman of neo-modernist-post-classic-pre-retro map enthusiasts to the realm of geographic hipsterism.

The Alan Parsons Project – Turn of a Friendly Card
Marina and The Diamonds – Froot
Ryan Adams – Style


Got an idea for a topic (any topic) you want us to talk to GeoHipsters to? Let us know!

Andy Woodruff: “Seriously, buy an actual textbook!”

Andy Woodruff
Andy Woodruff
Andy Woodruff works to design and build custom interactive maps with Axis Maps, a small company that grew out of the cartography program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2006. He is currently one of the Directors at Large of the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS). Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he’s also a co-organizer of Maptime Boston, and a semi-active mapper of all things Boston for Bostonography.

Q: How did you get involved in geography and maps?

A: I’m a lifetime geographer, that kid who stared at maps in the back seat during family car trips. A map is a wonderful canvas for imagining what the world looks like, and there was always a little thrill in finding myself on the map and seeing imagined places become real. That kind of fascination followed up through my undergraduate and graduate studies in geography and cartography, and on into the start of my career.

Q: How did you learn how to code?

A: The first code I ever wrote was probably BASIC programs on the TI-86 calculator in high school. I have no formal coding background but started learning in earnest in grad school at the University of Wisconsin, in a course on animated and interactive maps. We used Flash, and I became captivated by what ActionScript could do for mapping, so I got really into it and went from there. Flash may be dead to many of us now, but learning it was not at all a waste of time. Those skills transferred well.

Q: How did you meet your company partners?

A: My two partners, Dave Heyman and Ben Sheesley, were the first two people I met when I visited Madison in 2005 to tour the UW Department of Geography, where they were already in the grad program. They started Axis Maps along with a third partner while working on their degrees (the company turns 10 in May!), and then I joined them after finishing my master’s. The roster has varied a bit over the years, and we now also have Josh Ryan working with us, but the three of us have been there for quite a while.

Q: You all work remotely, what tools do you use to keep in touch and organize projects?

A: The usual suspects, probably: Slack for real-time communication, GitHub for code collaboration and issue tracking, Dropbox for other file sharing, Basecamp for project management, Skype for some calls.

Q: What is your company’s typical stack?

A: I never like the word “stack” because it evokes a more rigid workflow or set of tools than I think we have as a company that specializes in custom maps. That said, there are common elements. At the end is most often D3 or Leaflet, and flat geodata files like GeoJSON or CSV. But the road to get there can vary quite a bit. Some things that often enter the mix are QGIS, mapshaper, TileMill (yep, old school TileMill), PostGIS, GDAL, and probably more that I’m forgetting.

Q: You worked with Cindy Brewer on http://colorbrewer2.org/. How many iterations did you go through? What were your goals for the project?

A: ColorBrewer was sort of inherited by Axis Maps for maintenance. Mark Harrower had worked with Cindy to build the original version based on her color research. Around 2009, when Mark was with Axis Maps, he proposed refreshing it, mostly in terms of UI, and we worked with Cindy on that. That was still in Flash though, and a few years ago I started the conversion to HTML and JavaScript to keep up with the times. So it’s really on version 3. The goal is simply to maintain Cindy’s (and Mark’s) original purpose; what we’ve brought to it is relatively minor UI and usability updates, and a few features better suited to the modern cartographer or web developer.

Q: What are some of you favorite examples of work you have conducted?

A: It’s most fun to get to work on something that real, ordinary people will use and enjoy. One favorite from my day job is the Napa Valley map and trip planner we made a year or two ago, which is used by tourists in the area. A favorite side project is the neighborhood mapping project for Bostonography because discussions with people about that have taught me a lot about what neighborhoods mean to people, and about some real-life neighborhood issues in Boston. One other longstanding favorite is typographic city maps, which started as a fun idea and went on to be good for business!

Q: What interesting facts have you learned about the Boston area while working on maps?

A: Too many! It’s a geographically fascinating city. Can’t say that all of these were news to me, but a few interesting things, facts or otherwise:

  • The actual landform of Boston has changed drastically over time. Quite a lot of the city was water 400 years ago.
  • The street layout can be learned but is still really hard to explain. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve failed to give people directions despite knowing the route perfectly. (“Go straight, but it’s not really straight, then turn at the place where seven roads converge, then…”)
  • Everything is closer than it seems; many of us would probably overestimate distance on a map. It’s a compact place and the concepts of “near” and “far” here are a lot smaller than what I grew up with in the Midwest.
  • Nobody can agree on neighborhood boundaries. That’s the subject of an ongoing project.

Q: Which startup/tool/platform do you see paving the future in the geospatial industry?

A: In the world I know best, which is public-facing web maps, I’m excited by what CartoDB does and what they might inspire. They’re doing a great job in the “fast mapping” world that appeals to journalists and others, while also being a gateway to learning more advanced technology, i.e. PostGIS. I think that approach will be good for the future of maps in general.

Q: You are quite involved in the mapping community through Maptime and NACIS.  Where do you think the mapping community is heading? What skills do you see as being important to becoming geographical/map-fluent?

A: When I joined NACIS ten years ago, a transition was starting in cartography from a concentrated few experts to a vast “democratized” array of mappers. Just judging by NACIS membership and conference content over the last decade, there’s a good trend in the mapping community. Where once there was a backlash against so-called amateurs, now they’re mostly embraced and everyone wants to exchange knowledge. The steady attendance of our Maptime chapter in Boston has been good evidence of that! So I think we’re headed in a direction where we all help ourselves get better. Setting aside technical skills, I think important ground to be gained is in cartographic skills and concepts, which have not always spread very far from academic settings. Ideally, academic expertise would be as approachable as Maptime is for technical expertise. We can’t just tell everyone to go back to school, although I’m currently developing a mapping workshop that includes this bit of advice: “seriously, buy an actual textbook!”

Q: Lastly, who inspires you?

A: Inspiration comes from all over the place, but to name a few people on the mind lately:

John Nelson and his consistently breathtaking aesthetics; Eric Fischer for his mapping and finding meaning in “big data”; Mamata Akella and the creative map symbology experiments she’s been doing; Tim Wallace (my partner in crime for Boston maps) for his collaboration and the amazing ideas he shares, and of course his clear and subtly beautiful map design!

Q: And for old times’ sake… which would you choose?

  • Cambridge versus Boston  – They’d chuck me in the Charles if I didn’t say Cambridge.
  • D3 versus R – D3! But I’ve never even used R.
  • WebGL versus vector tiles – they kind of go hand in hand, don’t they?
  • Leaflet versus OpenLayers – Leaflet. Haven’t actually tried OpenLayers since an older version years ago.
  • CartoDB versus Mapbox 😉 – Oh boy, don’t want to make any enemies!
  • Front end versus back end – Front end is a lot more fun.

Michael Terner: “Choice is back”

Michael Terner
Michael Terner
Michael Terner has been working in the geo/GIS industry since 1985, initially in state government where he was the first manager of MassGIS. In 1991 he co-founded Applied Geographics/AppGeo, where he remains a partner and Executive Vice President.

Questions from Randal, Mike, and Atanas

Q (Randal): So Michael, you are Executive VP at AppGeo. AppGeo has been around for around 25 years. You’re one of the founding partners, correct? What’s the history of AppGeo? ArcINFO was still command line at that point, and I’m pretty sure Windows NT hadn’t made a strong appearance in the market place. Plus I still had hair.

A: Yeah, I hate to admit it but I’m increasingly feeling like one of the “old guys” in this industry. I got my start in GIS in 1985, straight out of college when I got an internship with the Massachusetts state government in a small environmental agency. My task was to see what this new “GIS technology” was all about and see if it might help Mass with hazardous waste treatment facility siting. Long story short, that internship led to 7 years in state government where I had the privilege of helping to get MassGIS started, and was the first Manager from 1988-1991. In that time I took my ARC/INFO (correct spelling of the day) training on a Prime 9950 mini computer and ARC/INFO 3.2. Our first disk quota was 600MB, and the system administrator said “you’ll never fill that up.” We did in 3 months. I also helped Massachusetts buy its first copy of ARC/INFO to run on a new VAX computer at version 4.0. I have no nostalgia for the bad old days of command line, 9-track tapes, and needing to start projects by table-digitizing the data that you needed. I do miss AML a little bit.

I left state government to co-found AppGeo with two partners in 1991. My partner for 24 years, David Weaver, retired late last year. Our president Rich Grady joined us in 1994, and we’ve built a strong, internal management team. In hindsight, the one thing I think we’ve done best these past 25 years is anticipate and willingly change as technology evolves. We started AppGeo with one UNIX workstation that ran ARC/INFO for 3 people using terminal emulation on PCs connected to the workstation. We ran ArcInfo on Windows NT, and we’ve evolved through ArcView, ArcView IMS, ArcIMS and ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS for this and that. We’ve seen a lot of technology and devices come and go, and beginning in 2008 we began pivoting from Esri as the sole solution for all problems. Initially with open source, and now increasingly with newer web platforms from Google Maps to CartoDB alongside open source. Again, I have no nostalgia and have never had more fun in this industry than now. Choice is back, and innovation is flourishing. Everywhere. I still have some hair, but as my daughters remind me, my forehead has grown considerably since then.

Q (Randal): So what does AppGeo do?

A: We’re geospatial consultants, plain and simple. We help customers solve geospatial problems and we help them plan and implement geo. We both spec and create data. And we build a lot of applications. Nowadays, almost always on the web, and increasingly what we build is optimized for mobile device access. Sometimes our customers want our ideas; other times they need extra capacity, and sometimes they need special skills such as programming or project design. We really believe in “dogfooding” and “eating what you cook.” As such doing things like creating data and maps as well as applications helps us be more confident in the kinds of recommendations we put forth in our strategic plans. Now we also resell some technology, and we have our own software as a service (SaaS) offerings that we serve out of the cloud to many dozens of customers. Pretty much everything we do has geospatial in it, but as geospatial — or location — has gotten more mainstream, increasingly our work involves integrating with non-geospatial business systems or tying geospatial technology into traditional IT infrastructures. Which is good. As our development team will say: “spatial is not special, it’s just another column in the database.” It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but with SQL extended for spatial operations, not by much.

Q (Randal): One of the things I’ve noticed about AppGeo is that you have several business partnerships. Two of the most interesting were Esri and Google. One of the two decided they didn’t want to partner with you in the GIS realm anymore. Which one ran?

A: As a small business, we have always been open-minded to partnerships. In addition to geospatial supplier partnerships, we have partnered with a wide variety of other consultants on projects. From big engineering firms to well known IT consulting firms to firms that are highly specialized in a particular market such as airports. We add the geo/location expertise.

And we’ve always been very open to partnering with the geospatial software providers. In addition to the two you mention — Esri and Google — at various times (and to this day) we’ve been partners with Intergraph, Bentley, FME, and CartoDB. Our loyalty is to our customers, and we want the expertise needed to help them solve their problems, and we need to understand the tools that are out there very well to provide that expertise. Partnerships help us to do that.

So to your question: Esri kicked us out of their partner program after almost 20 years in the program. I blogged on that topic in 2014 and provided a good amount of detail on what we think happened, and what it means. Many, many people read the piece, and as I’ve traveled around, several other people have sought me out to tell me “their story.” We’re certainly not the only ones who have met this fate, but not many have talked about it openly. As I wrote, it was not a healthy partnership, and in the end it was good that it happened. We have never been stronger, and there are many other firms — including Google — that have welcomed us as a partner, and respected our non-denominational outlook on partnership. We still use a ton of Esri and feel very comfortable as a customer of theirs. As our clients know, our expertise in Esri didn’t disappear with our partner status. We greatly respect the company and Jack Dangermond as a strong and tough businessman. And, in our “best of breed” outlook on the geospatial landscape, Esri is the best at many things. But, in our opinion, not all. And that’s probably why we parted company.

Q (Mike): Any regrets about publicly airing all of those details? Do you think AppGeo would be different today if you had been able to stay in the program?

A: No regrets whatsoever. In fact, we have been a bit surprised at how many people were interested in the story. In the end, we had heard that Esri was telling the story to some of our mutual customers in “their terms”, and we felt it was important for people to have the ability to also hear that story directly from us. Quite honestly, I don’t think things would be much different for us if we had stayed in the Esri partner program. Business remains good, and we would still be using a variety of technologies, and we would still have our primary loyalty to our customers. Really, the biggest difference is in the posture of our relationship with Esri. Now we’re an Esri customer and user instead of a partner. And thus the kinds of conversations we have with Esri are somewhat different.

Q (Atanas): How is partnering with Google different than with Esri?

A: As you might expect, it’s an enormous difference. Google’s program is certainly not perfect, but Google is very clear with their partners on the role of the partner channel and Google’s expectations. It took some getting used to, but we have hit our stride and the partnership is very productive for us. Here are a few of the biggest differences:

  • Google has many, many fewer partners than Esri, and the partners are selected/recruited based on their qualifications. And there is not an annual fee to be in their partner program.
  • Google’s program is re-selling oriented. We do a lot of related services (e.g., application development), but that is between us and the customer; we work very closely with Google on providing the right subscription-based products. Unlike Esri, Google allows their partners to sell any of their geo products, not just the lower-end subset of products.
  • Google has other, non-geo product lines (e.g., Gmail/Google for Work; Google Cloud Platform; Search; etc.) and many of Google’s geo partners sell, or even specialize in these other product lines. Google’s partner conference (which I just attended in March) mixes all of these different partners, and it’s a really interesting and diverse ecosystem. There’s a specialized track for each product line (we followed the geo track), but you also get to see the whole cloud-based vision of the larger company and interact with, and learn from the non-geo partners.
  • Probably the biggest difference for us is that there is a very active exchange of leads and joint selling. We got more leads from Google in our first month in the program than we did in the entire life of our Esri partnership which spanned almost 20 years. Fundamentally, Google and their partners work together on sales which was not the case for us with Esri.

Q (Mike): While we’re drawing comparisons, you’ve been working with customers around the country. Are you noticing any regional differences in the way GIS or mapping technologies are approached?

A: Honestly, I don’t see fundamental “technological approach” differences across the country. Pretty much everywhere I go Esri remains the dominant player, but also I see people’s eyes and minds being ever more open to new approaches like open source (e.g., QGIS) or cloud-based platforms (e.g., CartoDB, Fulcrum). There may be slight regional differences in the rate of uptake of new technology, but everywhere people are more curious than I’ve ever seen. People are also increasingly interested in open data across the country, and even in Canada, which does not have the same public records laws and open records history as the USA.

The biggest regional differences are in governmental organization and the priority of particular issues. The things that vary on a regional basis are more like, “Do you work with more counties vs. cities/towns?” Or, “Is the drought, or agriculture, or public lands a big issue?”

Q (Mike): I’ll ask you what I asked you in Duluth last fall — can the open source community band together to make sure the Yankees never win another World Series?

A: Wish it were so. But as a fellow Red Sox fan I feel good about where we stand relative to the Yankees in the 21st Century, i.e., 3 titles Red Sox to 1 for the Yankees.

Q (Atanas): Hippest commute mode: ferry, train, or bike?

A: I’m a big public transit fan, mostly because the downtown Boston driving commute is terrible. Usually I’m on the commuter rail. But during the window from mid-May through the end of October there’s a commuter ferry from Salem (the neighboring city to my hometown of Beverly) into downtown Boston. So my favorite, and by association hippest, commute is the 1-2 days/week during the summer I get to bike the ~3 miles from home to Salem for a wonderful high speed ferry ride into Boston (and then back). This is the morning “entering Boston” view:

'Entering Boston' by Michael Terner
‘Entering Boston’ by Michael Terner

Q (Randal): So with all these questions behind us … do you feel geohipsterish? We did a poll way back in the beginning days of GeoHipster to define a geohipster, and the best we could come up with are they shun the mainstream, have a wicked sense of humor, and do things differently. Do you feel like one?

A: Yes, I hope so. I’m not sure I “shun” the mainstream, but I don’t believe there is a mainstream that lasts very long in technology. If you stand pat, you die. We’ve lasted 25 years so at a minimum we’ve bobbed in and out of the ever-changing tech mainstream fairly effectively. In 1985 when I started in this business, Esri was not mainstream. I appreciate humor (especially Randy’s) greatly, and I hope I’m occasionally funny (even if my family might disagree). Yes, I think we often approach things differently, and aren’t afraid to “try different”, and that’s been a great asset.

Q (Randal): I usually leave the last question up to you to say whatever you want to say to the world, and I’m going to do just that … BUT with a twist. Something big is coming to Boston in 2017, and you and the Geo community did a tremendous amount of work to make this happen. So what is coming to Boston in 2017?

A: Yes, the Global FOSS4G Conference is coming to Boston in August of 2017 as the three-continent rotation returns to North America after a successful stop in Seoul, Korea in 2015, and the upcoming conference in Bonn Germany in 2016.  See our nascent web-site to mark your calendars. The Boston geo community rallied, and I am extremely proud to have led our awesome Boston Location Organizing Committee (the BLOC) in generating the winning proposal to host that conference. We had incredibly tough competition with really strong proposals coming from both Ottawa and Philadelphia, and we are committed to putting on an awesome conference and rewarding the faith OSGeo has put in us. We are also excited to support the upcoming FOSS4G North America that will be held in Raleigh, NC in just 4 weeks. Please show your support for FOSS4G and learn lots and have fun with us in Raleigh.

Will Cadell: “People talk about ‘thinking outside the box’; I don’t think there is a box anymore”

Will Cadell
Will Cadell
Will Cadell is the founder and CEO of Sparkgeo.com, a Prince George-based business which builds geospatial technology for some of the biggest companies on Earth. Since starting Sparkgeo, he has been helping startups, large enterprises, and non-profits across North America make the most of location and geospatial technology.

Leading a team of highly specialized, deeply skilled geospatial web engineers, Will has built products, won patents, and generally broken the rules. Holding a degree in Electronic and Electrical Engineering and a Masters in Environmental Remote Sensing, Will has worked in academia, government, and in the private sector on two different continents, making things better with technology. He is on the board of Innovation Central Society, a non-profit society committed to growing and supporting technology entrepreneurs in North Central BC.

Q: Sparkgeo. What does your company do exactly? Do you have any competitors in the custom geospatial consulting field?

A: At Sparkgeo we put maps on the internet.

I try to keep this description as simple as possible. It goes back to the question of what a GIS person does, which is actually really hard to explain and terribly boring at dinner parties. Instead, I stick to maps and the internet, both of which are critical features of what Sparkgeo does. The other leg of our stool is people. Really, we work in places where maps meet people on the internet.

We find ourselves doing lots of interesting things. Things like building data pipelines, building geospatial compute engines, building UIs, undertaking broad data acquisition and analysis projects. We have found ourselves in the enviable position of only doing interesting things.

With that in mind we end up touching the “full stack”. A web mapping project is actually a full stack effort; you must consider every piece of the data flow to build a great map. The web map is the tip of the spear, but the data supporting that map is really the shaft, it’s the weight of the effort. Understanding the linkages between data and its delivery, and being somewhat flexible about how to sculpt those linkages is why Sparkgeo is useful.

I am sure we have competitors, but there is simply so much important geospatial work to do in the technology sector presently, I don’t feel pressured by it. Really the most competition is for talent. Indeed, that talent gap is to a large extent why we exist.

In the last year or so we have been spending our spare time on maptiks.com, which is like Google Analytics for a web map. Our thinking here is that although lots of organisations spend time on mapping technology, few seem to iterate back over their maps to make them incrementally better, and fewer still inform that process with actual data.

Q: What libraries and tools does your company use? Can you provide some examples of your favorite projects?

A: These are some of our favorite things:

  • Mapnik
  • Python
    • GDAL & OGR
    • GEOS
    • Shapely
    • Fiona
    • Django
    • CherryPy
    • Pillow (PIL)
  • Javascript
    • Mapping APIs:
      • LeafletJS (inc cartodb.js & mapbox.js)
      • Openlayers
      • Google Maps
      • ESRI JavaScript API
      • Cesium.js
    • Turf.js
    • AngularJS
    • ReactJS
  • Amazon Web Services
    • All the things

However, it’s not about the tools or the library; it should be about the question and how best to answer it. Sometimes the best answer is “don’t do this thing”, sometimes the answer is “buy a bigger boat”, and sometimes the answer is “we’ll help you build a thing”. We are in the enviable position of not having to sell licenses for anyone so we can actually be objective (and opinionated) about technology choices.

Q: Tell us about your work with Nextdoor. What technology stack did you use? What lessons did you learn?  

A: Of course I can’t tell you too much about how Nextdoor works. What I can say is that we have helped them achieve a number of their business goals through the development of a custom geospatial datastore accessed through a custom python API. In essence though, we just added some focused geospatial expertise to their already talented engineering team.

We have used this model a great deal in helping technology companies achieve their geospatial business goals. By attending stand ups and taking on the “geo” tickets we can add the capacity necessary to give a typical web engineering team the geo-confidence they need to keep their velocity up. Often these kind of engagements become much longer term relationships.

Although ultimately we are a “professional services” organisation, we have become a lot more about people and relationships than we are about projects and requirements. That way we get to work with some of the biggest tech companies, hottest startups, and most interesting non-profits on Earth.

Q: You are the CEO of your company. Describe the tasks you do in a typical week.  

A: I talk to a lot of people. I write a lot of emails. I pitch ridiculous ideas. I write reports. I do a bunch of administration. I solve problems. I remove barriers. I remind clients about our invoices. I go and buy snacks for the team. I manage payroll. I ponder our future. I talk to our accountant about tax management. I go buy more sticky notes for the office. I stress about project pipelines. In fact I stress about a lot of things 🙂

…and occasionally I get to write some code or make a map. It’s actually the best job I’ve ever had. I’m always having to learn new things and solve new problems. I tell everyone, including our team, if they stop learning they should leave. That’s true across the board, there are too many interesting things to do to waste time being bored.

Q: You recently wrote an article about remote working (http://buff.ly/1OEEWte). What does the breakdown of your company look like? How many are remote and how many work from the office? How do you bring together everyone? How do you promote company culture with remote workers? Explain how you manage/check in with employees that are working remote. What are the strengths/weaknesses in the current setup?

A: I first heard the term “remote first” in terms of the workplace mid last year and I realised it fits us well. We have an office in Prince George, BC (well North of the wall). But on any given day a member of the the team could be anywhere and it’s not a big problem. We typically have a check-in meeting, our version of a stand up — except people are on different projects — at 8:30am Pacific. It lasts for 15 minutes max, plus any necessary bonus rounds. People attend it from where they happen to be. It’s “early” for the Pacific timezone because we have some people on Eastern time. Even a remote company has to figure out timezones 🙂

Remote first means that we communicate first using tools like Hangouts and Slack, it means that people are kept in the loop by default, and things don’t get decided “without the remote guy”. If a team is meeting, then everyone on that team is invited, and that meeting will happen on a common set of tools used by people in or out of the office.

This remote culture is critical for us. The first employee I brought on (@gridcell) was remote, and now 40% of our company is remote. The really important bit, however, is how we interact with our clients. Being based up in the frozen wastes of the North and working for organisations in the tech sector means we must be really good at “being remote” because we are always remote to our clients. So independent of whether Sparkgeoers are in the office or not, we are still operating in a remote manner. This must be true for our clients too; they need to be ok with our periodic on-site presence, and our very present nature on IM or videoconferencing. It’s worth noting that with some clients being remote is not a great fit, and that’s fine. I am happy to say that we do have some great clients whom I have never actually met. Likewise, I also know that sometimes I have to hop on a plane and travel 2000 miles to shake a hand. Remote doesn’t mean not having a personal relationship and remote doesn’t mean distant.

Q: How does your company advertise? SEO? Content? Starting up Slack groups…?

A: Sometimes we do little ads in places across the interwebz (for instance on the GeoHipster website), seeing what sticks. Relevant content, however is the most valuable piece of advertising on the web. Good content has a long tail and brings people back and back.

More recently, our Maptiks growth guy (@julienjacques) suggested starting a Slack group. We did that, and now it’s grown to 900 users. The funny thing is it has turned into a real community, and as such we don’t really advertise on it because that would defeat the purpose that has evolved around it. If we (or others) were to advertise crassly on it, then it wouldn’t actually be a useful community 🙂

Q: You follow mapping trends and new technologies in depth. Are there any particular tech companies and/or startups that you follow? Any of them going to be the next big-bang disruptors?

A: I follow all the usual suspects (CartoDB, Mapbox, Esri, Stamen, Google, Boundless…) and do my best to catch up with contacts in each of them on my travels.

I am especially interested in the satellite space (hahaha) right now. The idea of Imagery As A Service seems to be booming. Planet Labs, Digital Globe, Astro Digital, UrtheCast, SkyBox, Spire all being players to some extent. Then there are companies like Orbital Insight who are taking remote sensing and magic-ing it into actionable broad data products. I think the days where someone would go to a website and purchase an image from a marginally navigable image library, then download an enormous file.zip via FTP are numbered… thankfully.

But there are the big players, too. Apple is very interesting right now; Google has always been in the geo sand box. But with the consumerization of geo I think more players will emerge here. Amazon has a location platform and drones…? UPS…?

Then there is the sharing economy: Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, Nextdoor. The quantified & wearable self: Fitbit, Under Armor (who bought MapMyFitness), Strava, RunKeeper. The nature of our industry and the ubiquity of smartphones & wearables is such that good, hard geospatial questions pop up everywhere. As a result of this phenomenon we’ve worked in the tech space, in hospitality, in finance, in conservation, with satellite companies, in hardware, in software, with government. The point isn’t to consider the tools or be confined to a vertical, the point is the pursuit of interesting questions and how we can use geography and technology to answer them. People talk about “thinking outside the box”, I don’t think there is a box anymore, I wonder if there ever was.

Q: Which industry do you see as needing more mapping technologies? Are there one or two fields that seem to be pretty behind the times?

A: Automotive will be the next industrial geospatial leapfrog.

Consider: A driverless car needs to know a great deal of information about its surroundings and virtually every piece of fixed knowledge (i.e., data not detected by vehicle in transit) will be geospatial in nature. Every major automotive vendor will need a data provider, and that data will be constantly updated. In this scenario the 80/20 rule will not suffice. If that vehicle cannot reach its destination because it doesn’t know the way, then the entire vehicle has failed. That failure might simply be a new subdivision not being present, but nevertheless the lack of a street or a misnamed building will result in the vehicle not being able to drive itself, thus failure. A driverless vehicle needs to have a complete and constantly updating map of navigable routes.

Automotive will drive (hahaha) efforts in open data, in data pipelines, in ETL, in base map production, in data storage, in connectivity, in routing. For the driverless future to happen geospatial needs to be a lot better.

Q: What is your current method for skiing on a mountain you do not know well? Do you use the paper maps that they provide, or a new app (Have you heard of fatmap.com?)

A: I ski a DPS Wailer 99. I love the backcountry, but with a young family I find myself on a ski hill more often these days. That said, my 7- & 9-year-olds are on double diamonds now, so we’ll be hitting some family backcountry soon. We are also lucky enough to have many kilometers of groomed & floodlit XC skiing within city limits (Prince George, BC) so that is a common after-work activity.

The interesting thing about backcountry skiing around central British Columbia is the lack of documentation; every trip is a little bit exploratory. That, combined with relatively poor and out-of-date maps (Canada is big and largely empty) leaves me doing a lot of navigation by feel. It can get pretty cold, too; devices and batteries tend to become less reliable below -20.

I do, of course, appreciate the irony in the mapping guy navigating largely by instinct.  

Q: It must be fascinating to compare the world you grew up in with the one that your daughters are growing up in. Do you mind sharing a little insight you have as a parent and geographer/technologists. Can they read maps? What routing technology do they use to get to a new place?

A: My girls love maps. They have been completely brainwashed by me; they know exactly how important good maps are. Their navigational abilities are somewhat untested, but they do have a good sense of direction; we test that on the trails a lot. Their use of technology is interesting; we keep screen time to a minimum, but the way they interact with touch interfaces is fearless. I think we will see great advances in industrial design as interface designers embrace touch and haptic technologies. We are also trying to expose our girls to what it means to write code; their lives will take them in many different directions, but having some exposure to the discipline of code is valuable.

Which do you prefer when it comes to maps?
Data or design - Both
Functionality or beauty - Again, both. But wait, “functionality” doesn’t mean lots of buttons -- it means fit for purpose. As a community we need to de-couple features from functionality.
Historical or futuristic - Neither; it’s the story that compels 
Markers or pins - These are the same thing 🙂
Clusters or heatmaps - Clusters (unless it’s a weather map) 
Markdown or Handlebars  - Markdown
And other things…?
Black and local coffee or pour-over with butter - Black Americano, no pollution, and lots of it
Fitbit or Strava - Fitbit & MapMyFitness (Fitbit have an interesting geo conundrum presently - Strides or GPS for distance https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/your-device-can-too-smart-will-cadell ). Strava has done an amazing job of socializing athletic pursuit; I started using MMF first though, and most of my data now gets piped into Fitbit.
Twitter or Facebook - Twitter
Commuter or road bike - Both & MTB too
Nordic, alpine, or telemark skiing - Mountain Touring, Skate Skiing, Classic Skiing. Tele is cool but you have to be really talented to ski anything big, and I’m not 🙂

Q: Any closing comments for the GeoHipster readers?

A: Thanks for the opportunity to tell you a little about Sparkgeo. Also, thanks to the geohipster community for keeping things sufficiently geo-weird.

 

Jan Erik Solem: “Only start something if you are willing to spend at least five years of your life on it”

 

Jan Erik Solem
Jan Erik Solem
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?

A:

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?

A:

  • 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.

Q: Lastly, do you consider yourself a geohipster?

A: Um, probably not 😉 .

John Reiser: “The best work often occurs once you move outside of your comfort zone”

John Reiser
John Reiser
John Reiser is a Business Intelligence Analyst at Rowan University. He previously worked in state government and in a private planning firm. John is active in several professional organizations and also serves as a consultant on GIS, cartography, and data analysis projects. John lives in New Jersey.

Q: Where do you work and what do you do there?

A: I am a business intelligence analyst at Rowan University. I work primarily with University Advancement, dealing with fundraising recordkeeping and prospect research. We use technology to better connect with and support our alumni, as well as help find individuals who have both the capacity and the inclination to give philanthropically to Rowan. I also consult and work on projects in my spare time.

Q: You hold a graduate degree in urban planning. What attracted you to GIS?

A: The first time I can recall really getting excited about GIS was during my undergraduate program in Geography. The program at the time focused on raster-based analysis and did very little with vector data. This was 2004 and there was no easy access to large datasets like county-wide parcels. Thankfully, I was able to get copies of Burlington and Gloucester Counties’ parcel data, driving to their respective offices and picking up CDs, merging the data together and then using it to project ridership potential for a planned light rail in Gloucester County, comparing it to the recently-opened RiverLine in Burlington County. I continued research into access to transportation while pursuing my masters at Rutgers. Even though I initially wanted to pursue physical and transportation planning, I would get involved with projects that required GIS, and continued to build my knowledge on the software and myriad types of data available.

Q: Do you miss planning? How much of what you learned in planning school do you apply in the job you hold today?

A: I do miss working as a planner and I miss working with GIS on a regular basis, but I make up for it by working on side projects. My current project is NJ Parcels, an easy-to-use statewide listing of property assessment and sales information for New Jersey. I get to wear many hats as I work on the site, from system administrator, database administrator, software developer, UI/UX designer, and project manager. So far, I feel like I am successful in juggling the different roles and responsibilities to keep the site running smoothly. Over 2015, NJ Parcels served up 9.7 million pageviews to approximately 3 million users. I also develop and manage Florida Parcels, which is an attempt to do the same for the Sunshine State.

I do want to use the data I’ve collected to build the site for planning projects in New Jersey. I have assisted NJ Future to overcome difficulties matching the spatial data to the assessment records, namely where there are multiple lots but only one assessment record that contains the additional lots in a free-form text field. I am currently working on a project looking at distributed ownership in New Jersey — people who purchase property a distance from their listed owner address. This can help understand a variety of planning issues, from absentee landlords, transitional neighborhoods, market speculation, and the effects of out-of-state investment in places like the Jersey Shore. I am planning on releasing my findings in the spring of this year.

Two things I learned from planning school still weigh heavily in my mind: the need to build consensus, and having patience. Projects, both software development and large redevelopments plans, benefit greatly from consensus-building efforts. That extra work at the beginning trying to get buy-in from stakeholders and from the community might be seen as side friction, but it ultimately makes the project go smoothly. Patience is also critical. It takes patience to build a plan and see it through fruition. Not everything can get solved in a single meeting or a code sprint, and that’s okay.

Q: You have experienced GIS in state government, in academia, and in private consulting. Which environment is the most interesting? The most challenging?

A: State government can be frustrating because of the nature of the business. Interesting projects can spring up and die just as quickly as the whims of the politicians in charge change. I was told on occasion to simply stop working on a project because it was no longer supported by the Governor’s Office. Private consulting can be incredibly rewarding, but it has its own difficulties. The profit-driven nature of the private world shapes the outcome and the timeframe. Sometimes you just need to produce, even if it’s not the product you originally wanted to produce.

Academia allows for greater flexibility in exploring a project. Some truly amazing work has originated within academia. And if you’re fortunate to work with students, you’ll be constantly amazed what bright, passionate young minds can produce. However, the nature of the academic world can also be far more difficult to navigate than government or the private sector. Colleagues that block or stifle your work can do so simply because they can. Performance metrics are often ignored, and I have been amazed at the amount of “thinking with the gut” that is performed in higher ed. Unlike government, you’re not keeping your fingers crossed that the next election things will be better, instead you are stuck playing actuary and guessing if it is worth waiting around for retirements to occur. Academia can be an amazing place to work and be a contributor to some awesome projects, but it can also be immensely frustrating as Sayre’s law will demonstrate itself time and time again if you do not have the right people involved.

Q: You are equally well versed in Esri technology and in open source geospatial technology. Is mixing and matching geotools a necessity, a challenge, or a luxury?

A: To me, finding the right tool for the job is both a challenge and a necessity. I’ve seen fanatics on both sides — commercial and free software — produce projects that don’t meet their full potential because they’ve married themselves to a single software platform. Taking a step back and evaluating the options is important. Just because something happens to be your current favorite doesn’t necessarily make it the best choice for the task at hand. The best work often occurs once you move outside of your comfort zone.

Q: What are you working on now, and what technologies do you use?

A: At work I write SQL for Oracle on a daily basis and I use PostgreSQL for my side projects. It is amazing where the differences and similarities lie in the two DBMSs. I’m grateful that the one I find myself less frustrated with happens to be the free one.

I primarily use Python as my programming language of choice, but I have been looking into using Node.JS again after about two years of not using it to build an API to NJ Parcels. I also need to brush up on R and use that in my projects more often. I also use Tableau both at work and in my other projects. It’s a great tool for quick visualizations of complex data.

Q: Bike, beard, beer — you are in firm control of the ultimate hipster triad. Do people call you a hipster, and how do you feel about it if (when?) they do?

A: I don’t get called hipster often; I don’t think I dress well enough. I think I tend to come across more as a lumberjack with a desk job.

Q: On closing, any words of wisdom for the GeoHipster crowd?

A: When I was teaching GIS in higher ed, I stressed the importance of projects and building a portfolio. Recent grads looking for work often have little to show to potential employers, so having some tangibles that demonstrate your capabilities is crucially important. I would always encourage them to work on projects that aligned with their personal passions. It’s much easier to convince yourself to dedicate the extra time if it’s something you enjoy or strikes your interest. It’s also much easier to stick with the project after you’ve gotten the job. I’ve started countless projects over my 15 years in the workforce and most were abandoned or anything but successful, but I’ve learned a lot from each project. Take that experience and funnel it into your next project. I never would have thought that I’d be developing web sites around assessment data back when I was initially struggling with getting and using the same data a decade earlier. I don’t know what I’ll be doing ten years from now, but I know there will be a wide variety of options ahead of me because I continued to learn, adapt, and put my mix of talents to use. I’m likely preaching to the choir, but I feel it needs to be said: keep working towards the next big thing.

Shoreh Elhami: “GISCorps is nothing without its volunteers”

Shoreh Elhami
Shoreh Elhami
Shoreh Elhami is the founder of GISCorps, a URISA program that coordinates the deployment of volunteers to communities in need around the world. GISCorps was endorsed as a program by the URISA Board of Directors in October 2003 and since then has attracted over 4,000 volunteers from 98 countries worldwide. To date, over 950 GISCorps volunteers have served in 175 on-site or remote missions in 61 countries.

Email: shoreh.elhami@gmail.com

Q: So, Mrs. Elhami, where are you located and what do you do?

A: Shoreh will do!

Q: You are the boss, so it will be Shoreh!

A: I’ve lived in Central Ohio for 29 years; the first 11 years in the City of Columbus, and then moved to Powell — a small suburban city north of Columbus. I work for the City of Columbus Department of Technology; my title is Citywide GIS Manager.

Q: Shoreh, how did you get into GIS? You are / were an architect at one time, correct?

A: Yes, I studied architectural engineering in Iran (where I was born and raised) and practiced as an architect/ urban planner for a few years before we decided to leave the country. I was introduced to GIS at the Ohio State University where I ended up going to graduate school to study City and Regional Planning. I applied for a Research Assistantship position and was assigned to a project that used GIS for studying and analyzing the impact of urban sprawl on a protected watershed. Talk about luck as not only did I end up working on an interesting project, but also learned how to use GIS to conduct analysis. It meant no more drawing / overlaying polygons on mylar and calculating results by hand; I was in love!

I was then offered a job shortly before I graduated, and ended up working at a planning agency where I used my GIS skills for building models and conducting a variety of analytic models for a County Master Plan. This was in the early 90s when GIS was not used as often in a master planning process, so it was a unique and gratifying experience.

Q: What does a Citywide GIS Manager do in Columbus, Ohio? I’m not sure we’ve ever interviewed one. It sounds like something that can make you have fits upon occasion.

A: At the City of Columbus, GIS is used in almost every department, both on desktop as well as online. We have over 300 datasets,+/-100 data editors, and 30 or so GIS applications which are all supported by my team. We work very closely with GIS users and decision-makers on creating new datasets, maintaining the software, geodatabases, and designing applications. Our most recent project is our Open Data Portal. It’s a work in progress, but it is where anyone with interest in Columbus GIS data can visit and download data. In short, it’s an exciting and at times quite a challenging job!

Q: Sometime around 2001 you started this small thing called GISCorps. Why? What does it do?

A: Yes, it was in 2001 at the URISA conference in Long Beach when I started talking to a few colleagues about an idea which later on became GISCorps. The idea was and is quite simple as it’s about making one’s GIS skills available to entities that need GIS assistance but cannot afford to employ GIS professionals. Originally, I thought most of our projects would be on-site and involve teaching. However, we learned very quickly that our volunteers’ skills are very much needed after disasters. In fact, our first few major missions were launched shortly after the 2004 Asian tsunami that struck Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand, and then Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

We recently launched our 176th project, and over 950 volunteers have been deployed to those projects in 61 countries. The majority of these projects are conducted remotely (80%) and +/- 40% have been in response to disasters. We currently have over 4,000 registered volunteers from 98 countries. It’s worth to mention that for on-site projects, we always make sure that the travel expenses are covered by the organization that is requesting assistance. For remote projects there are no [travel] expenses, as volunteers work from their home / office, using their own equipment.

Q: When you started there weren’t a lot of volunteer organizations around. Now there’s HOT and Ushahidi. What makes GISCorps different? The same?

A: You’re right, we are the old kids on the block as far as GIS volunteering goes! Several new organizations were formed shortly after the Haiti earthquake in 2010, and we actually collaborate with several of them via a relatively new organization called Digital Humanitarian Network or DHN. I think what differentiates GISCorps from other organizations is our recruitment model. We take time to not only select candidates from our extensive database, but also for almost every project (except large crowd-sourcing ones) we get on the phone and interview volunteers to make sure they are the right person for the job. We take that quite seriously, as our volunteers’ work represents who we are. Another distinction is that a large percentage of our volunteers are hard-core GIS professionals and ready and equipped to perform all and any GIS-related tasks. Having said that, we also engage in projects that do not require a lot of GIS skills (mostly crowd-sourcing projects) and many of our volunteers enjoy those efforts as well.

Q: How many people do you have helping you run GISCorps? The organization is a non-profit, correct?

A: GISCorps’ business is run by a Core Committee, which at this time has seven members. We meet virtually once a month, and at least once a year face to face.

We are a program of URISA, and since URISA is a non-profit organization people who donate to GISCorps can benefit from our 501(c)(3) status.

Q: What was the best mission of GISCorps? Assuming you can pick the best one.

A: Please don’t ask me to do that, as I have many favorites; it’s as if they ask you which one of your children you love the most!

Q: So with all of that going on — there are more important things to discuss. What’s the best Persian meal you make?

A: Seriously? You’re asking me about my culinary skills?! Actually this may be surprising to some of your readers: I love cooking, and if I may say so — when I have time — I can deliver pretty nice dishes. My daughter loves my Tahchin the most, so I pick that one. You can check out a recipe (not mine but somewhat close to how I make it) here.

Q: We talk about people being geohipsters — our best definition is: doing things differently, or making a difference in the world of GIS. So are you a geohipster?

A: If getting joy and satisfaction from spending time on geo matters that helps others is doing things differently then I’m a geohipster! But I really want to be clear — and this is not self-deprecating — GISCorps is nothing without its volunteers; that’s who is making a difference. We, the Core Committee, are just instruments to help make that happen.

Q: The last question is yours — anything you wish to tell the world?

A: The world? That would be too audacious of me… All I know and believe in is that we are here on earth for a flicker of time, and we should focus on using our skills on doing good. That’s all that matters!

Machiko Yasuda: “You’d be surprised how much spatial thinking is involved in something as basic as selling and shipping things”

Machiko Yasuda
Machiko Yasuda
Machiko Yasuda (machiko.co) is a journalist-turned-web developer, who especially likes writing Ruby.

She loves to teach and organize. She has taught bike safety, web development at General Assembly and coached at Rails Girls. She helps organize a pair programming meetup and Maptime LA. Outside of work, she likes rock climbing and is currently obsessed with learning about alignment and Nutritious Movement.

Q: Where do you work and what do you do there?

A: I currently work in Los Angeles at the Reformation, an eco-friendly women’s fashion company. Reformation makes “clothes that don’t kill the environment”, and I make apps that help the in-house team and factory design, manufacture, and ship clothes around the world.

Q: How did you get attracted to mapping?

A: When I was little, I onced asked my parents for an e-mail address and my own domain for my birthday. I always wanted to “work for a big website” but didn’t know how. I chose colleges by comparing how professional their daily newspapers looked, and immediately joined the Daily Bruin at UCLA to work on their site. We mapped local crime data from the police logs, but that was about it.

I always wanted to get more into web mapping, but without a geography degree or an ArcGIS license I felt like I had no options. In 2010 though, at my first full-time job out of college at a daily local paper, I learned about Google Fusion Tables and that really changed my life. I found myself mapping census data with Google Fusion Tables, even converting latitude and longitude in degrees, minutes and seconds from the National Park Service into decimals in Excel — because I didn’t know any other way. That’s how I got into mapping and code.

I couldn’t answer this question without a shout out to all those early tutorials and open-source tools I first used: Google Fusion Tables tutorials from John Keefe at WNYC: http://johnkeefe.net/,  SHPEscape for converting data formats: http://shpescape.com/  and http://colorbrewer2.org/ for colors.

Q: You are one of the co-organizers of MaptimeLA. Tell us how and why that happened, and what keeps you going back.

A:  After I got my first apprenticeship at a software start-up, I heard about the original Maptime in the Bay Area. I had met many developers through the local tech meetups, but not many interested in GIS and maps. I wondered, out loud, on Twitter, whether LA could start a Maptime. A few months later, Alan from MaptimeHQ contacted me with others who were also interested. Voila! That’s how MaptimeLA started.

MaptimeLA grew out of a handful of local map enthusiasts from all sorts of industries — architecture, software, transportation, environment, consulting, local government, social justice, to name a few — and we all have a love, a rather nerdy sort of love, for Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is a vast, often confusing, sometimes intimidating, mysterious place. Mapping and meeting people from other corners of LA are two ways to explore this city, and that’s what I think brings people back to Maptime here.

You can see through the maps we make at MaptimeLA, whether it’s maps of historic restaurants or food banks, that everyone’s trying to visualize their appreciation for LA and share it with others.

Mapillary's Johan explains the workings behind the app to MaptimeLA at Opodz
Mapillary’s Johan explains the workings behind the app to MaptimeLA at Opodz

Q: You are representative of a new generation of software engineers for whom GIS / spatial / mapping is just one of many tools in their arsenal. Will a GIS / mapping skillset be to the office worker of the future what typing is to the office worker of today? Or is it already?

A: I work in e-commerce and tech, and you’d be surprised how much “spatial thinking” is involved in something as basic as selling and shipping things. Whether it’s querying addresses and calculating distances, visually displaying geographic information, or estimating employees’ commute times, offices have a lot of “spatial needs”, as Ken Jennings calls it in his must-read book on different kinds of mapping nerds, “Maphead”.

In Ellen Ullman’s 1997 book, “Closer to the Machine”, she talks about how graphical user interfaces of the Internet and in particular, spreadsheet software, embolden users by being able to bring shape to data. (http://cwinters.com/2015/02/28/spreadsheets.html) (http://www.ftrain.com/ullman_machine.html) The 2000s equivalent, I believe, are open source mapping tools.

Q: Along the same lines, you are representative of a new generation of software engineers who “do GIS” outside of the Esri ecosystem. What do you think about open source? Is open source the future of computing?

A: I wouldn’t have been able to learn GIS without open source software and tutorials — starting with Google Fusion Tables, QGIS, GDAL, ogr2ogr, Leaflet, Mapbox, and more. I already see a lot of friends in small non-profits using free tiers of Google Maps and Google Fusion Tables to create maps for their own without much coding necessary. The abilities to gather data, map boundaries, layer data and publish it are the new spreadsheets.

The more we can build mapping tools like OpenStreetMaps to involve as many new people as possible, the better for everyone.

I remember when I first moved to a new neighborhood two years ago, I noticed that on Apple Maps, my neighborhood was spelled incorrectly. “Del Rey” was spelled “Del Ray” everywhere. “Del Ray Blvd.”, “Marina Del Ray Elementary,” and “Del Ray” as the neighborhood. At the time, I did not know anything about OpenStreetMap, but was still able to somehow easily log in and request a spelling change. And now it’s fixed: https://www.openstreetmap.org/changeset/21637352#map=16/33.9866/-118.4249

Everyone these days knows about Wikipedia, but not very many of even the computer-heads know about or use OpenStreetMap. I hope Maptime can change this.

Q: In his infamous rant about cloud computing, Oracle’s Larry Ellison says: “The computer industry is the only industry that’s more fashion-driven than women’s fashion.” Do you agree? Why / why not?

A: Agreed. In the computer industry there’s an even higher level of pretentiousness that comes with all the hardware and software choices you have to make: Mac vs. Windows, vim vs. something else, mechanical keyboards vs. everything else, and in GIS, Esri vs. everything else. I’ve found that at Maptime especially, that attitude drives people away and we try not to do that by making sure our tutorials and workshops cover as many operating systems and libraries.

Q: What is the normcore of GIS?

A: I don’t know how to answer this! Maybe Google Maps? It’s so ubiquitous, at least for us in developed areas. It’s plain, it’s unpretentious, it’s basic.

Q: As befitting to a geohipster, you cycle. Tell us why you do it.

A: Unlike most Angelenos, I didn’t get a car and a driver license at 16. I didn’t drive for all of college at UCLA and used a bike instead. As an especially unathletic, non-active, map-obsessed and tree-hugging child, biking was perfect for me. I got a scholarship to become a bike-safety instructor — where I got interested in hands-on teaching as a form of advocacy.

Q: On closing, any final thoughts for the GeoHipster crowd?

A: Cheers to another year of much mapping!

Keith Masback: “You are where you are because someone extended you a hand along the way”

Keith Masback
Keith Masback
CEO, United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation

*Member of the Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing

*Member of the Department of Interior’s National Geospatial Advisory Committee

*Councilor of the American Geographical Society

Twitter: @geointer

Q: Thank you for agreeing to talk with GeoHipster. Let’s start by discussing your background. Please tell us about your educational background and your overall experience in the geospatial field.

A: I have a BA in Political Science from Gettysburg College, and that liberal arts education gave me an appreciation for the integrated nature of physical geography, political geography, and human geography. I was first thrust into the world of imagery and geospatial when I was selected to command a unit at Fort Bragg, NC supporting XVIII Airborne Corps responsible for ingesting, analyzing, and transmitting imagery and electronic intelligence from “national assets” down to tactical forces. It was a remarkably sharp learning curve, especially the technical pieces of how the national imagery and signals intelligence systems worked, and the broad range of skills my soldiers needed to know to succeed at their missions. The XVIII Corps topographic engineers depended on us for source material, and I successfully fought a bureaucratic battle for them to be co-located with us, inside our classified facility. So, as far back in 1994, I had religion regarding the powerful synergy between imagery and geospatial information. I’ve carried that on through successive positions on the Army Staff, at NIMA, and later NGA.

Q: Please explain the role of the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF). Why was it formed? What are some of its significant accomplishments? What benefits does it hope to achieve for the geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) community and the wider geospatial community?

A: USGIF was created in January 2004, shortly after NIMA was morphed into NGA. The USGIF founders very deliberately determined that they would create a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit foundation, as opposed to a trade association. So, from its inception, the Foundation was focused on supporting GEOINT education, training, and tradecraft. By sitting at the intersection of industry, government, the military, and academia, USGIF was, and remains, uniquely positioned to support the development of the (then-new) discipline. We have remained steadfastly focused on our tagline: Build the Community | Advance the Tradecraft | Accelerate Innovation. We’ve doubled the size of our corporate and institutional membership over the last 8 years to just about 250. We recently launched an individual membership program and are on pace to welcome our 1,000th member in early 2016. After next year’s scholarship cycle, we will have awarded over $1M to students studying in the field. We have accredited 12 (soon to be 15) colleges and universities to grant GEOINT Certificates, and over 500 students have earned them to date. We are working on individual professional certification, under a cooperative research and development agreement with NGA, and in coordination with a number of organizational and corporate partners. Our volunteer-led working groups coalesce around ideas to encourage discourse, debate, and discovery. Finally, we maintain our place as the convening authority for GEOINT and related discussions by producing a number of events and programs, large and small, including the largest gathering of GEOINT professionals in the world, our annual GEOINT Symposium, which last year drew about 5,500 total attendees and 300 exhibits. We see a bright future, where GEOINT has transcended its national security roots, expanding beyond governments to multiple industry sectors. This will only increase the demand for educated, trained, and certified GEOINT professionals, and USGIF is poised to lead the way to meet that demand.

Q: Please describe a typical workday for the CEO of the USGIF.

A: I’m sort of hesitant to answer this question because I think I have one of the best jobs in our field, and I don’t want to inadvertently encourage anyone to try to unseat me. On any given day, I can be found lecturing on a campus and meeting the faculty and students in one of our accredited programs; meeting with senior national security leadership; “petting” a satellite in a factory; trying out new open source software; hosting one of our events or programs; having lunch with an executive from one of our member companies; engaged in a discussion with one of our working groups, or hanging out with the USGIF team at our offices by Dulles Airport. I subscribe to ‘management by walking around.’ I find it’s a great way to get to know our team, understand their individual concerns, and to feel the pulse of the organization. And, of course, to procrastinate.

Q: I’ll ask a question that we typically save for the end of an interview: What does the term “geohipster” mean to you?

A: The term conveys to me the idea of people who creatively challenge the status quo and who speak truth to power. They don’t conform to traditional norms, and uniquely express themselves across myriad mediums. Geohipsters are open to taking personal and collective risk in pursuit of progress, and have a sense of community. They take pride in their skills — their tradecraft — and have a passion for learning and growing. Importantly, I am convicted that this status has nothing to do with age, and while the proportion of younger geohipsters to older is likely skewed towards the former, geohipsters are comprised of people of all shapes, colors, and vintages. Finally, there does seem to be some correlation between geohipsters and alcohol.

Q: Based upon your answer to the previous question, what aspects of the geospatial intelligence field do you think are more “geohipster” than people outside of the field would expect?

A: I know that there are change agents at all levels of the traditional GEOINT Community, inside of the national security arena, spanning from the Intelligence Community, to the Department of Defense, to the Department of Homeland Security. We exist in sort of an underground network, operating both inside and outside of the bureaucracy to get things done. We establish and maintain relationships, identify new additions to the herd, and groom and mentor the geohipsters who are coming along with and behind us. I do a lot of mentoring, both because I feel a responsibility to  ‘pay it forward’, and because I always emerge from mentoring sessions smarter and more informed. So, in a more direct response to your question, I’d urge geohipsters to resist the temptation to wholesale write off the suits, the seniors, the leaders and managers who seem totally invested in the way things are / have always been. Working among them, often in hiding for their own bureaucratic survival, are people who think differently, who are patiently effecting change, and who are challenging The System. Find them, join them, and be part of creating the future.

Q: You have held senior leadership positions at both NGA and USGIF for over the past ten years. From this vantage point, how has the GEOINT community evolved over the past decade?

A: I think that GEOINT, as one of the intelligence disciplines and now well beyond, has grown up. A few folks gathered to create the idea in 2003. As the shotgun marriage that was the National Imagery & Mapping Agency transmogrified into the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, it was important to think differently about the future, and the change in names represented a very deliberate inflection point. I believe that the fabric that is the GEOINT Community has been woven slowly over the past 12 years, but that the pace of change and the impact of outside forces have accelerated dramatically over the last 24-30 months. For the most part, the most significant innovation taking place in the GEOINT field is in local hotbeds of creativity around the globe. GEOINT, forged in the cleanrooms of the defense and intelligence sectors, has escaped its confines and spread virally. The challenge now for government, industry, and academia is to keep up. Geohipsters will play a critically important role as the glueware to pull all of this together, mashing up traditional approaches with new ones, and blazing new trails.

Q: What are the greatest opportunities you see for GEOINT of the next five to ten years? What significant challenges do you foresee?

A:  I recently penned an article for our official magazine, Trajectory, titled The GEOINT Revolution. (Shameless plug: http://www.trajectorymagazine.com/business-and-technology/item/2077-the-geoint-revolution-html)   In that article I’ve identified ten technologies which I believe are coming together to create a unique synergy that is taking the idea of GEOINT, born in the national security context, and propelling it into the B2B, B2G and consumer space. I think this represents both an incredible opportunity and a huge challenge. How are we going to best share all that we’ve learned in our decade-plus of experience, and in turn, how will we learn from the thousands of bright minds working GEOINT for commercial enterprises and humanitarian relief, and their unbridled, unconstrained engagement with these technologies and data. In my article, I posit that the greatest challenge to the traditional national security GEOINT Community is going to be recruiting, educating, training, and retaining an appropriately skilled workforce to take advantage of the revolution which is underway.

Q: As we wrap up 2015, what could GEOINT be doing better and how is the USGIF helping to bring it about?

A: First, I think we ought to pay attention to this GEOINT Revolution that’s underway. Whether or not you agree with all the details in my recent piece, I think we can all agree that there is massive change taking place, and we can either throw ourselves into helping to guide it productively, or we can be dragged along behind it. Additionally, I think there is an old guard who believe that GEOINT is inherently a national security activity. They aren’t comfortable with the viral spread of GEOINT to almost every sector of the economy, nor are they comfortable with the idea that these ‘newbies’ are neither constrained by the approaches we’ve developed, nor burdened with the restrictions that accompany the national security approach to GEOINT. USGIF has a mandate to address all of this, to be at the forefront of integrating all of these discussions, and to ensure that both our academic certification and our professional credentialing efforts are reflective of this new reality.

Q: You mentioned that there will soon be 15 colleges and universities accredited to grant GEOINT certificates. What is the breakdown of those institutions between four-year schools and community colleges? How do community colleges figure into the USGIF educational outreach strategy?

A: At the moment, all of those schools are (at least) four-year schools. The bulk of the GEOINT Certificate programs are at the graduate level, with two notable exceptions being West Point and the Air Force Academy. We are very excited to have done some initial work with Northern Virginia Community College and the NSF-funded GeoTech Center run out of Jefferson Community and Technical College in Kentucky to embark upon a community college program. I’m confident that we’ll ultimately develop a meaningful credential based on the community college model.

Q: The impacts of sequestration on the intelligence community have been well-documented. What unexpected or surprising positives, if any, have you seen in the GEOINT community as a result of sequestration? Assuming sequestration comes to an end, how do you see these positives informing GEOINT going forward?

A: Going back to the roots of sequestration, the original intent was to have it be so gruesome and objectionable that it would force the polarized Congress to come to some sort of compromise to avoid it. When that didn’t work, and it hit, and the world didn’t cease to exist, it suddenly became acceptable. But it’s incredibly insidious by its very nature. I was on the Army Staff during the late 1990s as we sought to realize a peace dividend at the end of the Cold War. We were able to rationally plan a massive drawdown, strategically managing people and equipment and bases/camps/stations. It wasn’t perfect, but there was discretion allowed for how each service would walk itself back. Sequestration, especially initially, allowed for no such discretion, forcing salami-sliced cuts across every program. Imagine if I told you to cut your household budget by 10% — but that you couldn’t do it by simply getting rid of cable TV, or buying fewer groceries – rather that you had to cut 10% off your mortgage, your car payment, your cable bill, your groceries, your power bill, etc. It would be ridiculous, but that’s what sequestration forced on our government — and the national security GEOINT Community. As for positives, I’m sure that some fat was trimmed and some efficiencies were realized. Sequestration is a nonsensical way to do business, and the myriad negative impacts will be felt for years to come.

Q: It’s been interesting to see open-source projects such as Hootenanny released from the traditionally-cloistered world of GEOINT. Does this signal a culture shift and, if so, how much more can we expect to see?

A: I absolutely love the efforts of NGA to open up and to lead the way for transparency in the Intelligence Community. Edward Snowden, while a traitor who sold out our country and did unspeakable damage to the collective safety of the American people and our allies, did force a long-needed, difficult conversation regarding balancing privacy and security. I believe that NGA is on an unwavering path to opening up to the maximum extent practicable, creating trust and confidence in the American people, and delivering more value to a broader set of users. This is important for the privacy/security issue, but also because it signals that NGA recognizes the tremendous shift that’s underway, and appreciates that it has to be ‘all in’ if it wants to continue to be viable. I see leaders across academia, government, and industry who recognize what’s happening and who fully support the culture shift required to maintain relevance.

Q: In the wake of 9/11, security concerns caused a significant contraction in the availability of government-produced geospatial data sets that had previously been freely available. In recent years, that trend has been reversing with the push for open data across government. For example, the State of Maryland has legislated all of its data open by default. What role does the USGIF play in this issue and what do you see as a “happy medium” that accounts for appropriate security while also ensuring open government and public access to data?

A: I think this goes to the larger idea of the new global transparency. The hyper-availability of remote sensing and the ability to crowdsource massive open geospatial datasets has changed the game forever. Should sensitive critical infrastructure information (and other select datasets) remain protected? I think that’s a matter of common sense, but I think that this new transparency demands that geospatial data be open by definition, and protected by exception. There were kneejerk reactions on multiple fronts after 9/11, and this is just one example. Additionally, governments won’t necessarily be the producers or owners of the authoritative data. The GEOINT Revolution incentivizes business of all types to integrate imagery and geospatial data, and to conduct analytics with it in order to gain a competitive advantage. Multinational corporations are better positioned financially in many cases to invest in creating these data than most governments. USGIF’s role is to be the convening authority for discussions around this topic. Our Geospatial and Remote Sensing Law and Policy Working Group, for instance, is trying to sort out frameworks for dealing with this new technology, data, and information.

Q: The GEOINT field is known for its heavy reliance on single-source, highly curated data sets (often termed “authoritative”). How are crowd-sourced data sets being leveraged and do you see their role increasing?

A: I discovered this very early on during my first gig at the (then) National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA, now NGA). I referred to it as the “sanctity of the seal.” This reverence for exacting quality control of highly curated data was a source of great pride. If the NIMA seal was on a product, you could — and often had to — bet your life on it. And, to be sure, when it was produced, based off the data that was available, it was superbly accurate. The lag time for that production was sometimes measured in decades due to the standing requirement for NIMA to cover (almost) the entire globe. As a former Army Infantryman, I would challenge the mappers. I’d ask about the ability, in the digital age, to have a special ops team enter a notation into the (rapidly aging) authoritative database that a certain bridge in Afghanistan was no longer intact. The digital pedigree could be noted for all the other users, allowing them to make their own call about the veracity of that entry. For instance, rather snobbishly, I might be more inclined to believe the notation of that special operations unit, over say, a water purification unit. So, moving from the sanctity of the seal — still very much alive, especially in the world of aero and maritime safety of navigation — to a world in which crowd-sourced data are integrated into the larger whole is no small cultural shift. It is happening, and it will be more accepted as time passes. However, we must remember the differing nature of how these data are used. If your crowd-sourced map gets you and your wife to the wrong end of the block for a holiday party, you shrug your shoulders and adjust. If a vertical obstruction is improperly noted, a military aircraft is destroyed and its crew perishes. If a Marine unit evacuating an embassy has improper routing to an extraction point, they and their Department of State colleagues perish. I’m not suggesting that crowd-sourced data and information doesn’t have an important place in national security GEOINT, just that the stakes are a little bit higher, and we’ve got to figure out how to raise the confidence level to meet a very high bar.

Q: Somewhere, a geospatial analyst is going about her daily tasks as part of her job in a municipal or state government. For what tools does she have GEOINT to thank?

A: First of all, she’s probably incorporating overhead imagery, from space and/or from aircraft in her work. The technology on those spacecraft and aircraft and those sensors can trace back their heritage to national security efforts. She’s probably used Google Earth at some point, and it was created with the investment of Intelligence Community monies in a company called Keyhole, prior to its acquisition by Google in about 2004. Further, the digital elevation model in Google Earth is built on Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) data, collected in 2000 during an 11-day mission by the Endeavour shuttle. That mission was supported by investments from NASA, NGA, the Army, and some international partners. The subsequent processing, storage, and distribution of the data were managed by NGA, working with NASA. Regardless of what GIS package she is using, it has almost assuredly benefitted from engagement with the GEOINT community over time. Finally, increasingly, her education and/or training may be have been related to GEOINT-based curricula, and this will continue to increase in the future. From my perspective, she’s a GEOINTer, whether she knows it or not!

Q: What do you do for fun when you are not at work?

A: My wife and I have five children, ranging in age from 13 to 22. Parenting is a large part of what I do when I’m not at work, and (most of the time) it’s a blast. I was listening to a radio show on a late night drive many years ago, and a guest said that you could identify what was important in your life by identifying a succinct epitaph for yourself. Without a pause, I knew that I would want it to be: “He was a great father.”  In addition to that, I am a certified soccer referee and love the game of soccer, having played myself, and having coached all of my children over time. I used to really enjoy relaxing and watching NFL football on Sundays (and Mondays…and Thursdays…), but then my sons got me into fantasy football, and now Sundays during the NFL season are stress-filled days of watching every game at once on NFL Red Zone, eyes darting from my phone to the screen, leaving me utterly exhausted every Sunday evening.

Q: Which teams in each kind of football do you root for?

A: We only had one TV initially when I was growing up in New York, and my father was a diehard Mets fan (having been a baseball Giants fan, he was obliged to despise the Yankees). His baseball commitment interfered with shows I wanted to watch. So, he felt if I became a baseball fan, I wouldn’t feel as aggrieved. Being fair-minded, he named all the baseball teams. I thought Pirates sounded cool, so I chose them. I extended this to the Steelers. As it turns out, the decade of the 70’s wasn’t a terrible time to be rooting for the Pirates and Steelers: Two World Series wins and four Super Bowl wins. They’ve been my teams ever since. As for the “real” football, I am a NY Red Bulls fan and a Borussia Dortmund fan. For the record, and geo-related, I think it’s important to note that it is my position that the Red Bulls, Giants, and Jets all play in New Jersey (where I now reside), and thus New York’s only NFL team is the Bills, and their soccer team is the newly born NYCFC.

Q: What recent books would you recommend for the budding geospatial professional?

A: As a political science guy, I think it’s really important that budding geospatial professionals fully embrace human geography and political geography as totally integral to what they do. I simply can’t fathom someone working in our business who has no appreciation for those particular layers. I would also think that almost by definition, up-and-coming geohipsters would be motivated to understand the global context for their work. Another theme that I stress to junior professionals is the importance of networking. A couple of books that immediately come to mind:

Your Network is Your Net Worth” by Porter Gale

Prisoners of Geography” by Tim Marshall

Connectography” by Parag Khanna (Spring of 2016)

USGIF’s “Human Geography” Monograph Edited by Murdock, Tomes, & Tucker (Shameless plug #2)

The Phenomenology of Intelligence-focused Remote Sensing” Edited by Evans, Lange & Schmitz (Shameless plug #3; proceeds fund a USGIF remote sensing scholarship)

Q: Which Ghostbuster are you, and why?

A: Many years (and pounds) ago, I was often told I resembled Harold Ramis who of course played Dr. Egon Spengler. However, my rather sarcastic bent puts me more in the Dr. Peter Venkman category. I’ve had many Venkman moments in my career. Memorably, I was responsible for the global tasking of our imaging “spy satellites” as an NGA senior, so I represented the user community as we worked through critical decisions regarding spacecraft anomalies with engineers from the National Reconnaissance Office (which is responsible for buying, launching, and flying the systems). Early on in my tenure in this position, I had neither a full appreciation for the gravity of these situations, nor any clue about the technical aspects of spacecraft or sensor engineering. So, when it came time to make a decision, and it was my turn to speak, to break up the tension in the room, I’d pull from old movie lines and say things like “just make sure not to cross the streams…it would be bad” or “maybe it’s a stuck Fetzer valve.” No one laughed, so I sort of stopped saying that stuff out loud.

Q: Do you have any parting thoughts for our readers?

A: As I often like to say, the hallmark of my middling career to date is the credo that it’s better to be lucky than good. If you find yourself as an educated, trained, practicing geohipster in 2015, you’ve hit the jackpot. It’s game on, the GEOINT Revolution is underway, and you skated to where the puck was going to be. Pounce now, while the window of opportunity is wide open and your skills are in huge demand. Finally, pay it forward. You are where you are because someone extended you a hand along the way — a teacher, a colleague, a mentor, a boss. It’s your obligation to do so for others.

Lakshmanan Venkatesan: “When my wife texts me “Where are you?”, I respond with coordinates”

Lakshmanan Venkatesan
Lakshmanan Venkatesan
Lakshmanan (@iamlaksh1) is a domain consultant, GIS enthusiast, developer, and a blogger. 

 

Q: Thank you for agreeing to talk with GeoHipster. Let’s start by discussing your background. Please tell us about the region of India from which you come. Would you also discuss your educational background and your overall experience in the GIS field?

A: First of all thank you very much for giving me this opportunity. I am really excited and happy to connect with GeoHipster. I come from the Southern part of India — State of Tamil Nadu. I did my graduation in Civil Engineering and Masters in Transportation Engineering. I have more than 10 years of experience in spatial software development and domain consulting in Energy industry. Most of my experience is with Esri products, Microsoft technologies, and some bit of open source. I’m still a learner and GIS enthusiast.

I’ve started my career as a researcher in one of the premier technical institute in India (IIT Madras). I have developed a desktop GIS application which tracks vehicle information feed from GPS. We have conducted different experiments, published papers in international journals and conferences. Thereafter I was working in IT industry on various roles (as a developer, technology lead and consultant) in geospatial technology.

Q: Would you mind telling us about your current work?

A: Currently, I work for one of the top IT firms based out of India, and my client is a large Energy major. I play the role of Geospatial Analyst/Domain consultant, and take care of their ArcGIS Portal and custom JS applications along with data management. These days in addition to Geomatics, I do work with lot of other E&P (Exploration and Production) products and tools.  Everyday I do different tasks — writing Python code, database activities, upgrading ArcGIS infrastructure, creating reports or preparing road map etc.

Q: What first drew you to software development and GIS? What challenges do you find most exciting today?

A: I learnt BASIC and FoxPro during school days. I am always interested to work in computers and programs. Hence I decided to make a career in the IT industry. As part of the curriculum (in Civil Engineering), I needed to do thesis, when most of my friends decided to design a building or water tank or do some field experiment, I chose GIS. I started working in GIS (in year 2001). I started with  ArcView 3.1 (Avenue scripting). Working with shapefiles and preparing thematic maps and charts was so fun. It was a wonderful project and got a good grade too. I decided to stay in GIS.

I have been working in GIS for close to 13 years, challenges are many, solving complex spatial problems; projections; integration between systems, enterprise data management, automations, etc.

Q: When I first started blogging in 2006, your blog was one of the first I found. You may not know this, but the format of your blog was an influence on mine in that you blogged about concrete, useful solutions to technical issues. I realized I wanted to strike the same tone. You have since moved on from blogging and I am curious how valuable a resource you find blogs and social media to be today? How, if at all, do you use them in your daily work?

A: Thanks for your appreciation. I’m not moved from the blog because I was lazy to be honest.

I have plan to convert my blog to my own website near soon. This is in my To-do list in 2016.

One fine day, I decided to start the blog on my own. Initially I don’t know what to write and how. I decided to share my day to day technical challenges and solutions. I read a lot those days (even now); in addition to Esri forums, I started posting solutions to technical problems and tutorials on my blog. A lot of people liked this and many students, professionals connected with me through the blog. Blogging has opened new doors to me. I have connected with many professionals and fellow developers across the globe.

I receive at least one email per day on career guidance or technical problems. Several people appreciated me via emails, phone calls, and in person. I treasure appreciation from Jim Barry of Esri on my blog, and your appreciations and feedback.

I still believe individual blogs and technical forums were main source for learning new things or finding tips to solve any technical issue. GeoDev meetups, online events and organization level meetings were other sources for learning and development.

I like Twitter these days, where we can get an all updates/news in a quick glance.

Q: How has the GIS industry changed since you began your career? Which changes have had the most impact on you? What advice would you give to a young person entering the GIS industry today?

A: Industry has undergone tremendous changes. I feel that GIS industry focus has been changed shifted from mapping to data management to analytics. One of the biggest impacts is penetration of smartphones and gadgets. The maps /apps (GIS) is need for every organization. The evolution of Portal (Esri ArcGIS) and Javascript libraries (open source and Esri) brought major changes in the mapping industry. I would suggest young person to focus on mobile and cloud computing.

Q: As someone who has implemented geospatial systems for a long time, what recent developments in the geospatial industry have you most excited? How do you hope to integrate them into your current work?

A: Few weeks before, I was in meeting — where one of Esri product manager participated, we were discussing about Hadoop and tools for big data processing. In energy industry, there is so much heavy weight data that needs to be processed quickly for taking a decision in a timely manner. This is one of interesting areas which I would like to work on.

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: During weekends, I will play cricket with my friends. My kid occupies most of my time these days. I read a lot via Facebook and Twitter feeds. I’m preparing for some technical certifications too.

Q: Complete this sentence: If I were Jack Dangermond for a day, I would…

A: Be more open (now they have started) to users unlike standard support process. I’ll make sure to simplify the licensing terms (especially credits) and costs.

Q: What does the term “geohipster” mean to you? Based on that response, what is the most geohipster thing you’ve done?

A: Geohipster means something new or different. Individuality I would say. Crafting their own future. In one of client presentation — I coined a term “#We Map your success”, it was well received and appreciated. My mind automatically converts any object into point/line/polygon. When my wife texts me “Where are you?”, I usually respond with coordinates 🙂