Tag Archives: Anita Graser

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

Anita Graser
Anita Graser

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

Anita was interviewed for GeoHipster by Atanas Entchev.

Q: How did you get into mapping/GIS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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