Maziyar Boustani received his bachelor’s degree in Iran, then moved to US to receive his master's degree in GIS. After finishing his school in 2012, he started working at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena since. He is working as a GIS developer and Software Engineer, focusing on earth science projects and big data.
Q: So Mazi, we met at FOSS4GNA 2015 in San Francisco (technically Burlingame). Where do you work?
A: Yes, it was nice meeting you at FOSS4GNA at your QGIS talk. I am currently working at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Q: What do you do at JPL?
A: I am working as GIS developer and software engineer at JPL for 3 years, working on a variety of earth science projects, finding solutions for big data problems, as well as being involved in some interesting open-source projects.
Q: So what sort of Big Data Problems are you working on (if you can tell us)? Big data and GIS together? That seems to get a lot of discussion these days.
A: At JPL our team deals with a variety of data received from satellites, as well as model data generated by scientists.
Also within the last two years our team is working on two projects from DARPA called Memex and XData to find some solutions for big data problems. Provided data can be public tweets, financial, employment, and more. Some challenging questions have been asked, such as visualizing data geographically, as well as finding the connections between different data.
For example, in terms of geospatial data, I had a challenge of visualizing big point data on a map. I found the solution by using D3 JS library with generating vector point tiles using Python SciPy k-means clustering by running in Apache Spark. You can find the repository on my GitHub page at (https://github.com/MBoustani/Khooshe).
Q: I see you graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil surveying and Geomatics from Iran. How is the GIS field in Iran, and how were your classes? That’s an area in the world we haven’t seen on GeoHipster as of yet — educate us!
A: The GIS field in Iran is booming and growing very fast. At the time I was studying (2004) there was no university major called GIS — it was part of Civil Surveying major, but in terms of classes, we had a very updated curriculum and were using mainly ArcGIS Desktop for GIS analysis and processing.
Q: At FOSS4GNA 2015 I did a QGIS workshop and you came to it — afterwards you demoed this small program (I say that jokingly) that you have been working on called GISCube. What is it and why did you make it?
A: So when I started getting into the field of GIS (back in 2005) ArcGIS was the only software for doing GIS processing and making maps. I was mainly using ArcGIS for many years (until 2012) before I started working at JPL. Our team at JPL was one of the early groups using and distributing open source code and software. Because of that I started researching for open source alternatives to ArcGIS and found out about QGIS and GDAL/OGR.
We have some scientists who are working with geospatial data but they are not familiar with GIS software like QGIS and not comfortable writing Python code using GDAL/OGR. So I came up with the idea about making GIS processing and visualization easier by developing a web-based GIS application that can be run internally on the JPL server for all employees.
Q: And that’s what GISCube does, correct? It allows you to visualize GIS data using a web browser? It also allows you to do simple GIS analysis things like buffers?
A: Yes, to start you first upload your geospatial files (such as shapefile, GeoTIFF, GeoJSON, and more), after which you can visualize them on a map, get metadata, and extract it to other metadata file formats. And most importantly, a series of geoprocessing tools lets users implement processing in the browser.
Q: And you gave all that work away on github (https://github.com/MBoustani/GISCube)? Why?
A: Making your project open source not only helps to have broader user base, but also helps to have a community of developers around the project to help you expand the project at no cost.
Q: In the middle of our interview you went back to Iran to visit friends and family. You get to see all the news reports on Iran like I do, but you just went back for a visit. Were you born there?
A: Actually I was born in Boston, MA, but grew up in Iran for 23 years, came to US for education and work. I am not following the news, but definitely I know it creates a very wrong image of Iran for non-Persian people. It was very impressive to see the number of US tourists visiting Iran increasing day by day. It’s a place worth visiting for sure.
Q: Would you consider yourself a geohipster?
A: Can you define geohipster for me?
Q: That’s a good question. So we took a poll, and the ultimate answer we came up at the time was that geohipsters more or less shun the mainstream GIS world, have a sense of humor, and like to do things differently. So do you feel like one now? Because it appears you’re doing all sorts of things differently, and doing it quite well.
A: Yes, I am considering myself a geohipster, it sounds cool. However, I have noticed most of the questions in the poll were about visualization, so I would like to see more GIS people thinking about GIS as processing and generating data instead of just visualization. I believe GISCube is unique because you can’t find many projects that focus on geoprocessing on the web.
Unfortunately when you talk about GIS, most people are talking about Mapbox, Leaflet, OpenLayers, map projections, and more. I would like to see more geohipsters focusing on developing libraries and applications to make the GIS processing much easier and faster than what we have now.
Q: I always leave the last question for you to say whatever you would like. Mazi – what would you like to tell the world?
A: Be creative, come up with crazy ideas, and yes, you can make it happen, just work hard 🙂