Jorge Sanz: “I like to have an eye on what is out of the mainstream industry trends”

Jorge Sanz is a geospatial technologist from Valencia, Spain. He studied Surveying, Cartography, and Geodesy engineering at the Polytechnic University of Valencia. For 15 years, Jorge has been working on consultancy, sales engineering, support, and development of Geographical Information Systems with a high focus on Open Source Software and Open Data. He has been a long-term contributor to the OSGeo Foundation and other initiatives globally and locally.

Jorge was interviewed for GeoHipster by Ana Leticia Ma.

Q: You advertise yourself as a cartographer In flip flops. What does that mean to you?

A: Yeah, I use that in my Twitter bio, haha. Saying that I’m in flip-flops, I mean I’m easygoing, I don’t take myself too seriously on that social network, and above anything else, I stay positive by all means. My whole career has been around bringing the geospatial dimension to all kinds of projects and products, so I’m probably far away from what ordinary people consider a cartographer does. Still, I think it is a nice way to describe myself.

Q: How did you become a cartographer?

A: Maps have always fascinated me way before computers. Exploring the world from my bedroom, staring at an old atlas for hours, and then reading novels and comics was a big pastime in my childhood. Then computers came; I was lucky to be exposed to the BASIC programming language when I was 13 years old or so, proving to be very useful later at university. Anyway, since I loved geography, maths, and technical drawing, joining the Surveying Engineering school felt natural and easy. At university afterward, I realized that the typical Civil Engineering path for surveyors was not for me. I was interested in pursuing more advanced topics like GPS networks, geophysics, cartography production, GIS, etc. I majored in Geodesy, but I ended up finishing my formal studies doing a GIS project that definitely drove me to geospatial development, web-mapping, and Open Source software.

Q: Can you talk to me about your involvement with open source? And how did it shape your career?

A: The thesis project to get my degree was a GIS developed with Visual Basic 6 and ArcObjects 8, creating a desktop application to explore and manage a regional irrigation infrastructure. Even though I loved the result, it was 2004, and it seemed evident to me that the future of information management was not in desktop applications but on the web. I spent a few more weeks exploring options to publish all this data differently. At that moment, I was already playing with Linux, GRASS, and other Open Source components, so I quickly got into some straightforward PHP programming and UMN MapServer.

OK, so I arrived at Open Source as a user and very noob developer. After I got my degree, I stayed at the university on a research grant, with the idea of starting a Ph.D. and hopefully an academic career. On the other hand, I was already participating in GIS mailing lists in Spanish for a few years and, more recently, in the MapServer users group. At some point, there was some sort of extensive discussion there about Autodesk willing to rebrand their MapGuide product with the MapServer name. After many emails, I learned a new foundation was created to serve as an umbrella for MapServer and other Open Source projects.

Those were very active years for Open Source and Geo. The new OSGeo Foundation was a breath of collaboration and the perfect space for developers and users looking for like-minded folks in a world dominated by proprietary products. A group of Spanish-speaking users gathered. We started to translate the OSGeo website, discuss our own mailing lists, and eventually got our own conference here in Spain, called SIG Libre organized by the Girona University Geography and Remote Sensing department (SIGTE).

It also meant the time I left the academic path and joined Prodevelop, a small consultancy company in Valencia looking for someone with cartography and technical skills. I joined to help to develop an ArcIMS plugin for gvSIG, an Open Source desktop GIS that the Valencian Government started as part of a broader migration to Open Source. The company itself was also shifting to Open Source for their own projects. I worked with them for over ten years, and I was lucky to participate in many other projects using many different products: Deegree, GeoNetwork, GeoServer, Open Layers, etc. In fact, my first contribution to the SIG Libre conference was an article written together with Miguel Montesinos, Prodevelop’s CTO, to review and explore the Open Source GIS ecosystem. It was a great way to dive into and learn about the many different initiatives already available back then!

After Prodevelop, I moved to CARTO, where I worked for four years as a Solutions Engineer first, later also managing the Support Team. It was fantastic to join the company and be part of a team that develops an Open Source product, helping clients understand and use it for their own products.

Q: What kind of cool things are you building at Elastic?

A: Elastic has an extensive portfolio of products where Geo has had a small presence for many years. The first time I used Elasticsearch on an actual project was around 2013. I was amazed by how easy and powerful the product was to store and search large geodata with a developer-friendly interface.

I work at the Kibana team in Elastic. Kibana is a web frontend to manage and explore data in Elasticsearch and a platform for vertical solutions for the Security, Search, and Observability industries. Almost all those verticals in some way can leverage the geospatial dimension. I work at the team that develops the Maps application and the Elastic Maps Service. The Maps application allows users to visualize and explore Elasticsearch geodata and then put it together with other visualization types like bar charts, gauges, histograms, etc. But the cool thing is that Elastic Maps is also a component for the rest of the solutions. You can see a map in the Machine Learning classification app if you are working with country ISO codes. You can explore your Internet network connections on a map, thanks to the geolocation of IP addresses. You can understand differences in how well your application performs in different parts of the world or identify clusters of sources of cyberattacks on your IT infrastructure. The use cases are endless, and I’m always excited to learn that a new team at Elastic is adding the Maps component to their app.

My main focus is on the Elastic Maps Service, where the Kibana and Infrastructure teams work together to provide a reliable set of geospatial services for our platform. We serve our own basemap and data boundaries, created from OpenStreetMap, Wikidata, and NaturalEarth databases, contributing actively to the OpenMapTiles project as our upstream technology stack.

Elastic is broadly used in air-gapped environments. One of the recently developed projects is a self-hosted version of our services, helping our clients deploy their own maps server. This way, their users can experience Kibana in the exact same way any other clients do.

Oh, by the way, Jenny Allen, current Kibana Maps team lead, was also interviewed at Geohipster when she was working at HERE 🙂.

Q: Aside from being active in the foss4g community, you’re involved with Geoinquietos in Spain. Tell me more about that, and what’s something unique about Geoinquietos?

A: Geoinquietos is a natural evolution of that OSGeo Spanish-speaking community I mentioned before. With the OSGeo Foundation, the FOSS4G conference started as well, and in 2010 it was held in Barcelona. After the conference, the local committee realized they liked working together and continued gathering, and that’s how Geoinquiets started (Geoinquietos in the Catalan language). You can read more about that story at Raf Roset’s geohipster interview. Afterward, other cities in Spain and South America followed that lead, creating a loose network of people interested in Open Source and Open Data.

Geoinquietos is not really unique. It’s very similar to other initiatives like Maptime or Geomob. They all are about that same old human need of gathering and sharing. You know, we are all busy with our work, quite often with people that don’t share our interest in Geo, so having the chance to meet up with like-minded folks is just great. I love Geoinquietos because you can have at the same table a developer, an archaeologist, a surveyor, and an entrepreneur, all together talking about OpenStreetMap, urban planning, routing tools, and whatnot.

I also like the idea of many of us having some strong connections in different groups. It is great you can visit a city and be sure some folks will want to meet up, or the opposite, to know a geo-friend is coming to town and a few locals will want to gather and have a chat.

Q: I read on your blog that you’re a big sailor. How did you get into that? Any future sailing goals?

A: Oh, you said it wrong. I’m big, period. And then I’m a bit of a sailor 😂. I got into sailing only around ten years ago when I started attending sailing practice with my Prodevelop friends some Friday afternoons after work. Shortly after, I got a skipper license to learn more about the craft and began to participate in sailing activities in bigger yachts. In 2016 I joined the Oosterschelde to sail from Douarnenez in France to Oban* in Scotland. I realized then that that was the kind of sailing I loved the most: a big schooner where everyone in the crew had to hoist sails, take the wheel, help on the galley, and learn together about the sea.

One of the many things I love about this kind of activity is that you join an effort to move the boat from point A to point B, and everyone is needed. You work in shifts that rotate through the day, collaborating in the common goal of arriving at B successfully. People from different cultures, ages, and backgrounds, total strangers before starting the trip, and enclosed in a not so ample space 24 hours a day, need to learn many things quickly. This gets you in a very particular mood, a mix of confusion, excitement, positivism, and sometimes a bit of fear. Some may be experienced sailors, others like more occasional practitioners, some absolutely new to the experience, but everyone learns and enjoys the trip together. I totally recommend it, no previous experience is needed, and it is OK for all ages. I’ve sailed with people in their 20s and in their 80s.

BTW, there’s nothing like arriving at a harbor (maybe even in a different country!) after a few days on the sea, eager to explore what the place has to offer.

Last December, I became a dad, so I don’t really think I’ll have the time or the motivation for long sailing trips in the near term. Yet, on my bucket list, I have the Atlantic Ocean crossing; something like Cape Verde to the Caribbean would be incredible. Another dream would be to sail to Antarctica. I have also to admit I have never been on a regular touristy cruise, maybe that’s something we can do as a family until my son is old enough to join me on a long sailing trip!

Q: What’s your most geo geek interest?

A: Ahh, so hard to say. I’m interested primarily in technology around web mapping and data processing. I love “analog” cartography styling, and watching NACIS talks about hand-drawn maps is always a joy. Still, at the end of the day, any advancement in the Open Source to process, distribute, and display geospatial data will always attract me. An example of a recent interest would be the advances in file formats optimized for the Cloud and HTTP Range Get requests. COGs (Cloud Optimized GeoTIFF) are already pretty popular and being adopted, but there’s already a new cool kid on the block that would be the COG vector counterpart called FlatGeobuf. I hope we will see many projects experimenting around this new format, and at some point I’d love to tinker with it as well.

Q: What makes you a geohipster?

A: You mean apart from the flip flops, right? Just kidding 😂. I always try to stay positive and open-minded, with a never-ending curiosity for all kinds of topics. I like to have an eye on what is out of the mainstream industry trends. Maybe that makes me some sort of geohipster, or at least a good Geoinquieto 🤗.

*Editor’s Note: an earlier version of this interview misspelled Oban as “Hoban”. In an effort to avert a worldwide Twitter flame war, we have made the correction and added a link.

Maps and mappers of the 2021 calendar: Ursula Kaelin, May

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I’m in my late twenties and currently working as a research assistant at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland.

I obtained a Master’s degree in Geomatics at ETH Zurich. After an apprenticeship I was still struggling to see in which direction my career path could lead and now I’m lucky to somewhat delay this decision a bit further while working on a diversity of research projects.

After the working hours mainly in front of the screen I like to use my free time for some walks in nature or doing creative stuff. It’s not hard to guess that the preferred material right now is paper.

Q: Tell us the story behind your map (what inspired you to make it, what did you learn while making it, or any other aspects of the map or its creation you would like people to know).

A: I was playing around with Sonobe-units, assembled them into smaller modular objects and brought some as decoration to the office. The question of a work colleague if it would be possible to put them together as a map was answered with a hesitant “yes” because of the intimidating amount of needed modules to get a decent resolution, but now the idea was stuck in my head.

After the initial planning (~670 modules) and purchasing of the paper a (rather soft) Corona-lockdown with prescribed home office took place. I then not only had enough time to realize the project, it also helped me to stay sane and gave me a real incentive to finish it so that it could be used as my video-conferencing background.

The picture shown in the calendar is taken at our office space where the map found its new home. I myself am again back in the home office waiting for better times and sometimes killing some more time with folding…

I want to mention Peter Keller (@valleyfolder) for the inspiration with his Sonobe-unit carpets that sometimes look like heat maps. Designers of the models included in the map are Patricia Crawford (full rigged ship), Paolo Bascetta (Rosa dei Venti), Jo Nakashima (velociraptor) and Kade Chan (gray whale).

Q: Tell us about the tools, data, etc., you used to make the map.

A: A black-white raster image showing the continents and some code in Python lead to the basic construction plan of the desired resolution and with randomly assigned colors. Other tools used were paper, a knife, my hands and some sticks and nails to hang it to the wall. And as already mentioned: No glue.