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Call for Maps: 2021 GeoHipster Calendar

Could your map be the cover of the 2021 GeoHipster Calendar?

What can you count on in 2020? Well, let’s face it, not much. But, we at GeoHipster are still counting on January 1, 2021 being…a date that will be acknowledged by the world. And so we’re planning on having a calendar for you to hang on your wall! After all, we figure a bunch of you are now #WFH, so you’re going to need some wall decorations to make those Zoom meetings interesting.

Just like last year, we want to be able to announce the availability by PostGIS Day in November, so get your maps in soon. All the details are available on the 2021 calendar page. Happy Mapping!

Morgan Herlocker to GeoHipster: “Look for similar work with a different label”

Morgan Herlocker photo

Morgan Herlocker is an open source software developer and creator of the Turf distributed geospatial analysis framework. He has worked on mapping and statistics software across the geo industry, from consumer navigation to citizen counter-surveillance. Morgan has been a vocal advocate for user privacy in the design of location telemetry systems.

Morgan was interviewed for GeoHipster by Mike Dolbow.

Q: I really enjoyed your talk on location privacy at SOTMUS in Minneapolis last September. In December, the NY Times did an article on this very topic. Do you think this will continue to crop up in news media in the future?

A: We’re living in a moment when authorities are asking for more location data than ever through contact tracing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. At the same time, millions of people are out in the streets demanding that our officials abolish discriminatory policing practices that have explicitly targeted BIPOC communities across all US cities. The tension is palpable and people are asking “If I give officials access to my trips, will they use it against me or my neighbors in the future?” Privacy is a personal safety issue, a civil liberties issue, and a public health issue all in one, and it will be front and center as our society grapples with the underlying inequities that are increasingly front and center in this moment.

Q: Can you tell us how you managed to get into mapping and/or GIS?

A: It was a bit of an accident. I was always interested in computer graphics and data processing, but was mostly focused on audio, statistics, and game engines at first. In 2013, I started the Turf project to build a toolset that would make crunching geographic data easier and faster. At the time, I hardly knew how to make a map, knew little about data visualization, and did not even know what a GIS was. I came in with a healthy dose of naivete about how geo software could or should work. I wanted it to be more like the web – more like Unix, and was surprised to find a huge movement of people at Mapbox and elsewhere who were working towards the same thing. The Turf project hugely benefited from the contributors I met at Mapbox, and opened my eyes to the rest of the open mapping ecosystem.

Q: Do you think folks in our industry are more aware of location privacy issues than the general public? Or are we blissfully unaware, like some infosec experts who buy IOT devices?

A: Geo is a big industry. Some of us are actively complicit in the creation of these issues through working on ad tech and law enforcement tech, and it’s hard to claim that this is due to ignorance of the negative externalities. What we choose to work on is an expression of our values, and unsurprisingly, there is plenty of disagreement in this professional sphere. That said, privacy is almost trivially solvable on the technical side compared to the political front. We need to demand regulation that protects citizens and consumers from ubiquitous surveillance. These decisions should not be left to the whims of a police chief or a VP of marketing at BigCo. We are increasingly seeing state legislatures in the US addressing these issues, and I’m hopeful that we will see a federal response in the next several years.

Q: Do you think the current pandemic situation changes our tolerance for location privacy? Or will contact tracing have to be mandated in order to be effective?

A: Contact tracing is difficult to mandate and enforce in most constitutional democracies. Public agencies need to build a record at a small scale that shows they can be trusted to handle data at a large scale. Voluntary systems that extrapolate statistics across the entire populace seem more viable from both an adoption and effectiveness standpoint.

Q: Do you predict any adverse effects on the open data trend resulting from privacy issues? It’s only a matter of time before a whole “portal” gets taken offline as an overreaction, right?

A: It could happen. Some of the privacy disclosures I have made resulted in a portal being taken down for a few days, patched, then brought back online. This is the ideal situation, but I could imagine smaller teams deciding to drop sharing data entirely. While that would be unfortunate, being realistic about the resources required to maintain a system that includes personally identifying information is critical. If a dataset isn’t safe for sharing, it should not be on the internet. Often, this is mandated by existing laws and regulations, especially for government agencies in certain US states.

Q: Outside of location privacy, what else excited you about our industry? Any interesting projects you want to share?

A: Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 is my “must watch” for geo tech this year. Is it a map? Is it a GIS? I’m not sure, but it clearly sets a new bar for how I think about cartography and providing spatial context to users.

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

A: I’m really into gardening for food and flowers using the concepts of permaculture and closed loop systems. I’ve also been using the extra alone time during the pandemic to brush up on my jazz guitar chops. I try to follow my interests and don’t draw hard lines between professional and personal hobbies.

Q: What do you think has defined “the geohipster” over the last decade? Will this change in the 2020s?

A: A fundamental, at times borderline irrational, belief that empowered communities can solve challenging problems through collaboration without a central extractive authority. The groups in the geo software industry with the most lasting success have made this real by fostering community, designing for sustainability, and investing in getting the usability details right. That won’t change anytime soon.

Q: Any parting words of wisdom for our readers?
A: “Geo” is often used as a catchall industry for people making maps for a particular narrow set of purposes. This leads to less diverse teams and less useful software. Look for ideas and talented people in adjacent industries that do similar work with a different label. If we think about geo as a skill set that includes anyone pushing the limits of computational geometry, there are far more avenues for development. If we think about geography as a skill set for understanding the arrangement of human infrastructure, we can learn from people with non-traditional backgrounds like real estate or delivery logistics. There is so much untapped potential in the field, but we need to do the work to recruit and welcome these contributors.

Maps and mappers of the 2020 calendar: Victoria Johnson, August

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: My name is Vicky Johnson, I’m a cartographer in Washington DC. I work on a data analysis team in international development (not trying to be cagey about where I work! I just prefer to keep my professional and personal work separate. It’s probably overkill but I feel better about being sort of a goofball on twitter). I’ve been a geospatial professional for about 13 years, my career path has taken me everywhere from QA on the Census’ road network data to municipal government in New Zealand. Over this time I’ve discovered that I really like local mapping best. There’s nothing quite as rewarding as really getting to familiar with a place and translating that knowledge into geospatial data. In my free time I play drums and make a lot of ice cream.

 

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: This map was created for a role playing game designed by a former coworker. He provided me with a few pages of background and I did the rest – essentially, it’s an alternate, speculative social and geologic history of the American Gulf Coast set in the 1920s. I had great fun both creating situationally cohesive terrain and replicating map styles of the time. One thing I learned while making it is how hard it is to create believable fake terrain! I spent ages messing around in various software programs before deciding to grab some SRTM data and massage it into the existing landscape. Much easier and more realistic-looking than the disasters I created in Blender.

 

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

A: I used QGIS to get the STRM sized and oriented, ArcMap for the non-faked GIS tasks, Photoshop to blend the new terrain with the real stuff, and Illustrator for the aesthetics, plus a lot of research into how maps were designed and produced in the 1920s. There were two resources I relied on fairly heavily, a USGS Standards Manual available at Project Gutenberg and a Latvian design manual from 1928 posted at makingmaps.net. These sorts of guides are wonderful as reference and creative material, they’re fascinatingly rich documentation of cartographic history and it’s always enjoyable to consider how all of these careful, nuanced decisions were arrived upon by map-makers almost a century ago!

 

Maps and mappers of the 2020 calendar: Daniel Fourquet, July

fourqet

Q: Tell us about yourself

A: For most of my life I have been fascinated with maps, both studying them and making them myself. As a child I would fill folders with detailed maps of an imaginary country and would spend too many hours playing games like SimCity and Civilization on the computer (ok, I do that as an adult sometimes too!). These interests would eventually lead me to studying geography at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA and begin a career doing GIS work. Recently I’ve become interested in programming and am now enrolled in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s online GIS and web map programming masters program. I’m currently a GIS Analyst at the Virginia Department of Transportation in Richmond.

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 became interested in using 3D rendering software in cartography when I stumbled on some of the beautiful maps created by Owen Powell (@owenjpowell) last Spring. While doing research to learn how to make 3D maps of my own, I discovered the work of Daniel Huffman (@pinakographos) and Scott Reinhard (@scottreinhard), both of which were also influential. I experimented with terrain maps for a couple months before deciding to try creating an urban map using lidar data. I chose the US Capitol because it’s such a well known landmark.

My decision to design this map in black and white was inspired by Daniel Huffman’s NACIS talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptKDS1Z8Oro) about the challenges and advantages of mapping in monochrome. I initially planned on designing the map in color, but then I realized that removing color created a more formal tone that is fitting for a map of the buildings where such important decisions are made.

 

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

A: Data Used:

– The Lidar data was downloaded from the USGS National Map.

– I used land cover data from the Chesapeake Conservancy.

Tools Used:

– WhiteboxTools (https://jblindsay.github.io/ghrg/WhiteboxTools/index.html) is a collection of GIS tools that allowed me to process the lidar data via Python to prepare it for rendering in Blender.

– ArcMap was used to organize and prepare the data.

– Blender was the 3D software used to render the Lidar data.

– GIMP was used to add the land cover data. I also manually brushed in the trees, which was time-consuming, but resulted in a much better map than relying on the trees from the land cover data.

– Illustrator was used for labelling and finishing the map. 

 

Maps and mappers of the 2020 GeoHipster calendar: Megan Gall, June

 

Q: Tell us about yourself.

 A: I started my career as a shovelbum, digging holes and mapping Fort Ancient Indian villages in West Virginia. We used survey equipment to inform the hand drawn maps, but one day I went into the office and someone had turned my hand drawn map into an image on a computer. My imagination caught fire. I’ve been a sociologist since I was 5 years old, noting and questioning patterns I saw in the ways humans behave and organize themselves. I knew that GIS would give me a foundational set of hard skills to build a career doing what interested me most — thinking about and studying group behavior. I looked for people who were using maps to study living people and current problems, and I found critical mentorship in them. 

Since then I’ve used spatial analytics to research and inform policy makers and non-profit groups on issues around homelessness, justice reform and crime, education inequality, housing discrimination, and historical predicates of current racial and ethnic inequality. I’ve been working in voting rights for years now. I draw maps for redistricting, but that’s only a sliver of what spatial folks can do in this field. I use spatial analyses to support the work of the civil rights lawyers ensuring compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I use the same types of analyses to support the work of advocates who want to understand voting and demographic patterns.

We need more spatially-minded people working on civil rights and social justice issues. This is a serious issue throughout the civil rights space but is particularly acute in voting rights. I invite folks who are either starting or re-inventing their careers to think about contributing their skills and considering this path. Please reach out to me via Twitter (@DocGallJr) if you want to explore ideas, ask questions about the nitty gritty of the work, or just chat about this type of spatial work. I’m always happy to talk shop.

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: One day a friend asked me for a map of Prince shows. This was obviously a great idea. I’d used the final data set for several iterations of a Tableau viz (the latest, not quite done version here), but I also wanted to use these data for a static image because it presents new and interesting challenges for visualization. I’d been working with these data for years now, so this was a new take on how to use them. The GeoHipster calendar seemed like the perfect impetus and avenue for that goal.

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

A: I originally consulted two unofficial tour listings from princetourhistory and princevault. I geocoded shows to the venue. When a venue address wasn’t available, I geocoded to the city – the only other geography I had. Because of that, I had to add some jitter to the mapped data. I used R programming and the tmap package, by Tennekes et al, for the final product. I initially tried to make the map with the ggplot2 package, by Wickham et al, but had more aesthetic control with tmap so switched over at some point in the creation process. Although I was trained in GUI based GISystems, I taught myself to code in R several years ago because it adheres to the notion of scientific reproducibility in ways that GUI GISystems can’t. This map took about 50 lines of code – fully reproducible. Again, an invite, I’d love to hash out the differences between ggplot2, tmap, leaflet, and other spatial packages in R. Please reach out if that sounds like a great time to you, too!

 

Mike Dolbow: “I haven’t always succeeded, but I’ve always been satisfied with the pursuit”

Mike Dolbow
Mike Dolbow

Mike Dolbow is a GIS Coordinator at a small state agency and your classic Jack of All Trades (Master of None).

Mike was interviewed for GeoHipster by Atanas Entchev.

Q: How did you get into GIS? Would you do it all over again given the chance?

A: Like a decent percentage of my peers, I fell into GIS fairly accidentally. While pursuing a forestry degree at the University of New Hampshire, I took an aerial photography class where the professor gave us each an aerial photo of campus for lab exercises. My mind was blown: here, for the very first time, I was presented with relatable geography. I could see my dorm, class buildings, sidewalks, and shortcuts. It wasn’t the abstract geography of grade school, it was my favorite road map on steroids. That same professor encouraged me to take his GIS course, and I loved that even more, becoming his first TA the following year.

After graduating, I tried to find work in forestry nearby, but couldn’t. I waited tables for 6 months, then got a half-time GIS job at a small regional planning commission, where I met my future wife. That job soon became full time and suddenly a 20+ year career had begun.

Armed with today’s wisdom and a time machine back to my senior year, I might make a few tweaks to my path, but I wouldn’t change the fundamentals. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have worked in three corners of the country, where I’ve benefited from the efforts of amazing teachers and mentors.

Q: Describe your typical day at work (pre-isolation).

A: I like to say that GIS is the perfect endeavor for me, because it lets me exercise both analytical and creative skills, and that keeps boredom forever at bay. That dichotomy exists in other parts of my life: I’m extroverted at work (and play), but introverted at home. I’m a creature of routine for daily activities, but enjoy having each work day be different than the last.

So I don’t really have a typical day at work, and that’s the way I like it. Pre-isolation wasn’t much different than teleworking; turn on the laptop, address email, then plan out my day against my to-do list and the rare meetings I have. I only get tasked on projects once in a while, so I devote most of my time to operational work: keeping data current, maintaining application and database code, and making maps that people need to perform their jobs. However, even though I’ve been in my current job since October, I have a feeling I’m still in a honeymoon period and things will ramp up and down as the year progresses.

Q: You have been a government worker for most of your career. How much room is really there for innovation in government? Is there more room for technological innovation or in process innovation? Asking for a friend.

A: I have definitely felt the pain I imagine “your friend” is having! I can really only speak from my experience, and the answer of course is “it depends”. I’ve been really lucky in that my average job has typically allowed me somewhere between 5 and 20% of my time for “innovation”. I put that in quotes because, lets face it, a typical government worker isn’t going to invent the next Facebook or SpaceX. But we might take some tried-and-true technology and make a process leaner or a service more inclusive.

During the early stages of my career, I spent that 5-20% of time doing outreach, collaboration, or community efforts, which established extremely valuable relationships. When you can build relationships within a culture of sharing data, expertise, and information, it doesn’t take long before you’re applying those shared resources to own your work. And at some point, you’ve got enough experience that “innovating” is just being the first one to make small tweaks that can make big differences.

But I have worked in really large bureaucracies where big budgets and red tape have crushed the appetite for innovation. And I’ve worked in really small organizations where all you can do is keep your head above water from all the operations and projects that need immediate attention. I’ve found the best results in places that are a happy middle, especially where they have flexible customers. Those are the folks that are willing to occasionally sacrifice 10 or 20 percent of “billable hours” in exchange for staying on top of current technologies, constantly improving processes, and retaining the employees who are thereby engaged.

You don’t have to look far to find great examples of folks innovating in government. Let’s take just a few GeoHipster alumni: my Minnesota colleague Kitty Hurley spearheaded a collaborative effort on making maps accessible; Tobin Bradley created one of the few “geoportals” that follows Brian Timoney’s advice; and even though he’s moved to the private sector, Chris Whong is still showing how to innovate with government data. Heck, 18F is even showing how innovation can be done at the federal level!

So I truly believe there is room for innovation in government. If I have a motto, it’s that I love maps and I hate waste. Putting those two together has often made me a “change agent” who strives to make things better with the powers of geography and technology. I haven’t always succeeded, but I’ve always been satisfied with the pursuit.

Q: From your tweets I gather that you love QGIS and Postgres, while firmly planted in the Esri camp. How is that symbiosis working for you? Does it trigger a split personality?

A: I think it works just fine, and symbiosis is a decent way to describe it. I love QGIS’s Atlas composer, all the fine-grained options for labeling and cartography, and the fantastically configurable data tables. PostgreSQL taught me a lot about spatial database functions that I still use in my new job (with SQL Server). But I also love working with Esri’s REST API (I even wrote a tutorial around it!), frequently do rapid app prototyping with ArcGIS Online, and rely on their cloud infrastructure for several functions.

As I alluded to earlier, this isn’t the only thing about me that seems contradictory, at least on the surface. But I think it’s my natural resources background that helps me resolve this supposed conflict. I see natural systems as vastly more complex than anything man-made we encounter day-to-day, and so trying to describe them with blanket assumptions or black-and-white decision criteria is folly. 

And that’s how I see my approach to my work: it’s not “Esri vs. FOSS”, it’s both, depending on the situation. It’s not just using the right tool for the job, it’s making sure you know the capabilities, pros, and cons of those tools so you can put the right one in play, at the right time, for the right reasons. Only by maintaining that fundamental knowledge can technologists bring true value to the organizations they support.

Q: You are the GeoHipster CEO. What can GeoHipster fans expect from the publication in the future? Any coming attractions?

A: I wish I had a good answer for this, especially since GeoHipster has opened up so many opportunities for me. Without it, I probably wouldn’t have had the chance to go on the Mapscaping podcast or cover the 2019 State of the Map US conference. And I know I wouldn’t have gotten to know all the cool people I’ve interviewed over the past five years without the work you started back in 2013.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been much of a crystal ball reader or “idea guy”; instead, I’ve been a good steward of someone else’s ideas. That’s pretty much what I’ve done with GeoHipster; taking your brilliant idea and keeping it functioning as a sustainable independent company. But I can tell you that I’m excited by a few things, like transitioning our merchandising to RedBubble and welcoming interviews generated by “newer” authors like Kurt Menke and Natasha Pirani. And I have a few potential “business-to-business” cooperative ventures that might open us to new audiences. But I want to make sure that we keep the elements of independence, contrarian thinking, and self-deprecating humor that have made us a hallmark of the geo-web for over six years. It’s been great fun, and I just want to keep spreading that fun far and wide.

Q: We are doing this interview amid the COVID-19 epidemic, mandated social distancing, and work from home. However, many in the geofield are no strangers to #WFH, having been working from home for years. Do you think that once this epidemic is over it will have proven that WFH is, well… workable?

A: I sure as hell hope so. I myself have never worked from home full time until now, and outside of the general anxiety that comes with living through a global pandemic, I love the change. The commute is easier, I get more sleep and exercise, and I can focus on my work a lot more. I do miss the occasional office chat, but I don’t miss getting into a car (or a bus) five days a week.

Maybe it’s the loner Gen X in me, but I’ve never struggled with the WFH concept. Unless we’re talking about the kind of place where everyone hates their job, I implicitly trust folks to get their work done. Anyone who’s not professional enough to handle working on their own at home isn’t going to be any “more productive” in an office. And what kind of supervisor has the time to constantly look over the shoulders of their employees and “make sure they’re working”? The kind I don’t want to work for, that’s what kind.

I know there’s a lot of prerequisites to making it workable. People need good internet speeds at home, and the organization has to be able to issue employees equipment like a laptop and typically VPN connectivity. But these obstacles are relatively easy to overcome; a lack of fundamental trust between employee and employer is NOT.

I’m lucky I have that trust currently, and I’m hoping I can stay home “permanently” after this pandemic is over. And I hope it becomes a new normal for a lot of the workforce, because the overall benefits to our culture, environment, and society will be worth it. I’ve seen a lot of folks warn leaders not to judge teleworking as a whole based on this experience, because folks aren’t going to be as productive as normal when they’re worried about the pandemic. So I hope managers and supervisors take that into consideration when we’re ready to move on.

Q: You play bass in a band — “j. bell & the Lazy Susan Band”. You make records and play live shows. I have listened to your music on Spotify and YouTube, and I quite like it. How did you get into music, and how did you make bass guitar your axe of choice?

A: Thanks for the compliments and the plug! This is another part of my life where I’m incredibly fortunate; must be because I’m half Irish.

I’ve always loved music, since I was a little kid singing along to everything from “The Gambler” to “Thriller”. My mom recognized that about me early on and pushed me to join the school band in the 5th grade. I took three years of saxophone lessons, which laid a decent foundation of music theory for me. I quit in junior high because I just wasn’t having fun with it. 

My mom kept buying me cheap little keyboards that I would goof around on, but I still hadn’t discovered an instrument that I loved. That changed when I found a classical guitar in my basement that had been left behind by a family friend. I brought it to several buddies who knew how to play and asked each of them to show me some chords and explain the tuning. I wrote my first “song” within a week, and then I was hooked. 

I continued to learn, write songs, and get better for several years, even starting a few crummy bands in college, but I never really excelled as a guitarist. My senior year I started a band called “The Roadies” with two other guitar players, and we all agreed that one of us should just play bass. We each tried it, and I had the best feel for it, so I stuck with it.

I consider that a stroke of luck, because I don’t think I was ever going to have the chops to be a lead guitarist for a band I liked. In contrast, to be a “good enough” rock bassist, you really don’t have to be flashy or virtuosic. You just have to play the root note of the chord in time with the drummer, and that’s never been too difficult for me. Of course, to be a really good rock bassist, you have to live and breathe “in the pocket”, and serve as the glue for your band. At that level, it’s a completely different instrument than a six string guitar. I’m not there yet, but I’ve steadily improved at the craft to the point where my bandmates are noticing. I’m really proud of that, because I’m easily the least talented guy in my current band! I feel super lucky to be part of a group that makes music I enjoy listening to, and that we get to share it with the world.

At least, when there’s not a pandemic going on! We picked a really bad day – April 4th – to release our latest record, so we’re struggling to recover our costs right now. If our readers wouldn’t mind taking a listen to our new record in iTunes or maybe even buying it directly from us, I would love it.

Q: You are a beer aficionado, which is a common trait among geofolk. Do you brew your own? What is your favorite local brew? How do you explain the fascination of geogeeks with microbrews?

A: I could talk way too long about beer! I’ve never brewed my own, but my roommate in college did, and that’s when I first started appreciating craft brews. My tastes have evolved over the years, but now I pretty much know that there’s only a handful of styles I don’t enjoy. Minnesota is blessed with a ton of amazing brewers, so it’s hard to name a favorite. My favorite style is an IPA, so let’s just pick Surly’s “Wet”, a fresh-hopped beer that only comes out in the fall and I find simply delicious.

I don’t know why geogeeks in general are fascinated with micro brews. I think some of it is coincident demographics: our industry is dominated by white dudes and what do white dudes like, if not craft beer? But that’s just playing the numbers. It’s more fun to guess: I think geographers have an appreciation for nuance, attention to detail, craftsmanship, locally-made products, small businesses, and products that are appealing in multiple ways. For me, that adds up to craft beer, indie music, and Korean street tacos. For someone else, that might be a handmade canoe paddle or an acrylic painted trail map. But our era has been blessed with an abundance of brewers putting their work out there, and for that I’m grateful.

Q: Last but not least, you are a family man. You wear many hats — government worker, GeoHipster CEO, musician, family man… How do you manage to keep all the balls up in the air? Do you even sleep?

A: Actually I’ve never slept very well, so I have to put a big priority on it to even function. I typically dedicate about 8 hours to it every day, but because that’s not solid sleep, it’s probably the equivalent of 6 or 7 for someone else. If I get less than 6 for more than a few nights in a row I become useless.

The rest of my life is just about setting priorities. Obviously, family comes first. Then, the day job that pays the bills and keeps that family fed. After that, it’s the side gigs like GeoHipster and the Lazy Susan Band. I feel like I’m not giving either of those as much effort as I’d like, but that’s just reality. I do try to focus on only one of those at a time: right now, I’m all about the band because we have the new album out. In the fall each year, I spend a lot of time making sure the GeoHipster calendar gets compiled and loaded up so that folks can order it for holiday gifts. In between, it’s whatever bubbles up in priority at that moment.

And of course, we have to reveal the real secret: my wife is the “Household CEO” and she takes care of a boatload of things that keep my home running and my kids happy. We might as well be Ward and June Cleaver with the way we’ve split up the duties…except I do the dishes every night. But that’s peanuts compared to the work she does daily, and I am a very lucky man to have her in my corner. We’re also lucky that our kids are older and generally entertain themselves enough that we can have some time for our own interests.

Q: On closing, any words of wisdom for our readers?

A: If someone does a favor for you in your career journey, don’t try to pay them back. It sounds corny, but all they want from you is to see you pay it forward. I myself am trying extra hard lately to pay it forward to those with less privilege than I have, and I sincerely hope that makes a difference. How cool would it be if, 20 years from now, people were asking why geogeeks were fascinated with ugali instead of microbrews?

Maps and mappers of the 2020 GeoHipster calendar: Nikita Slavin, April

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I’m a 29 years old student from the Cartography M. Sc. Program, from Saint-Petersburg, Russia. I hope it will go well and this September I’ll successfully defend my thesis about the exhibition methods of historical maps in mixed reality.

I obtained my first degree at St-Petersburg University in 2012, Faculty of Geography and Geoecology, Department of Cartography and Geodesy.

After graduating from university, I explored several fields: geodesy, UAV mapping and GIS in nature protection. During my service at the Kronotsky National Reserve on the Kamchatka Peninsula, the land of bears and volcanoes, I was a GIS engineer. I participated in a lot of different projects: the development of a GIS system; geodynamic monitoring systems; educational projects and making a lot of different maps. During my time on the Kamchatka Peninsula, I realised that I want to develop myself as a cartographer and fortunately I was enrolled in our perfect cartography master program.

I’m an outdoor person: hiking, rowing, cycling trips. My side job is a tourist guide. I’m happy then as I meet beautiful maps for these activities. In the school I was into competitive orienteering – maybe this is one of the reasons for my love of maps.

In map-making I’m trying to find a way to combine modern and classic technology, approaching high-quality mapping standards in a digital era. You can see some examples in my Behance portfolio. Also, there are some examples of my little hobby – making wooden maps. I don’t know that I’m going to do after graduation – kind of looking for job from autumn- maybe this post could help to find it 😉

 

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: This square map in the Pierce projection is a rebuild of my original “Ocean Plastic Map” for the book-atlas project “SDGs in action” (in preprint process now). “Ocean Plastic Map” was created during the course “Project Map Creation” (the very cool one) of the second semester (my best) in Vienna – you can see it on Behance. Warm thanks to our teacher Manuela Schmidt.

When I was looking for an idea for that course, I thought that it could be interesting to visualize the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans: describe the sources of plastic waste, plastic transportation, and its global distribution.

I enjoy DIY things: that’s why I developed an idea of making a volumetric map – stacking semi-transparent layers could show underwater relief in 3 dimensions rather than just 2. Also, the idea of making a map about plastic pollution made from plastic seemed quite cool and ironic for me. To make it more artistic I decided to represent pollution with common plastic objects: bottles, straws and plastic bags. The process was not easy going as expected, but it was worth it. 

For the first stage of the project, I looked for the data – many thanks to Laurent C. M. Lebreton for the very friendly cooperation and providing data. Laurent C. M. Lebreton was one of the co-authors of the paper “Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea” and Timo Franz from Dumpark – their project Sailing seas of plastic is unbelievably impressive.

Whilst working on the project I realized that we simply don’t know all sides of the plastic pollution problem and how to solve it. I hope that my small contribution helps in making things clearer.

The square version presented in the Geohipster calendar is made for the project “SDGs in action”. One of our lectures, Markus Jobst, invited me to participate with my map. One of the requirements was to use the Pierce projection – and the map looks surprisingly good with it.

 

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

A: Software stack:

  • QGIS for some pre-processing
  • ArcGIS Pro for processing data and the raw design stage
  • Adobe Illustrator with the incredible great plug-in Collider Scribe from Astute Graphics for the final design

Data Sources:

  • ETOPO2 for bathymetry
  • Natural Earth data for the world relief shading, country borders and rivers

Data about plastic pollution from the paper “Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea” as mentioned above

Maps and mappers of the 2020 GeoHipster calendar: Heikki Vesanto, March

Q: Tell us about yourself.

 

A: I am originally from Finland, but got started in GIS during my undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Great university with one of the most picturesque campuses in the world.

After Glasgow I went back to Finland for a MSc in Geoinformatics at the University of Helsinki. Great program which gave a great broad base for GIS, including exposure to all the main GIS packages, ArcGIS, MapInfo, and crucially QGIS.

After graduating I went back to Scotland, which really is a lovely country, well worth a visit. Where I worked at a small GIS consultancy doing some pretty innovative work. They were training QGIS, and helping local councils transition away from ArcGIS. The councils had really simple GIS workflows, which could easily be replicated in QGIS, so switching was clear. It also broadened the availability of GIS in the council. You were no longer limited to the x number of license you could afford, rather anyone who needed access to GIS could have it.

Unfortunate after a certain vote in 2016 made the UK feel a lot more difficult to plan a future in. Despite Scotland still being a lovely place, with very welcoming people. So now I am in Ireland, still in GIS, working with QGIS and PostgreSQL/PostGIS on a daily basis.

 

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: There were some pretty clear inspirations for this work.

Firstly I discovered the data from Dónal Casey who did an earlier version:

http://www.spatialoverlay.xyz/uncategorized/ireland-a-country-in-motion-1-96-million-commutes/

Also heavily inspired by Alasdair Rae and his commuter maps of US:

http://www.statsmapsnpix.com/2016/02/more-more-commuting-map-experiments.html

There is currently a fair amount of debate in Ireland about transport policy. Ireland is a very car dominated country with very low density housing even in the urban areas. This results in a lot of urban sprawl, which can clearly be seen in the map with the commuter catchments of the urban areas. Trying to solve the public transport issues in Dublin has come in the form of continuous proposals from the government but very little actual implementation. The latest effort is a rapid bus corridor proposal, which is probably the best option for Dublin, with its low population density urban sprawl. However the proposal is meeting some resistance with the general public. But I believe visualising and communicating the issues and solutions is crucial to driving public engagement.

 

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

A: The data is supplied by the Central Statistics Office Ireland as part of the Census POWSCAR data set (Place of Work, School or College – Census of Anonymised Records).

The processing was done in PostgreSQL/PostGIS. It’s a simple join from the centroid of each home Electoral Division (ED) to each work ED, with a column containing the count of commuters. Working in a database means it is a single SQL query that produces the end file for visualisation. The map was then made in QGIS. The blending modes really help with overlapping lines, allowing large clusters to really stand out, while keeping the smaller commutes still visible.

I am really happy with the end result. There is something to be said about simplicity, with just one layer of lines sitting on top of a subdued Natural Earth DEM.

 

Nate Wessel to GeoHipster: “I want to get stuck doing something”

Nate Wessel
Nate Wessel

Nate Wessel is an urban planner and cartographer living in Toronto. He spent much of his life so far in Ohio and enjoys cycling, walking, mapping things, and playing with his cat. Check out his website https://natewessel.com/ for more info.

Nate was interviewed for GeoHipster by Natasha Pirani.

Q: Hi Nate! How did you become the planner, cartographer, and transit nerd of your email signature epithets? Who/what have been some of your influences and inspirations?

A: I grew up in the suburbs of northeast Ohio and for some reason that I still don’t fully understand I always had a built-in antagonism toward cars and suburbia. As a teenager, I got really into cycling (carbon racing bike, shaved legs, etc.) and rode absolutely everywhere as fast as I could. I took transit sometimes too, for no real reason except that it was difficult and no one else I knew used it. There was one transit route a mile from my house; you had to wave down the little bus as it came by once an hour and it would take you into what was left of downtown Canton, where I would walk around sometimes. I guess I’ve always liked exploring neglected public spaces – there are few public spaces in the US that aren’t neglected though; everyone just passes through inside their private isolation chamber. As an outsider to that, I got to see a lot of really terrible and even, I’d say, brutal behaviour from ordinary people inside their cars. It’s astonishing how cars can make their drivers feel so disconnected from the world around them. 

I wanted to get out of the suburbs ASAP and I went to college with a major in urban planning. I ended up in a design school – planning departments seem to be lumped in either with architecture or geography and this one had architecture for a roommate. Some of my first classes focused more on color theory and graphic design than transport planning or housing policy. Eventually they exposed us to ArcMap too, though GIS and design didn’t really come together into cartography for me until after I graduated and started using better, open-source software like QGIS.

Q: To get wordy and mildly transit nerdy…I recently learned the English word vecturist – a collector of transportation tokens. It seems like a relevant occupation in this age of automated transit fare payment/collection. Your interest in its Latin root piqued my curiosity: what are your favourite transit-related (or other) cognate words or etymology facts?

A: What a fun question! One of the Latin words I had the most fun learning is the verb “trahere” (meaning: to pull or drag) which is where we get “tractor”, as in Star Trek’s “tractor beam” which is of course always pulling things. I don’t know why I’d never thought to wonder why they called it that. Thus: tract, distract, protract, subtract, abstract, extract, contract… it’s amazing how many words you can make with a few prefixes, all of them having to do with pulling things metaphorically from, away, for, below, with, etc. 

I’ve also been doing a bit of work lately with a company called Conveyal, which shares the ‘ve’ root of vecturist, and also ‘vehicle’ for that matter. It’s fascinating to find similarities in English words and then explain them with Latin. But once you learn enough Latin, you start to see similarities there that take you back to Proto-Indo-European for an explanation and then before you know it you’re an amateur linguist. 

Q: And what do you think about automated transit fare payment and its implications?

A: I really like it! As you know, the Toronto Transit Commission has finally got their smartcard system working now, more or less. I used to always have to carry a couple tokens in my pocket and then I was always finding tokens later scattered all over the apartment. It’s one less pocket I need to pat before walking out the door.

I really like the data collection they make possible as well – I’m hoping some day to work for the agency that collects that tap-on smart card data. To be able to track individual travel behaviour over months and years like that is an absolute gold mine for anyone who wants to study how and why people use transit. I really hope transit agencies are able to leverage some of that data – but I’m afraid they’re mostly not doing much with it at the moment. 

Q: You make exquisite maps that are both beautiful and useful. Especially for cyclists. Tell me about your work on rethinking urban bike maps.

A: Gosh. Thank you. 

I made a bike map for Cincinnati during my last couple of years living there after getting fed up with a couple of crappy bike maps that kept getting circulated year after year. They were very subjective maps, though without really declaring their subjectivity in any way. Maps with a subjective, biased perspective can be really interesting but they need to clearly put a face on that perspective so the reader can know where they’re coming from and how to relate to them critically. You can’t print maps like that out of a big faceless bureaucracy as though they contain some objective truth.

Anyway, I reacted against those maps and made my own bike map that was explicitly objective and based on verifiable facts like posted speed limits, elevations, and the number of lanes in a street. It was really detailed data and I think the map was able to convey a lot of nuance that people hadn’t been able to see before. I got some funding for the project and printed a bit more than my weight in paper maps. For anyone who hasn’t printed a giant quantity of something they created, I highly recommend it. It’s a really great feeling – totally worth cutting down a tree for it. 

Q: What if everyone were a cyclist? (I obviously borrowed this question from your old blog).

A: So I’ve been working on this new bike-map concept, which I’m applying to Toronto because that’s where I live now. The idea is that there is a bias toward cars in the street network itself and that in order to properly map that network from a cyclist’s perspective, we need to do a lot of extra work just to get around that. Look for example at a typical street map of any city and you will see a clear hierarchy of streets, from highways on down to ‘local’ or ‘side’ streets. The bigger, more prominent streets are longer and straighter. The lesser streets are more indirect and fragmentary. This is a world built for cars. 

Those same big straight roads generally aren’t safe for cyclists because of all the cars and we end up following more indirect, twisting, fragmentary paths in order to avoid them. Those twisting paths aren’t totally improvised though – they keep recurring in predictable sequences as cyclists settle in and find the best alternatives for common trips. Those paths themselves are the bicycle “highways”, even if they aren’t marked as such – and they usually aren’t. My idea is to simulate this path choice behaviour at a regional scale, as though everyone were a cyclist, though riding in current car-centric conditions. This can be used to generate a bike-specific street hierarchy which actually looks totally different from a “normal” map.

Q: You seem like a modern renaissance academic; you completed a PhD last year in urban planning (congratulations!) yet have written that specialization is a curse. I think I can relate to your concurrent desires to “keep moving, and learning, and developing” and “to get stuck doing something”. I’m curious to know more about how you feel about these academically and otherwise – do you see these pulls as contradictory? Complementary? Normal? Necessary?

A: I graduated from undergrad into a really abysmal job market for urban planning. I spent a year freelancing in design stuff and burning through my savings before I met the man who would become my academic advisor, Michael Widener. I mentioned that I was looking for work and he followed up with an offer to supervise me with a modest stipend – enough to keep the lights on for a couple years anyway. So I actually started my master’s program for the money, such as it was. I wanted to stay in academia for a PhD because I really liked the people I met during the master’s and the challenge of learning new things – the people in that department were very different from me – lots of geologists and archeologists doing remote sensing and historical GIS. I was the only person talking about transit among a bunch of people studying arctic ice and Mayan ruins and Martian topography. 

But I guess I found out that a PhD is a somewhat different beast – or maybe my new department was? I still really liked the people I got to work with, but the tasks kept getting more repetitive. Problem statements were followed by statistical analyses were followed by literature reviews were followed by conference presentations were followed by long epistolary editorial processes, and then it all starts again. I was also increasingly surrounded by people doing really similar work, all of whom were great by the way – no complaints, but I think I stopped learning or feeling challenged in that context. I wasn’t encountering new ideas, only different applications of the same ideas. 

So that’s the downside of specialism, that kind of intellectual and spiritual isolation that will creep up on you if you’re not careful. By contrast when I say that I want to get stuck doing something, maybe what I’m getting at is that total freedom of association is also a curse. That superficial exposure to novelty doesn’t teach; you have to really cement yourself to it for a while, like learning a language by immersion. 

I think both specialty and focus; and novelty and excitement have addictive properties and are always pulling hard in their own direction. Specialty gives money and merit and stability, novelty gives growth and vitality. I’ve found it difficult to strike the right balance and even harder to maintain it. 

Q: What is Civic Tech Toronto and what have you learned and unlearned as a regular at the meetups? And what else do you like to do in Toronto?

A: Civic Tech TO is a weekly meetup where people with a range of technology interests get together to work on civic problems. Some people are teaching homeless youth how to code, others are using data to advocate for better transit, I’ve mostly been using it as a way to hold myself accountable to my own bike map project. It’s as much a social activity as anything and I’ve met some really interesting people there. 

If I’m being honest though, one of the things I’ve learned is just how weak Toronto’s civic culture is. Canada has much more of a safety net than the US which I think allows people to get a bit complacent and rely on government for a lot of things that people would be organizing around in the US. There’s an obvious upside to that, but it does make civic engagement very different here – more professionalised, less accessible, and so many things seem to circle back to some big institution. Civic Tech is very much becoming its own civic institution though which I think is great. 

I’m still trying to figure out how to enjoy Toronto – everything is so expensive here. I like to ride bikes and hang out on the beach as much as possible. 

Q: Planner, cartographer, transit nerd…what else are you (becoming)? (A geohipster, perhaps?)

A: I design and sew most of my own clothes and consider myself a half-decent seamstress; I’ve been looking for work lately so there’s been a big push to make some more formal, conservative stuff to eventually wear in a government planning office. I’ve also kept aquariums since I was a kid and I spend a lot of time building ever more elaborate aquatic environs to keep the fish and plants and molluscs happily munching on each other’s chemical byproducts.

Geohipster is an interesting term! It seems like a “hipster” is defined in part by an aesthetic eclecticism, and also (and more importantly?) by irony. I’m definitely an eclectic user of GIS, but I think I’m much too earnest about it to be accused of irony. But isn’t that exactly what a real hipster would say?

Q: Do you have any wisdom or advice to share with readers?

A: Don’t forget to stop and pet the cats.

Sahana Murthy to GeoHipster: “GIS is a very large umbrella, brimming with opportunities”

Picure of Sahana Murthy


Sahana Murthy is the General Manager of Loveland Technologies, where she manages the team, the product, and the overall corporate & marketing strategy. Prior to Loveland, Sahana had extensive experience working with software companies and startups of all sizes across USA & India. Over the years, she has worn multiple hats with roles ranging from a software developer, developer evangelist, product manager, and product marketer to most recently leading a startup as its COO.

Sahana was interviewed for GeoHipster by Mike Dolbow.

Q: I’m told your current job is your first in the geospatial area. Tell us about your journey to get here and what drew you to this gig.

A: I have been in tech for over 10 years now. Started off as a techie working on proprietary software for a large tech conglomerate. I was lost in a sea of employees and techies, never fully knowing what value my work was adding to the larger scheme of things at the company. There was very little creativity and very little autonomy to my work. And then, one fine day, I discovered the magical work of open source and tech startups. That totally changed the trajectory of my career path and interests, in general. I haven’t looked back since. I have been working with tech startups in different industries and technologies from AI/ML to SaaS/PaaS to now a GIS software & data company. With every new gig, I have looked for a different technology and product suite and that’s what drew me to Loveland. The world of GIS and an incredible team that has tirelessly put together a comprehensive dataset of 143 million parcels across the US. No small feat!

Q: Loveland aims to be the place that all sorts of folks seek out for information on land parcels, and you’ve pieced together a nationwide dataset with pretty amazing coverage. Did you know how much of a “holy grail” this was for geospatial folks before you joined Loveland? What kinds of reactions have you gotten from new users?

A: Yes, we are the “Go-To-Source” for all things parcel data. 🙂
I sort of knew how important and valuable this dataset was before I joined the company. But I think I now truly understand how hard it is to :
acquire and collect this data
Standardize it across the board. Every county’s data is so different from another. So normalizing it – cleaning up the data for easier consumption – is easier said than done.
provide it in 5 file formats to ensure customers get what they want
cut through the bureaucracy to obtain the data from counties
find and integrate valuable datasets that can augment our already valuable data – like the USPS vacancy dataset and buildings footprints data.

The reactions we receive from users have mostly been about the quality and coverage of our data, the price, and our transparency. We are the most affordable parcel data vendor with high quality coverage. We communicate all of our data updates to customers on a monthly basis. So they are always aware of what we are adding, updating and improving. Our origins lie in “democratizing data” and we believe we are doing that well.

Q: I myself know what kind of an immense task this is, since I’ve been in charge of compiling similar data for Minnesota’s 87 counties for years. What’s the hardest part to automate?

A: Well, we’ve built a state-of-the-art ML model that lets us clean parcel data to perfection in a matter of seconds! 😉
No, but seriously, the hardest part to automate is normalizing and cleaning the data! We do rely on a very robust set of open source geo tools like PostGIS, QGIS, and GDAL. There’s still a lot of manual work backed by the judgement and experience of our parcel team.

Nearly every one of the 3,200 counties in the US manages its data independently. There’s very little consistency from place to place even for basic columns like “owner”: it could be “deedholder, “firstname”, “fname”, “propow”, or pretty much anything else. And you’d think that a field called “Parcel ID” might be unique — but it rarely is.

Generally, counties within states are more like each other than counties outside of those states, but not necessarily. Also, cleaning the data can be quite tricky at times. Working with this data makes it apparent how much human error can be involved, especially when it comes to casting columns that should be integers or double precision from text. Date field conversion can also be quite tricky at times, depending on the formatting used by a place. A lot of rules built up over time plus the keen eyes of our data team help us keep quality high.

Q: I know there are a lot of counties in the US that sell their parcel data in an attempt to recover costs. Do you think these counties are aware that you’re repackaging their data and selling it yourself? If so, have you faced any opposition from local government officials?

A: Some counties have been slower or more reluctant to openly share their parcel data than others, but the overwhelming trend we see is towards more data accessibility. Over the last five years, many more counties and entire states have moved towards open parcel data, and we haven’t had any problems in displaying, sharing, and providing services around it. It’s not uncommon for us to have cities and counties as customers and they all want easy access to the data.

As time goes on, we anticipate that the public facts contained in parcel data will be ubiquitous, and the value that we add to the base data through organizing, standardizing, and adding additional data from other sources, including machine learning, will be where a lot of the value is. This is also a value add that we can provide back to counties, so it’s a win win.

A few years ago the team did some research to see how much county assessors who do still sell parcel data are making from it, and who they are selling it to. The numbers were very low and the people they are selling it to are often resellers who mark it up and resell it. We’re definitely not alone in the space of selling parcel data, and we work hard to be good, positive actors who are helpful to local governments and the public.

At the end of the day, parcel data is made of public record facts about how the country is subdivided, owned, taxed, and used. The public nature of the subdivision of land in the US stretches back to the earliest days of the country and big public programs like the US Public Land Survey which started in 1785. We see ourselves as providing a missing service by bringing all these local datasets together into a big picture of how we own, use, and inhabit the country. The reaction to that has been positive.

Q: Are you scraping any REST endpoints like OpenAddresses, or are you more frequently downloading from open data sites and then loading into your database?

A: The nationwide trend towards making parcel data open to the public has been important to us. We do download data from data portals and scrape from public REST APIs. Our team of parcel prospectors is both incredibly nice and incredibly talented at collecting the data. We haven’t yet gone to digitize counties that are still paper-based — maybe someday.

Q: How does the team decide what attributes to standardize on across the country? I’ve seen parcel datasets with some 90+ columns in them, but you seem to be flexing what you serve based on the sources. Is that hard to stay on top of?

A: We roughly based our schema around what the State of North Carolina uses to standardize their parcel data. We try to use columns that are broad, but also relatively unambiguous. There are occasional movements towards a federal standard, and that would be amazing.
Most places don’t have that depth of data as North Carolina has been working on their statewide dataset for a while, and helping local assessors get up to that level of detail. If a place doesn’t have as many fields, that’s what we work with.

As far as custom columns, we generally try and take a maximalist approach. For clients working exclusively within a very local scope, you never know what column is a must-have. The benefit of having the schema is that at a larger scope it allows one to be pretty flexible in data exporting without porting over a ton of custom fields aggregated from various counties.

Q: Congrats on getting your data into Carto’s Data Observatory. What does that mean for your company?

A: Thank you. We are thrilled about our partnership with Carto. We love Carto and everything they have done and built in such a short span of time. They are a benchmark in the GIS world and to get our data into their product suite is absolutely amazing! What this means for us, I guess, is it’s a testament to the quality of our data and coverage. We have always known that, but when we have trusted members of the GIS world like Carto and Mapbox believing in our data, it’s great validation for all of our work! Our lean team of 14 works tenaciously to improve our product every single day and now everybody is starting to see that.

Q: I guess you can tell I love talking about parcel data. Let’s diverge, though: what kinds of things do you like to do in your free time? Any hobbies?

A: I’m guilty of varied interests! Although as a mom to a hyperactive 2 year old, I guess I don’t get to indulge in hobbies as much as I used to. 🙂
I love to cook, sing, and read. I’m sort of an amateur food blogger on Instagram right now.
Travel has always been a passion. Growing up, I maintained a travel log and dreamed of a career in travel some day. Of course, those days are behind me, but the passion for travel still continues.

Growing up in India, I had made a vow to travel to every state in India. I think I am at a 95% completion rate. It’s not so much about checking off the bucket list but more about discovering the rich cultural heritage and differences in every place. India is so diverse. People speak and write a different language, just 50 kilometers apart. And the only way to truly experience that is by traveling to every nook and corner. And of course, discovering the range of local foods is absolute heaven for a foodie like me. The hope is to do the same here in the US, and eventually worldwide.

Q: Since you’re new to geo, you probably haven’t read a lot of GeoHipster interviews. What comes to mind when you hear the term ‘geohipster’?

A: I actually have read some since I started with Loveland. I love the work that many of your featured geohipsters are doing. Although when I read those, the irony is all too evident to me. I’m an imposter GIS person at best right now (that will change in a few months I reckon). 🙂 My team however is GIS through and through.

The term ‘geohipster’ to me is someone, anyone – techie, non techie, GIS or non-GIS who’s passionate about their local geography and land grid! It could be an urban planner, a surveyor, a cartographer or someone like our CEO – Jerry Paffendorf who’s dedicated the past ten years of his life to change the property landscape of Detroit and continues to do that still, in his own way, outside of his work at Loveland.

Q: What kinds of advice would you give to folks in startups and SAAS looking to diversify into a field like geo? What advice would you give yourself the day before you started?

A: As someone who comes from a long line of tech startups and SaaS, the one thing I can guarantee is that working in geo would bring in just the same amount of challenge and excitement as any other industry. Typically, that’s what most folks who prefer working in startups are drawn to – an exciting, fast paced industry. Geo has not disappointed in that regard. Also, GIS is a very large umbrella, brimming with opportunities. The surveying and mapping market in the US is about $9.3 billion and growing, as of 2019. The sky’s the limit. Cooler things are happening and being built as we speak with droning technologies and use of AI & ML on aerial imagery. It’s an exciting time to switch over to Geo.

For me personally, since we are the “parcel/cadastral kind” in GIS, the advice I would have given myself is to prepare for working with the public sector. Until now, I’ve only worked in the private sector and managed customers in private sector verticals. So working with counties and the public sector is a different experience that I’m now learning to navigate. But, the exciting part about my job is that I get to straddle both sectors.