Q: You became an Esri employee when GeoIQ became part of Esri. Tell us about your mission at Esri.
A: Esri has had a long and storied mission to transform the world through geography. This philosophy was directly in line with our vision at GeoIQ. The difference is that I now have the support of a global community of users across government, business and organizations that are already using our tools and platform to manage their data, ask questions through spatial analysis, and ideally share this with the public.
My mission at Esri is to connect this community into the web where it has the immediate potential to connect with billions of people and give them direct access to their government, scientists, and local community organizers.
More specifically we are currently developing capabilities of the platform that leverage the best of both worlds — GIS and the Web. This includes adapting to community-adopted data standards for discovery and interoperability; interactive visualizations that realize the potential of hypermedia interfaces; and easy to use developer tools for anyone to experiment and share their own ideas.
Q: The GeoIQ acquisition signalled Esri’s commitment to open source. But can a software company with “closed source” embedded in its DNA reinvent itself? Is your role there to catalyze a metamorphosis?
A: If you want to talk about DNA, Esri has actually deeper roots in open-source. Anecdotally I’ve met colleagues at Esri that were hired by submitting patch requests to software when we used to ship the source code in printed binders.
The obvious benefit of building in open access through a system is that developers can better learn the capabilities and are given the freedom to experiment and develop custom solutions that fit their particular goals. Esri works across nearly all levels of government, business, and domains of science and engineering. This open access is imperative for each industry to best serve its own needs.
The concepts of open access have evolved over the past decades. Previously it meant libraries, SDKs, and APIs. Increasingly, and fortunately, modern declarative programming languages combined with the web have given us the ability to quickly share code and also to make it easily understandable and reusable. Imagine trying to comprehend someone’s Fortran77 code or COBOL — no wonder Esri used to hire anyone with the diligence to decipher the machine code!
Regardless, Esri has not had the awareness and perception of being an open company. So my role is multi-purpose. To clearly demonstrate where we are and have been effectively making our platform, standards, and code open and available. And secondly to work within our teams to improve where it is lacking and has a real benefit to the community to improve access.
Q: How much of today’s (geo)technology choices are driven by fashion? How much are driven by ideology? Open source development and adoption, in particular: Is it driven by fashion, ideology, or pragmatism?
A: This is a long discussion by itself. Generally I think people are both pragmatic in using the tools they have available, but aspirational in what they want to become. So anyone choosing technology is going to look at their mentors and determine the best path from where they are to how they get to be like that person — for whatever value reason that may be. Open source in particular espouses so many different meanings to different people it would be nearly impossible to understand the difference between fashion, ideology and pragmatism. Fortunately we all have the freedom to vote with our time — and can choose the tools that we like using and hopefully also get the job done.
Q: You manage to command respect even in the most anti-Esri corners of the Twitterverse. How do you explain that?
A: Maximal SPM (Slides Per Minute).
Thank you for saying so. I am dedicated to share what I’ve learned and listening to others’ ideas. I keep an open mind and always ask for honest feedback — as I would rather know what can be better than accepting things just because.
Q: We haven’t heard much about GeoCommons lately. What is going on with that?
A: Look at our recent Open Data initiative, let your eyes unfocus like an autostereogram (magic eye) and you will begin to see the new shape emerging. We are committed to continuing and growing the GeoCommons community and vision — and you’ll hear more on that soon.
Q: In recent months we have seen the rapid growth of MapBox and Boundless — both serious Esri competitors. Just today (Monday, March 3, 2014) Gretchen Peterson — a top geospatial influencer — announced joining Boundless. Is this a trend? What do you make of it?
A: Foremost that there is a positive growth in the availability and utilization of location data. That alone is something to celebrate as it’s been talked about for decades and is finally part of the vernacular.
Second it indicates a positive trend in the desire for technology that improves geospatial data management, analysis, and visualization. It demonstrates that despite the common moniker “spatial isn’t special” that in fact it still requires some “very special spatial people” to solve the unique (and interesting) problems. ‘A rising tide floats all boats’
Q: The Esri International Developer Summit is coming up. Any exciting announcements we should look forward to?
A: Chris Wanstrath, CEO and Co-Founder of GitHub is our keynote speaker. That alone should signal our commitment, and validation, to open-source initiatives. Besides that — you’ll have to wait and see 🙂
Q: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Is there anything else you want to share with the Geohipster readers?
A: Make your own path. Technology today lets you conceive an idea and deliver it to millions of people in a matter of minutes. Share, experiment, fail, try again, share — ride that geofixie like a boss.