Jubal Harpster: “Get comfortable using GitHub to help find the pockets of innovation happening all over the place”

Jubal Harpster
Jubal Harpster

Jubal Harpster (@jharpster) is principal and co-founder of Spatial Development International based in Seattle. He has been a geo person in a variety of positions over the past 20 years, and his current focus is on data and applications primarily for international development and food security challenges in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Jubal was interviewed for GeoHipster by Christina Boggs.

A common question is to ask folks how they got into GIS but you went to school for Geography, what drew you to that major in the first place?

It’s a long story actually, but when I entered college I started as a political science major. I was completely bored with the exception of one geopolitics class. I’ve always enjoyed maps, as I’m sure most of your readers do, but the final assignment for this class was to create a choropleth map by hand (remember, it’s 1990). After that, I was hooked.

I took a break after my sophomore year and spent six months traveling through Central America. During that trip, I spent a good deal of time at various mapping agencies trying to find decent back country maps for places like Nicaragua and El Salvador. When I finally did make it back to Seattle, I was pretty laser-focused on Geography as a discipline. The GIS thing just sort of happened along the way.

What has kept you in the geospatial field?

I continue to be amazed at the pace of innovation over the 20+ years that I’ve been doing this. Recently someone on our team was showing off their work with WebGL and vector tiles from PostGIS. I can remember very clearly developing MOIMS and ArcIMS sites back in the day, and the difference between that and where we are now is incredible.

When you take a step back and look at what’s happening in the field, it’s pretty remarkable. Open Street Map is incredible; commodity satellites and other high resolution imagery are changing the way we see the world.  And with cloud-hosted infrastructure, we can do some really amazing things quite cheaply and in a way that’s never existed before.

You’re one of the founders of SpatialDev, what was it like starting a company up after working for other private companies and even a government position?

It was actually quite terrifying. I worked at a global civil engineering company, which was and still is a great company to work for, but one that is very risk-averse. We found ourselves with a great team in Seattle and largely responsible for finding work and delivering our own projects. There was a sense that the big company was slowing us down so when they sold the whole business unit, it created the perfect opportunity to jump ship.

Fortunately several members of our team from that engineering company form the core of SpatialDev. Now we have the freedom to create the company and culture we want, and pursue the work we like to do. It’s still terrifying from time to time, but we have the best team imaginable so I do occasionally get some sleep.

I noticed that your team has a lot of women on it, what’s your secret to recruiting #geoladies?

We actively recruit diversity into the team, which can be a challenge in this business. We are able to attract great team members by establishing a creative, flexible, and fun work environment, and providing lots of exciting opportunities and projects.

What are some of the cool projects that SpatialDev is working on right now?

We’re working on a number of different things. SpatialDev is continuing to expand our international footprint by doing projects in Bolivia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania. That’s incredibly exciting and challenging at the same time.

We’re also doing a lot of thinking around native mobile and responsive applications, and how people interact with dynamic maps on those form factors. To date, there aren’t many examples of where the dynamic map experience of desktop web applications transfers to awesome mobile experiences. Creating great user experiences on devices other than the desktop is high on our priority list right now.

We’ve put a lot of work into creating a simple node.js wrapper around PostGIS that anyone can install and be up and running with a web framework in a couple of minutes. We’re now using this on a number of applications that we host and maintain for clients. And from this starting point, we’re working on a purely open source stack that works completely offline or in semi-connected environments. This includes the database, offline map tiles, as well as the application.

You guys make some crazy sexy maps, what advice would you give people who want to make their visualizations clearer and more eye-catching?

First, I’d say hire a good designer. When we first started out, the developers on the team (myself among them) would implement our own designs. We developed some very sophisticated web applications, but many of them looked terrible and weren’t that easy to use. We now have a Creative Director at SpatialDev who focuses on UI/UX. She has an eye for detail and usability like no one else on the team. This has had a profound impact on our work.

Second, we work with our clients to implement common sense. We won’t make an application with 900 layers or try to show a million points on the map at once. We demonstrate that in many cases, less is more. That way, our clients don’t end up with applications that have 20 different slide-outs with tools, buttons, settings, preferences, and so on. We try as best we can to help our clients simply make logical and beautiful sites.

What are you working on outside of work time?

I’m involved with a number of activities related to work that I continue to pursue during my off hours. This past spring, I convened a group in Washington DC specifically for people that work with international boundary data sets (it’s more interesting than it sounds!). I’ll continue to be involved in organizing some geo-events in Seattle as well as in Africa this coming fall. And when I have time, I still contribute code to some of the SpatialDev GitHub repos.

But really, I have two kids, an awesome wife, and a garage full of bicycles. So when I’m not working or traveling for work, I’m spending time with the family mostly riding around the Northwest.

You’re an open source supporter, what recommendations would you have for someone thinking about dabbling in open source?

I would actually encourage people to get familiar with the entire ecosystem around geotechnology and not focus too much on a single set of technology. At SpatialDev, we’re not wedded to any particular set of technology; we implement the best tools that get the job done. But I’m amazed at how the open source universe has matured dramatically over the past few years, both in terms of the business models and the tools.

When people start at SpatialDev, we always push them to get familiar with PostGIS and QGIS since those are the environments where we do most of our work. PostGIS is behind just about all the stuff we currently work on, so we like everyone to be able to navigate that environment and write at least some SQL. We also encourage team members to get comfortable using GitHub to help find the pockets of innovation happening all over the place. Those would be the recommendations I’d suggest for people starting to work in open source.

You’re into cycling but you don’t have a handlebar mustache, you could be wearing skinny jeans but this interview isn’t happening in person so I can’t be sure, I couldn’t find any pictures of food or coffee on your twitter… I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you probably wouldn’t be described as a hipster. The term geohipster is a much friendlier and loving term, how do you feel about being a geohipster?

Although I drink a lot of locally brewed IPA, drown my mornings in blonde roast drip, own an impressive collection of nerdy t-shirts, and have a fixie that I ride on the local velodrome occasionally, I wouldn’t consider myself a geohipster (or geodinosaur). Fortunately, I get to travel to places where the whole geo-ecosystem is not quite as developed as it is in Seattle. So in these places at least I can pull off being the ultimate geohipster. But I draw the line at facial hair.

Do you have anything else to share with GeoHipster readers?

Thanks, this has been fun. You can see some of the stuff we’re working on here http://spatialdev.com/ and here: http://spatialdev.github.io/ . Do I get a t-shirt now?

Ed.: Yes

 

Michael Byrne: “Make things easier”

Michael Byrne
Michael Byrne

Michael Byrne is currently a Project Director in the Technology and Innovation Division at the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.  He is the lead for implementing the technology supporting Home Mortgage Disclosure Act activities for CFPB.  Prior to joining CFPB, he was the Geographic Information Officer at the Federal Communications Commission.  Prior to that, he was the Geographic Information Officer for the State of California.

This interview is a personal response.

Michael was interviewed for GeoHipster by Atanas Entchev.

Q: You are the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act Operations Lead at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. What does your job entail? What kinds of projects do you work on, and what kinds of technologies do you use?

A: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is a great organization, and I am honored to be an employee. I lead the technology team that will be implementing the new technology around the collection of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) data. HMDA requires many lenders to report information about the home loans for which they receive applications or that they originate or purchase. The public and regulators can use the information to monitor whether financial institutions are serving the housing needs of their communities and identify possible discriminatory lending patterns. You can read more about what CFPB is up to on HMDA here and here.

Q: Your GIS career spans two decades, yet you are best known (and widely revered) for spearheading the National Broadband Map effort at the FCC in 2013. Why do you think that is?

A: I would like to set a few things straight before I answer. First, the National Broadband Map was the statutory obligation of the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). NTIA worked with the FCC to implement the technology. So my role was on the tech implementation side. Really NTIA’s stellar efforts to set up the program, ensure the data was collected, and truckloads of other details needs to be highlighted and need all kinds of credit. Second, I won’t say I am revered. I can hope that my sons love me back; that is as far as I will ever go.

I think I have had the benefit of good timing. My second job in GIS in California state government was at the California Department of Forestry, an early pioneer in GIS (ESRI user #46). I met people there which set me on a great path. I went on to become the first Geographic Information Officer for the State because of the people I met in that first job; really it was timing. The same pattern holds true with the work at FCC. There was kind of a perfect storm, and I had the fortune of being there for the ride.

We were able to develop a team of exceptional people. Not sure if that was luck, or something else, but a handful of them were already at FCC and I had the great fortune to work with them.

Open Source was just becoming a buzzword in federal IT, and we latched on to it. I think in some case we became a poster child but honestly there was a timing issue we were just fortunate to be open to at the time. I am very proud of the work we did there, and the web metrics really point to it. Just this past spring we passed half a billion API requests. So I think we had the timing to be open to new ways of thinking, but we also had the timing to build something that lots and lots of people wanted to use. Had we built something super shiny that no one wanted to use, I doubt we would be having this conversation.

Q: Was open source a hard sell at the FCC? If yes, how did you overcome the hurdles? If no, why not?

A: Open Source was not really a hard sell at FCC. I would say there were basically three things that went on that contributed to the use of open source there. First, FCC has a culture of disparate technology uses. So you ended up with an IT infrastructure that was highly blended from ColdFusion to Java to you-name-it and everything in-between. So when we proposed something new, our infrastructure team was like, sure we maintain all kinds of things so no problem.

Second was funding. The National Broadband Map was initially funded with American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funding. When we tried to look at out-year funding we had all kinds of constraints. So we switched out Oracle for PostGIS. We never intended to make a wholly tooth to tail open stack, we intended to use the best tool for the job, and it happened to be wholly open source.

Third there was support from leadership including Chairman Genachowski who was a significant figure in technology and had an interest in the idea that open source and in particular innovation in technology is a disruptive force, as well as the Chief Data Officer who had a big background in open source and helped along the way with inspiration, and the managing director VanRoekel.

Q: How will you top the National Broadband Map at the CFPB? Any “coming attractions” announcements?

A: You’ll have to stay tuned. What I do know is that the telecom and broadband landscape was very, very opaque. The National Broadband Map, and in particular http://www.fcc.gov/maps  opened up the opportunity to make that more transparent to many many people who never had the chance to know the underlying structure of advanced communications and how it affects them personally.

My hope is to use my skills and background to support the Bureau’s incredible mission and to leverage technology on projects like HMDA to support and advance the CFPB’s work and more informed consumers. If I have the opportunity to work towards that end, I will feel very fortunate.

Q: Do you think the current open/closed source balance — within and without the geo industry, and within and without government — will change significantly in the near future? Will open source continue to gain market share?

A: I think open source will continue to gain in market share. In particular I think we will see more robust models of how open source works. What I see going on is that we are entering a phase where the rapidity of change is increasing at such a rate that we will all need to continue to scale at increasingly exponential rate. Because of this rate, we will see a lot of new innovation.

What happens when we can write code in a super short time, because all the libraries we need are already lined up, but the same amount of time is consumed in our security review? Well, new advancements in open source will focus on problems like scaling security review to make authority to operate time to market faster (see gov ready). Or in data collections how do we flip things again to offer scale? One way is to look at distributed federated models à la git (see dat). I think we will see more and more company pricing models which support service models (e.g., pay for support) where the code is entirely open (Red Hat works this way).

Finally, I think we will see smaller and smaller software implementations that have bigger and bigger influences (take a look at D3). If we assume that the web is the platform, then the basic building blocks are CSS, JavaScript and HTML. In that construct, very small libraries or services can add tremendous value. I want to build systems that are working towards fewer and fewer moving parts (as in no database, no enterprise service bus, nothing other than data in JSON and some serving technology). This paradigm necessitates a lack of proprietary software (someone will figure out a way to manufacture something everyone needs), but in the meantime, I think keeping it simple will continue to foster open source gaining in market share.

Q: We define hipsters as people who think outside the box and often shun the mainstream (see visitor poll with 1106 responses). Since I launched GeoHipster, I learned that for many the term “hipster” has a derogatory connotation. For others it is meaningless. You wear Doc Martens every day and ride a fixie. You listen to punk rock and the Grateful Dead. Do people call you a hipster? Does it bother you if they do?

A: So I just want to make sure that the circle is complete here. First, Doc Martens have been part of my life. Second, fixie for me is a way of life. Third, I have seen the Grateful Dead 40 times. Finally, fourth, the best show I have ever seen is fIREHOSE at Slim’s in the early ’90s (and it wasn’t because I was flying the flannel while crowd-surfing over the pit, but they nailed a version of A Quick One, While He’s Away by The Who as an encore (FWIW, the night Les Claypool and the Flying Frog Brigade played Pink Floyd’s Animals in its entirety is a close second), but I digress.

It wouldn’t bother me if I’m referred to as a hipster, but I think we should be careful of labels. I think what we should do a lot of instead, is offer tons of affirmation. I think we should all strive for making sure we take the time to tell people when they have made cool things, and why its why its impactful. I think we should spend lots less time telling people why things are wrong, not working and how they have messed up.

Q: GeoHipster (and geohipsterism as a concept) is sometimes criticized for being exclusive and/or attempting to foster divisions within the industry. Or sometimes for being different for the sake of being different. Do you agree with those criticisms? Do you implement open source just to be different?

A: I think innovation requires being different, perpendicular to the mainstream. A smart friend always says, if you want the same results, keep doing what you are doing now. I definitely agree with that. I don’t choose a piece of software or a solution to be cool, I do it because it is the right tool for the job, or it provides me a positive return. I do think that being different for difference’s sake is perhaps not a great thing. I work in government, because in the end, I think that service to the public is super important. If we can implement functions and technologies to do that by being innovative, then that’s a tremendous outcome.

Q: I have yet to get on a fixie, even though I commute by bike every day, year-round. Am I missing out?

A: Not at all; I like my fixie because it works for me. You should try to see if it works for you. I love that you can hose it down, even with winter sludge. Your question caused me to write this blog post. I mean really it did. I don’t ride a fixie to be cool. I started riding one a long time ago. I recommend riding (whatever bike), because I love the freedom the bike gives.

In 1998 I took a bicycle frame building class at the UC Davis Experimental College where I actually welded the bike myself. I drew the plans for the frame dimensions with some Arc Macro Language and plotted on a large format plotter at work (I’ll find the code some day and post it). This was my second fixed gear, and to this day still ride it; one of my favorite all time bikes. I just want to be clear, that I have been riding fixies long before hipsters were zygotes and will ride it long after Portlandia goes off the air, but I only do this for me.

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

A: Make things easier.

David Bitner on the open source advantage: “It’s not just the money — it’s the scalability”

David Bitner
David Bitner

David Bitner is the owner of dbSpatial LLC, an independent consulting firm providing services that focus on the use of geospatial open source software. A 14-year veteran of the GIS industry, David has served on the board of the Sahana Software Foundation, is an OSGeo Officer, and was Conference Chair for FOSS4GNA 2013.

David was interviewed for GeoHipster by Mike Dolbow.

Q: How did you get into mapping/GIS?

A: I started working with GIS during my undergraduate work in geology, when I took a class in GIS and remote sensing. For my Master’s degree, I decided to roll straight into studying GIS and remote sensing in forestry at the University of Minnesota. I had a very unique opportunity to work with the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, studying the benefits of geospatial data sharing with Will Craig. My graduate work was spent interviewing professionals in the Twin Cities learning about how they used geographic data. That work set a great foundation for my career in this region.

After that, I worked for the National Weather Service for almost four years, then the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) for nine years.

Q: Last year you left a full time job at the MAC to focus on your consulting work with dbSpatial. Was there something specific that prompted that change? What is different now that you’re your own boss?

A: Well, during nine years at a small agency like the MAC, one of the nice things was having a lot of flexibility and encouragement to go and learn new things and technology. The flip side of that was, being the only GIS person at the agency meant nine years of doing the same thing over and over. So, I had been moonlighting for several years, and then finally had some good opportunities that enabled me to take the leap and go out on my own. It’s been the best move I’ve made in my career — I’ve been able to stay in touch with my colleagues at the MAC while still branching out into different work.

Working for yourself, you never really get a full vacation because you always have to be on call if something you’ve made goes down. But you can also work from anywhere. Next week I’ll be working from the shore of Lake Superior – as long as I have my laptop and an internet connection, I can work anywhere. While I might not get a full vacation, I can stretch out a lot more.

Q: Is there anything you didn’t expect with the transition?

A: I’ve been lucky in that most of my work has been in a small number of long term projects. It’s nice to have the variety; I’m kind of an ADD personality, so having a mix of projects is a great fit. Working with larger teams on some of the projects has taken some getting used to compared to my prior situation. It takes a lot more discipline when you know the code you’re writing is going to be seen by more than just you. Instead of just hammering through something to get it to work, you need to have a lot more discipline because it has to work and others need to understand it.

Q: What are some of the more interesting projects you’ve been working on lately?

A: There are two big projects that have taken most of my time and both are really interesting. The first is working on NOAA’s emergency response management application (ERMA), which is a portal that NOAA uses to provide a Common Operating Picture (COP) as well as some analytical capabilities for emergency response. For example, it’s being actively used for the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Another project is working with FireStats, a consulting outfit that helps with Fire Departments, providing analyses for accreditation and services like siting stations. They also provide a tool that allows individual fire chiefs to explore their own data. As a subcontractor, I’m building out their analytical engine, which provides a lot of powerful information for Fire Departments, such as their response time, incident locations relative to resources, and other analytics. It’s been nice to get in-depth with those two groups.

Q: Running a small business is hard. Does specializing in open source software implementations make it harder or easier?

A: I would say that specializing in open source makes it possible. The things that I do and the products that I’m able to provide are only possible because I build on top of open source solutions. First, being able to deliver a full package that someone can implement without any strings attached makes the price point very competitive and marketable. When you’re a very small outfit (dbSpatial is just two folks, David and Dan Little), it’s hard to demand a premium price. But when we can provide a turnkey product that can be implemented without additional software licensing, it’s a tremendous advantage.

Also, the reason I got into open source software was not because of the cost. All of the work I did in government was on the fringe of what was possible with the proprietary desktop solutions provided by Esri and ERDAS. I always needed to tweak and go beyond the standard solutions, because those solutions didn’t’ fit the projects I had.

My work at the MAC, for example, was with four-dimensional data such as flight tracks with an X,Y,Z, and time for every point. Nothing handled that out of the box at the time. So my only recourse was to extend things myself and work with other open source providers such as Paul Ramsey’s Refractions Research. I was able to contract with Refractions to extend PostGIS to meet my needs, and then use the results within a few weeks. Compared to relying on proprietary software solutions, the turnaround was much faster, and the result was a tool that met the exact specifications of what I needed.

Also, I was able to more quickly stand up highly responsive services with open source software. When an airport noise lawsuit was settled with the MAC, that proved advantageous. We had a web map where people could see where they were in relation to the contours. This was the first time an airport was going to provide noise mitigation to this degree, so it hit the national news. And given the surge in traffic, that server came crawling to its knees. Luckily, I had moved everything to use MapServer a few weeks before, so within a few hours, we were able to repurpose a few other servers to distribute the load (without worrying about license limitations). If I had had a node-locked license, we would have been dead in the water; the acquisition process to get more licenses would have been too onerous to respond to the demand, and then we’d be stuck paying for higher licenses even after we had overcome the initial wave of higher traffic. It’s not just the money – it’s the scalability.

I got started in open source because it was the only way to actually solve the problems I needed to solve. Then, I was also able to show my employers how much money we were saving. As a result, I got more buy-in and was able to participate more actively in the community.

Q: Your Twitter handle is “bitnerd”. Did you consciously arrange your last name and first initial to include “nerd” in the name?

A: That is the first e-mail name I was given when I went to college. So, I was given that handle by the IT people at Carleton College, and it stuck and became a nickname, especially among anyone working with computers.

Q: We define hipsters as people who think outside the box and often shun the mainstream (see visitor poll with 1106 responses). Would you consider yourself a hipster? How do you feel about the term hipster?

A: Can someone who has a GISP be considered a GeoHipster? I don’t think I would consider myself a hipster because I tend to try to work within the mainstream, although I do try to push the boundaries. I try to do things as efficiently as possible, which often means using different tools than the ones used in the mainstream.

Plus I could never be a hipster because I like good beer too much.

Q: Geohipster (and geohipsterism as a concept) is sometimes criticized for being exclusive and/or attempting to foster divisions within the industry. Or sometimes for being different for the sake of being different. You have advocated for open source software for years. Did you do it to be different?

A: I did it to get the job done. I think that there are too many walls and too much dismissiveness by folks in both the “neo geo” and “traditional geo” worlds. I think too many folks in the traditional geography world are leery of change and just want to do things the way they always have. I think too many folks in the “neo geo” camp are dismissive of the technical expertise and experience that a lot of the traditional geographers have. I try to sit in the middle, and definitely come from the more traditional background, but I understand that the tools move fast, and if you can stay current with the new tools and apply the traditional knowledge, you can grow along with the industry, while still maintaining the quality control and standards you have the formal training in.

In many presentations I’ve given on open source and proprietary solutions, I describe a tendency – not an inherent property, but a tendency among the two types of software. With proprietary software, it often tends to be a giant swiss army knife that will do anything you want it to. But if you need it to do one thing, like drive a screw, you’re better off with a screwdriver. Open source software tends to follow the UNIX philosophy of being more specific and focused on specific needs. It does make it harder to approach in that you need to know what specific tool to use during specific situations, but once you have that knowledge, the tools are typically much more efficient and faster at that task.

Q: You volunteer to support the City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival, and you’re an active bike rider. Do you think it’s a coincidence that a lot of Minnesota geographers are skiers, bikers, and “outdoorsy”?

A: I don’t think it’s something that is inherent to Minnesota geographers, I think it’s common among geographers in general – from both the traditional and “neo geo” camps. If your job is expressing geography and knowing where you are, I think you’re likely to be someone who likes to be out, traveling, skiing, biking, running. When you look at the MN GIS/LIS Consortium conference, you see people getting up in the morning to do fun runs before sessions, and I don’t find that surprising. I think you see a lot of people who are interested in geography are also people who like being outdoors and engaged in the areas they study on maps or in data, and I definitely identify with that.

Andrew Turner: “Share, experiment, fail, try again, share — ride that geofixie like a boss”

Andrew TurnerAndrew Turner (blog, Twitter) is the CTO of the Esri R&D Center in Washington, DC.

Andrew was interviewed for Geohipster by Atanas Entchev.

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.