Saturday, January 31, 2009

From GIS User to Developer - Part 3.

GIS college education typically prepares students for the very basic entry level positions. Assuming you want to have a job five years later that isn't the subject of ridicule or eliminated largely by automation, you should consider yourself a lifelong student. And just what are these entry level GIS positions? Again, my experience in the entire field is limited to just a few years, but talking to people, it seems pretty standard. Many of them are georectification/image processing monkeys. Some are brought on as folks to help maintain larger datasets like municipal water/power lines, parcel boundaries, etc, assuming there isn't a process for the drafters to input in their designs manually. Still others are cartographers in the sense they make custom stylized maps on demand. There is absolutely an art to this and, with the proper motivation, you can make a real statement (or lie) by including, omitting, or tweaking the standard map components. The proper visual display of quantitative data can shift public opinion, lead to a medical breakthroughs, and are sometimes the cause of the international dispute. It really shouldn't be underestimated. The Advice If you find yourself in the standard entry level GIS position, or applying for them, you should be looking for the means to specialize. As far as I know there are three primary ways of doing this.
  1. Not Business
  2. Environmental analysts, land use planners, medical researchers; you name it, they are probably using some form of GIS. Increasingly even the analysis stuff is done by the actual specialists rather than contracted out to a GIS person. This is the result of progressively easier to use tools and their acceptance into mainstream use. You don't necessarily need to go back to school to do this; realistically, the extent of what you can do with GIS software is such that there is a place for people with just enough business knowledge to be the interface between those specialists and the tools. At least for now.
  3. The Data
  4. What features do you have, which ones do you need, how do they relate to each other, how will you organize them? Depending on the size of the organization, there might be a taskforce that is dedicated to answering these questions. It is likely they will be IT professionals, so that is the kind of secondary activity I would recommend.
  5. Applications
  6. Create the tools the other two groups use. The bleeding edge of this is the Rich Internet Applications (RIA) using Silverlight or Flash to make extremely fancy web based mapping applications. And of course, there are probably countless other developers working on in-house custom applications (via ArcEngine) or simply extensions to existing GIS software (usually ESRI).
At the moment I am sort of doing all three of these things, but pushing myself more towards the applications side. I'll have a much bigger chance to do so when I've wrapped up my thesis (Feb 13th defense, March 6th text deadline). Really, I am still new to a much wider GIS world and it would behoove people still doing the entry level stuff to check out some blogs written by people more knowledgeable than myself.

1 comment:

Navya said...

Quite useful tutorial for GIS users. Thanks for sharing.
GIS web Applications development