Geographic Information Systems gets in the way of solutions. Here is how you fix it and get hired…

I love the creativity of geographic information systems. I love the ability to combine programming, visual detail, and science into one cool discipline. GIS can be used in so many places… and here lies the problem.

GIS is not a career by itself.

Now all you knee jerk naysayers out there, hear me out.

GIS is best tacked onto another discipline. GIS is best as a compliment to a larger more complex career. Focusing on GIS as a career by itself is probably not a great idea, unless you are developing GIS software… which again, means GIS is tacked onto another dicipline… software development.

Now say this with me… This is a good thing.

This comes back to what a GIS instructor once told me:

The “Shallow” is an aspect of the problem. Sometimes digging deeper into GIS is not possible. Sometimes digging deeper is getting away form the solution.

GIS is not always the solution.

If all you need are directions from point A to point B, your GIS ends there.

If all you need are points on a map showing size differences for population, your GIS ends there.

If all you need is an Excel spreadsheet to track you metrics, your GIS ends there.

Sometimes the easiest solution is the right solution in GIS. Sometimes all you have to do is ask.

Of course GIS can do some really cool stuff. Time motion analysis, mobile applications, statistical dashboards, image analysis, the list goes on.

I listened to a Mapscaping podcast interviewing Adam Carnow, of ESRI where they talk about communicating GIS value and re-branding. Go listen to the podcast because it got me thinking.

I have written about “Value in GIS” and I know that communicating value is important. However, for most people communicating GIS value looks like this.

“If the higher ups just saw the awesome GIS stuff we can do, it would all be better”.

Or

“If I just had a better GIS pitch, everything would work out perfectly”

These are wrong. Your GIS solution gets in the way of what people really care about. This is especially true if people in your organization can’t spell GIS.

People want to tune into ” WIIFM” (What’s In It For Me”).

People don’t care about your GIS. They have some issue they want solved and that could be GIS, or baking for all they care.

People are not interested in technology, they are not interested in GIS.

People are interested in solutions to their problems they think about the most… not GIS.

If a spread sheet has done the job for years, your GIS solution gets in the way.

If bringing in mobile apps means more training and more money spent, your GIS solution gets in the way.

If multispectral imagery costs X+$100 with GIS, your GIS solution is getting in the way.

GIS IS GETTING IN THE WAY.

The truth is YOU are getting in the way. You have to change the way you think about GIS. You have to change the way you approach the situation.

If you want to be hireable or get ahead you need to think differently.

Here are a few steps you to take to ensure that your GIS solution doesn’t get in the way.

Learn to understand what other people want.

If you are like me, you love technology. So do other people. But they don’t care how it works, as long as it works.

People just want their problem solved, not your brainy GIS “stuff”

Learning the technology is great, but now take some time to learn marketing, sales, and psychology. You can sell feelings far easier and faster than technology.

Start thinking of your GIS as emotional, as currency, as food that people want.

This requires talking to people. This requires going out and being interested in the people using your GIS. This requires understanding their needs and desires and how you can help them.

If they want to save money, talk about saving money with GIS. If they want to make money, talk about making money with GIS. Leave the technical talk to your close team.

Learn clear communication.

You can communicate multiple ways to people. You can communicate in ways that turns people off, or turns people on. Try to communicate to everyone, or communicate to the ones who matter.

Communicating clearly takes time and effort. The good thing is, you can start now.

Your choice of words matter, your choice of visuals matter, your choice of medium matters.

Give presentations. Create videos. Use infographics. Create a podcast. Write a help document. Make mistakes. Fix mistakes. Get better.

Communication is a skill you can actively learn.

Learn business skills and business intelligence

The biggest driver behind what is going to keep you employed and get your hired is money. Yes there are exceptions, but your ability to affect the bottom line in a positive way can make or break you.

Business skills are long term approach. I am going to tell you a secret… I have poor business skills. Here is another secret… I am learning business skills now!

These skills include, strategic planning, leadership, team building, sales, marketing (see above), negotiation, delegation, and financial management.

If you are reasonably ambitious, you will end up in a managerial role in your future. It is the natural progression of a job that requires you to understand business more than technology.

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Can Geographic Information Systems be used with everything? Ask these questions, or face the Space Wizard!

I love Geographic Information Systems. I love the creativity of programming, database design, and map creation.

I think it is the perfect discipline for a visually creative science minded person with marketing sensibilities.

GIS is wide reaching as a great support tool for multiple industries. GIS can help plan research, aid in problem-solving, organize data, demonstrate statistics, target marketing, and create visualization.

However, there is something that has stuck with me for a long time. A very thoughtful instructor I had said the following:

Geographic Information Systems has a wide reach, but it is not very deep in it’s understanding.

This means to me that GIS can be used pretty much anywhere (maybe), but doesn’t have much depth to its use.

GIS software in also becoming ubiquitous in the work place. With the ease of use and download of open source software, GIS is beginning to be part of the furniture.

I spoke with a friend who is in the security supply industry. I mentioned GIS could help his business and he said “Oh ya, we have a guy in the office doing that”.

By “Doing that” me meant using Google maps to plan out routes and google earth to show address clusters. Not the most sophisticated GIS, but GIS none the less. This got my creative juices flowing!

A few months ago I was asked on my YouTube channel if GIS could be used for chemistry by a person who worked in a lap. My knee jerk reaction was to say “Of course!”

After a few weeks of contemplation I realized that my automatic reactions about GIS may not be true. In fact, the following is most likely the real answer.

GIS is not a solution for everything.

Sad I know, but GIS really isn’t a fit-all solution.

But how do we know that GIS is not a solution in specific cases?

On a philosophical level a single answer to everything is an answer to nothing. Simple singular answers, while comforting, creates dogmatic views. A dogmatic view will shoehorning every inconsistency into its narrative, no matter how absurd.

In the 1999 Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” Professor John I.Q. Nerdelbaum Frink Jr. (yes I had to look that up), asks Lucy Lawless from Xena a continuity error questions to which she response:

“A Wizard Did It” or in many other cases “A space Wizard did it” or… a “GIS Wizard”

You can view the clip here.

A simplistic answer such as “GIS can work for you” is not always true. GIS could get in the way of making quick, easy and correct decisions.

How can we find out if GIS will be useful for situations?

We can start with a brief look at the scientific method of course.

A simple Scientific Method diagram.

As a long time researcher and academic I appreciate the scientific method. First and foremost it allows us to make mistakes, correct our methods, and try again.

Mistakes are okay to make, mistakes allow you to grow, ask better questions, and make better decisions. To find out if GIS can work for our problem, we can ask a few questions.

Is your data geographically referenced and is the referencing important?

This is obvious in many cases such as surveying buildings, street lights and fire hydrants where location is critical. But not so obvious when thinking in a business context.

A friend of mine owned a car body shop. He knew how many people came through his doors, what work they needed done, and how much they paid. But he did not have their addresses, even for marketing purposes.

Address for a business are important to be able to understand where your customers are coming from. They allow a business owner to target areas for marketing.

Is your data affected by the shape of the earth and other surface features?

When I was doing field survey design, the standard practice was to make flat lines on a map and let field workers decided where to go. The field dealt with the hills, we dealt with the lines.

The slope limitations of equipment is a affected by the shape of the earth.

Turns out that using Lidar for pre-planning is important for cost assessment, project analysis, and safety.

Do customers addresses mater in this context? Possibly if you are delivering packages and need to know routes.

Do you have multiple different geographically referenced data sets from multiple disciplines?

More geographically reference data increases the need for a system to compile and analyses the data. In the case of my friend and his body shop, perhaps only his clients address were important, making GIS a very small factor in his operations.

In the case of a geological survey, you would have roads, slopes, geochemistry, hydrography, ecology, and the list can go on.

Does your geographically referenced data have different attributes?

My parents had an arborist come out and look at taking down an old dead tree from their front yard. As a GIS person I got to thinking, how could this arborist use GIS?

You can find out a lot about trees if you just ask.

They could use a mobile app to take notes of locations of trees in a block they visit. Each tree could have attribute of “type”, “age”, “height”, “trim required”, “removal required”. These attributes could easily drive a marketing plan for the neighborhood.

It takes asking questions, creatively formulating a hypothesis, and testing that hypothesis before GIS is a solution to everything.

The more I think about it… the more I think GIS can drive some serious cash flow with some spatial creativity.

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How to combine Geoscience and Geographic Information Systems and become twice as hire-able now.

Hey Everyone!

Geoscience was my first love. I spent my academic career in the geoscience roles doing fun research and traveling the world.

But I found a new love, Geographic Information Systems. In a stroke of luck (or pure genius) I discovered an amazing combination of science disciplines.

Geoscience and GIS is a perfect match and I didn’t even know it!

I spent 99.99% of my time in front of a computer writing code and never appreciated just where all the data I played with came from.

Turns out that geoscience is not just “sit-in-front-of-your-computer-all-day” career. You can go out into the field and harness GIS to do amazing geoscience research and acquisition.

Yes geologists do GIS, but the ones I have known knew didn’t have in-depth training. They were taught about rocks, but not how to create a map for field surveys.  

Having excellent geographic training and solid GIS software foundations, will make you twice as hire-able. Having GIS will also give you skills outside of geoscience.

GIS and Geoscience are a great combination for career advancement. GIS is also useful in other fields!
GIS and Geoscience are a great combination for career advancement. GIS is also useful in other fields!

Why do the geoscience and geographic information system fit so well together?

First is straight forward, we live and operate on the surface of the earth. GIS gives us a powerful tool to plan, execute, and analyze complex geographical operations. With complex GIS techniques and technologies we can visualize the earth’s surface and subsurface.

With detail spatial analysis we can understand rock formations, dip and strike of geology, plan better surveys, model water flow (both surface and subsurface), detect geo-hazards like unstable slopes and flood areas.

The value of GIS extends into other earth sciences that combine even more disciplines like biology, ecology, and social science. The parralells are

Here are some steps below that you can take to better combing GIS and Geoscience.

Get GIS training NOW.

GIS is a great add on to many disciplines and should not be seen as single career goal. Taking a 1 year college degree, or two year masters in GIS will prepare you for an amazing future.

Get trained in GIS. Pick and poke learning is ok, but getting insights and feedback from humans is best.
Get trained in GIS. Pick and poke learning is ok, but getting insights and feedback from humans is best.

On-line courses are good too but I am a huge advocate for in-person in-class training. Something powerful happens when humans come together to pass on information.

Take what works best for you and get start  your GIS training now.

Start your work at the GIS level.

For years I made the mistake of jumping right into the geophysical data I had on my computer without knowing where it came from. Noise in the data was XY Hz, missing sections were just gone, and data wasn’t acquired in perfectly straight lines because reason.

The GIS cycle is a good place to start to understand your geoscience data.
The GIS cycle is a good place to start to understand your geoscience data.

If you start at the GIS level, you will see that the noise came from roads, the missed sections were flooded areas, and lines were not perfectly straight because of dense forest.

Starting with your geoscience data at the GIS level will get your out of head and into the real world.

Get involved in field operations with GIS.

GIS as a planning tool is essential and not just for field operations. You valuable geoscience knowledge can be integrated for a deeper understanding once you start seeing how data is acquired.

GIS is versatile and will help you with understanding your data.

You will get to see how remote sensing can help you understand geology better. Canopy cover and bare earth will show you how field operations will progress. You may discover something new, like how flood plains are good locations for acquisition, but bad if rain comes.

Once again, GIS will get your out of your head and into the real world.

GIS is part of your final results and improvements.

Analyzing your field data by itself is just not enough for a complete understanding of the geoscience. Understanding the limitations you had during the planning process and during field acquisition will make you aware of what is going on with your data.

Your final results including GIS will have a more nuanced understanding of how future data will need to be acquired. “Can we get better data next time” will turn into “We need multispectral remote sensing data to plan where our geophones are going to be placed”.

Improve your GIS mindsets.

I have learned over the years that “how-to” knowledge is common. The software you need to learn for GIS has great manuals, plenty of free “click-here-do-that” resources and instructional videos everywhere.

Geographic Information Success

What is hard to teach, and hard to learn, are mindsets needs for success.

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Build a Bulletproof GIS… but before you begin, you have have this: Purpose

I love Geographic Information Systems, but this was not always the case. In this post I am going to talk about the first step in building a great found foundation for GIS, and my future blog posts about how to build a bulletproof GIS.

You can start here if you haven’t even clicked your first buffer, or if you just finished your last GIS course, if you are struggling to get your GIS career off the ground, or find yourself in a GIS rut.

I am going to teach you how to 10 more effective in GIS, double your value in GIS, and massively increase your impact (and make more money) in GIS.

So what is a bulletproof GIS anyway?

Over the past few years I have been putting together geographic information systems that allow me maximum creativity, maximizing my time, maximize safety, and maximize cash. I have made some huge gains along the way, but I have also made some huge mistakes.

What I am going to teach you is how to avoid mistakes and create a better GIS so you can have an amazing career.

Here is something not many people know about me, I few short years ago, I would not have been able to tell you what GIS stood for.

Yes I used maps all the time, I even made maps in Photoshop and Illustrator for presentation, figures for scientific papers, technical talk slides, my thesis, and teaching. “Maps” had their purpose, but GIS was just not on my radar.

Then I found GIS, and I never worked harder, I never learned more, and I never loved a topic as much as GIS in my life. Yes, this includes my PhD in Geophysics (probably a blog or two on that one day).

Why did I work so hard and why did I have so much success in GIS?

It turns out that we humans are purpose driven creatures. We do way better in life if we have a target that we are aiming at, or a goal we are working towards.

The saying “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” should actually be “Where there’s a purpose, there’s a way”.

For me, my purpose in GIS was straight forward. I needed a job.

Little did I know when I started GIS just how awesome it is.

My purpose for needing a job drove me to figure out what I needed to accomplish.

My purpose in GIS changed rapidly as I progressed through my courses and shifted from “I need a Job” to “I need a job I love” to “How can I build a job I love?” and it didn’t stop.

The world of GIS has massive opportunities spanning multiple industries, using some very cool technology. Your purpose in GIS will shift rapidly as you progress, and that’s a good thing.

Finding your ultimate purpose in the world is a very large task and beyond this little blog post. It is well worth finding of course, and I encourage you to do your searching if you have not already discovered your purpose.

I have created a worksheet to help you figure out how to best deal with your purpose as it is related to GIS. You can down load the sheets below.

TLDR:

Identify your purpose with respect to GIS. Do what it takes to get it done with respect to GIS.

GIS is Awesome! So… now what? This is a little awkward…

Geographic Information Systems is AMAZING! It’s technologies and software are everywhere and used to generate not only an impact in the world, but also money! I fell in love with GIS (not literal love… geeez) after seeing it work first hand in field operations for resource exploration.

But I also noticed not everyone I knew who took GIS was getting a great job. Some had low level “click here, do that” GIS jobs, and some couldn’t find any employment at all. After getting asked over and over again on my LinkedIn account about GIS jobs, I realized something.

Skills are common, Mindsets are NOT.

Any keen person could teach themselves the GIS software through trial and error. I taught myself the Adobe suite of products (Photoshop, Illustrator, Aftereffects, Premiere Pro) over a number of years via YouTube (and Pre YouTube… yes I am little oldish). I am no Adobe expert, but I have skills. Skills are common, Mindsets are not.

A lady who trained in GIS at the same time as me was so mad about not finding a GIS job, she said “I could have learned all I needed to from YouTube videos!” For her, I would say this was true. She could easily have learned “Click Here Do That” from a video and she probably learned this why which is why she ended up with no job at all.

So let me reiterate, Skills are common, Mindsets are NOT.

We had the same practical training in GIS which essentially consisted of “Click Here Do That, Repeat”. I exaggerate of course, there is TONS to learn in GIS and the program I took can be found here which was AMAZING. Also, skills may be common, but they are very VERY important.

If you don’t know how to create a buffer from a subset of objects selected based on their proximity to an attribute within a subset of line features selected by attributed polygons in your Geodatabase, you are missing some very important fundamentals.

The differences between my GIS experience and others is that GIS is not just about the skills or the software, which are VERY important of course. What is essential for success and to make an impact on the world (and money), are mindsets.

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