Top 5 GIS Skills
Here with you to talk about the top five GIS skills you need for a successful career in GIS; now having that any top 10 or top 5 lists right has sort of connotations of well; this is my own personal opinion. Yes in part it is but also I would like to encourage you to think beyond what you maybe expect. I am going to say through my experience, here at SRA on the education team; and also in various instructor roles that I have privileged to have over the years. Both online and face-to-face so these top five GIS skills are debatable.
Let’s have a discussion about these top five GIS skills you probably expect. I am going to say certain things but also I want to challenge you; because I’m going to say some things that may be are a bit unexpect to you. So let’s start now let me begin by saying; there are two ways, that I believe you can think about GIS skills in your career. First of all as a GIS professional, GIS analyst, technician, GIS manager, GIS programmer or some other position; that has GIS in the title or is closely associates with the main duties of that position.
But also I’d like you to think about GIS in terms of having a professional position; as a business manager or a wildlife biologist or an epidemiologist city planner. GIS is a part of your job, it is one of the tools in your tool belt. So here GIS is both; a tool and a way of thinking. Now I’d like you to think about just for a moment; the relevance of geographic information systems and spatial thinking in society. Let me begin by encouraging you to think about the areas of concern in your community, region, country and world.
Well we could have a debate about what the top areas of concern of the 21st century. But we would probably come up with things; like energy, water quality, water quantity, natural hazards, a political instability, population migration, and, demographics economies. What about climate biodiversity, sustainable agriculture, sustainable tourism all these sorts of things have a geographic or a geospatial component. Hence, they can be better understood and solved. Grappled with with a geographic information system also with spatial thinking; that actually is part of the human operator that runs the geographic information system. Now again these issues are debatable. We could have a discussion about the top three or the top two or the top one most important issue. But I think that without going too far I don’t think it’s a stretch to realize that; these are all fundamentally Geographic issues are not they?
I love this quote from David Orr
“Now more than ever, we need people who think broadly and who understand systems, connections, patterns, root causes. How to think in whole systems, how to find connections, how to ask big questions. We’ll talk about the importance of asking questions in a bit and also increasingly important in our everyday world. How to separate the trivial from the important right in our big data saturated world. How to separate the trivial from the important is even more important now than it was 20 years ago”.
When David Orr made these statements now I’d like you to think about GIS as a three-legged stool. You know there’s content and GIS will talk about what that content knowledge is more deeply in a bit. But you know you’ve got to learn things about map projections, about data quality and that sort of thing right. How to represent the world in a geographic information systems environment.
Also you’ve got some skills right how to actually project the data. How to register unregistered imagery, to do analysis, to do spatial statistics and analysis with a geographic information system. How to filter, to select, to intersect, to overlay layers, to display layers of data cartographically. So you’re communicating your results so these are skills but overarching. I think and one of them really I don’t know could be a main leg of the stool. But one of these important legs is the geographic perspective. It’s a way of thinking about the world spatially and we use GIS to help us do exactly that.
Now these five skills again are intentionally going to different from other GIS skills identified; over the past 30 years for reason again. I want to challenge you, want you to think big picture here; and also I would encourage you to investigate other skill listings on your own. There are numerous ones out. There put out by various organizations, individuals and government agencies; about the top five or the top ten or the just the assortment of good GIS skills. To have for a career that uses geographic information systems. But let me come up with five for you; and just lay these out before you to see what you think of these GIS Skills.
Now the number one GIS skills that I believe is really important to the whole idea of using the geographic framework; spatial thinking GIS education and society is curiosity. People that are successful in GIS they’re naturally curious about the rule. They want to understand it better right geography. Whether you’re actually studying geography or you have studied geography or may be you didn’t study geography.
But you’re still using the geographic perspective. Geography is one of the only disciplines really that makes. That asks you to make sense of the whole world and everything in it. Right and so again you don’t have to come out of a geography background. To think about the world in Geographic terms. What I do think is important is that no matter what pathway leads you into geographic information systems. You are naturally curious about the way the world works and you want to make sense of it.
The world is very complex. With a geographic information system right we break up the world in various ways through layers, filtering, scale, different tools. We use and we make sense of the world that way. In order to do any of that, you have to be curious. You want to we want to figure out what the relationship is between zoning and land use. Relationship between life expectancy, birthrate and between climate and ecoregion health. All that sort of thing you want to you want to understand the rule and so you’re curious.
Now you’re going to consider scale because certain things have Geographic patterns; at one scale that may not replicate in another scale. I think part of this curiosity is it drives you forward in your inquiry. What I mean by that is that you’re tenacious. It makes you be tenacious when you’re trying to pick apart things because you’re curious. You are learning new tools that may be you didn’t know before. You’re using existing tools and new ways you’re changing variables.
You’re changing your model about how the world works or how you make sense of the world. So that drives you forward in learning technology in asking better questions and investigating new data sources. Everything that you’re doing interviewing people. Finding out you know expanding your network and so on. So fundamental to all is this whole idea of asking Geographic questions. A good map encourages you or should encourage you to ask better questions. Doesn’t necessarily solve all the problems that you’re it. You’re grappling with or help you make sense of the world in a better richer way. They can do that but they weren’t than anything else. They encourage you to ask other questions.
Hey!! I see this pattern on this map. Maybe I need to change the variable. May be I need to add another layer so I understand that a bit better. That’s the idea of geographic inquiry explore that a bit more. Here you’re asking a geographic related question. Again doesn’t have to be about geography perse,. Could be about zoning it. Could be about city planning. It could be about agriculture. You know these are Geographic issues and topics too. But it could be about business site locations or marketing target. Marketing in other words as a geographic question. It can in biology, in geography, in urban planning, in a whole wide variety of disciplines.
Then you’re going to say okay based on my question I’ve got it requires some geographic resources. What kind of resources to Shaya uncover. Well it has to do with what your question is so. You’re going to gather resources, networks data layers, statistics tabular data, imagery vector data. You’re going to explore that through but not exclusively limited to a geographic information system right. Don’t limit yourself to just looking at a GIS right. There are statistics packages there are other analyses that you can do outside of a GIS. Now a GIS is very important to them to understanding the world. Don’t get me wrong but I think a lot of times people think well. You know if it’s not my GIS.
You know I can’t grapple with it well wait a minute spatial inquiry; and inquiry in general has been going on for you. Know hundreds of years thousands of years it predates GIS. So don’t just use GIS very important tool though and also through your advocate advocacy. As a GIS scientist you can advocate for much of those tools to put into a GIS; that maybe don’t exist. There right now there are various avenues to help you. Do that also after you’re exploring that if you acquire the data and explore it you’re going to analyze it.
Somehow in many ways you’re going to display it differently. You’re going to symbolize, classify, filter, spatial stats, to do some overlay operations and so on. To help you to analyze makes sense of the issue or issues or problems that you’re grappling with and finally. You’re going to act on geographic knowledge. That you’ve gained it may lead to a better decision in your government; or your organization, your nonprofit, your private company. You as an individual and your own everyday decisions.
Okay so I think often times what i lost. You’re not just gaining knowledge you’re going to act on it. You’re going to do something your behavior is going to change or be improve or somehow. It’s going to be a bit different from what it was. Perhaps before or maybe confirming what yous presupposed or your hypothesis was beforehand. But you’re going to do something you’re an act on that geographic knowledge.
Now I think important to this is this whole idea of you know this is a repeating cycle. So that acting on it this whole inquiry process might lead should lead to additional questions. Since then it’s not just a close circle. It sort of keeps rolling. It’s circular but it keeps rolling along like a wheel on a world. I hope that makes sense so that’s the geographic inquiry process. I think it’s really important to this whole idea of being curious about the world.
Context and Content Is One of GIS Skills
The second GIS skills are Context and content. Context like seeing the whole and also patterns linkages. Trends in the data in the phenomena. In the issue that you’re examining also. Content though location in place you know what’s it like there. What is the watershed like what’s the sense of place. Like the community the neighborhood that ecoregion the census tract. Whatever it happens to be. May be a combination of those things so here’s an example from you know.
A typical you know plate tectonics natural hazards western North America USA and Canada analysis of the spatial pattern of a certain time period of earthquakes and so here we see that. You know we’ve got a pattern here and it’s related to the plate boundaries. We’ve got a lot of earthquakes that are away from the plate boundaries but we have a lot that are near the plate boundary. So what does that mean what does that tell us.
Ability to Work with Data
Now the third GIS skills I’d like you to think about is the ability to work with data. There’s a lot of discussion these days about a big data right. We’ve got a lot of data in our world. It’s increasingly fine-graine. It is increasingly touching on personal privacy. There are related issues there that we should have a discussion about and I want geographers to be on that ground floor of those discussions. But the ability to work with data is changing. Data is rich, data is imperfect but very useful. There are data quality issues. Don’t just accept it because it’s a map right because it’s on the internet.
Don’t just accept it because it’s a list of statistics right be critical of the data but know. How to work with it know its benefits. Know its limitations develop those critical thinking GIS skills. Again be critical of the data understand. Metadata understand where it comes from who produces it. Why it’s oftentimes missing so in other words knowing how to find assess and manage data is very important.
Now what about this in part that I have in this post. Well what about new sensors citizen, science citizens as sensors so there are more more satellites right. There are more people that are able to collect data so it’s no longer just the agencies where I personally used to work US Census Bureau, NOAA, USGS with a three major federal agencies where I worked but it’s increasingly everyday citizens right.
It’s not just government agencies international the World Health Organization United Nations. Environment Program the US FEMA for example local governments, state governments academia, private companies collecting data. It’s actually you all right it is us collecting data right. As citizens science or volunteer geographic information so being able to grapple with all these incoming newfound sources of information in increasingly. Rich ways in the old days it was sort of like well. There were such few sources of geospatial information.
It was sort of you constructed sometimes your problem about around. Where the data is located and so you’re gathering data. Nowadays it’s more of a I want to filter the data that’s already out there; because there’s so much data. So we’ve gone from a gather to you know. I’ve got enough here. I did filter out and just pick what I need. So for example we want to make a map of a quick map showing. You know uncovering some patterns of the median age in a community, so we can do that we can be critical. The data we can look at the patterns as they are display by region by state by census tract by block group.
Understanding Geographic foundations Is One Of GIS Skills
Fourth GIS skills I believe is understanding Geographic foundations and this is probably more of what you expect. To talk about projections, datums and topology spatial relationships. Spatial data models, raster and vector database theory. How to classify data how to display it in. You know cartographically good sense do processing methods of field methods. How do I gather data whether it’s with a probe or with interviews house to house that sort of thing how do I do all that stuff.
How do I understand those Geographic foundations and there’s lots more that we could list here right. So lots of good Geographic found here that’s the fourth GIS skills that I believe is important. So you know for example to make sense of a map like this and we’re going back to the earthquake example. Well I need to know something about plate tectonics if I’m going to analyze a problem with plate tectonics, earthquakes and volcanoes. The spatial pattern of these things and then also in this case. I need to know something about demographics of different countries right. We’ve got a different risk assessment based on median income or based on the age. The median age of different countries or based on the in terms of physical geography.
The soils the substrate right that could be shaken in an earthquake liquefaction zones and so on and so forth. I’ve got a population kind of human geography component here. I’ve also got a physical geography component here so those are the foundations. If I’m going to try to make sense of this map these maps are just dots. There they’re points lines and polygons and raster’s. This is the tool that’s most important to cultivate right not necessarily the the tool here of GIS skills. It’s the geographic foundations that you’re making sense of through various courses that you’ve taken through background, through part of your experience here on living on the planet.
Another GIS skills that I think is important enough to be in the top five is this whole idea of adaptability. You’ve got different ways of dealing with information right but all of these are changing the the platforms are changing desktop mobile cloud right. In the old days we just had desktop GIS in fact before desktop laptop computers and tablets. We had GIS on on PCs and before that many computers and before that. On mainframes so so that desktop or physical real computer in front of a platform has changed but also we’ve got.
You know the whole idea of collecting data with mobile devices has changed from very high. You know specialize expensive devices to ordinary smartphones. We’ve got this whole cloud-based environment. We can actually put data up there, can take data down from the cloud. We can interact with GIS on the cloud in in the ways that we’ve you know in some ways. It’s similar to other software-as-a-service models that you’ve used GIS. No different in that sense from I mean look at music you’ve got. Some music locally on your own device in front of your computer phone etc but you’ve got streaming music. You’ve also got files and you know of various kinds on your local computer. Got files in Dropbox or Google Drive you know SkyDrive etc. You’ve got a combination saying with GIS.
Got some local data you’ve got some data in the cloud lots of other tools so salesforce.com completely cloud-based solution for managing customers and so on and so forth. Got images some images on your local device on your camera, on your phone, on your computer but you’ve also got data up in there. You know in terms of photos images on you. You know photo bucket and Picasa, Google Plus, Flickr etc right so. Think of it that way the GIS has evolved into some similar kind of environment.
Other technologies have evolved into and I think that’s good for GIS because it’s no longer. Just this specialized thing that is sort of separate from the rest of IT. It’s actually integrated with with trends and IT another thing that you need to be adaptable about as the platforms have changed. Some of these other things that we’ll talk about the audience for GIS has expanded and changed as well so no longer it’s just your colleagues that are using GIS but it’s also the decision makers of various kinds.
GIS is no longer this clunky sort of you know really cool stuff. It was all his cool stuff and really fascinating and really useful. But it was clunky for a while and very difficult to use. You know slow learning curve is steep learning curve and now it’s easier to use more powerful and getting more more that way all the time. Now that that presents its that but those opportunities present challenges to mainly right here you’ve got your audience changing and expanding. You’ve got different things to think about there you’ve got a lot of different ways to communicate like you didn’t before you know.
The old days of sort of you know make your map plotted on a plotter. You know put it in a book or a publication or on a wall somewhere you know that kind of thing. Put it in a report but now you’ve got mean of all multimedia sky’s the limit in terms of how you can communicate your results. You know you can write it into a blog. You know make a video right you can make a story map; can make an animation of your data 2D 3D. Can plot some of this stuff on a 3D printer I mean there’s lots of ways you can you can communicate.
What you’re doing also I’d like you to think about just embracing change as part of this whole adaptability model. You’re embracing change you’re showing that you can. You know potential employers in the future that you yeah you can roll with the changes right REO speedwagon hey keep on rollin anyway the point is is that you’re embracing change you say that I’m a flexible human being I’m you know got my knees bent I can take on new challenges but also I can learn new GIS skills new software sets new data learn how to deal with new data formats I’m a lifelong learner as what the last bullet there is indicating so you’re adaptable.
I think this is a super important is skill especially as we move forward into the future so here’s an example of a a analysis that I did on sustainable tea cultivation cultivation in Kenya where the best sites to locate mean tea farms in Kenya looking at soil type altitude distance to market transportation networks accessibility to water and so on and so forth so this is this is one way of doing the analysis sure but you’ve got to be adaptable about where am I going to get the data how am I going to display it now once it’s in this map and my GIS I how do I get it out there so that other people can consume it and use it.
The Fifth and last GIS Skills are Good Communication. Map symbology and good color choices and maybe making sure you’re not misleading people right member the book mark Mamoni air pout a lie with maps all right point is that maps are powerful tools they can mislead as well as inform so let’s be careful about about being accurate and and deliberate and forthright honest in our communication about you know what we know and what we don’t know about the phenomenon issue trend that we’re studying and we’re presenting.
Embracing the multimedia as part of your communications toolset so for example you know we’re let’s say we’re looking at landslides like the recent one in Washington State we’re looking at watersheds versus landslides the history the topography of the area the stability of the slopes the the steepness of the slopes where the existence of these fault lines are which of these big awful looking yellow lines here so you know again one of the one of the best choices of the symbology to use here.
Now along these lines of us I’d also like to draw your attention to something you may be familiar with but it’s been around for four or five years now came out from the geotech Center which is a consortium of community colleges that really led the way in developing this geospatial technology competency model that was then endorsed by the US Department of Labor but the nice thing about this to you a spatial technology competency model several nice things one it reinforces what I’ve been saying to you today and that is you’ve got to have multiple perspectives but the very core bottom tier in this pyramid is personal competencies so it’s not just GIS see stuff in fact that’s not even in the personal competencies it’s all about hey are you organized are you ethical can you deal with data sound familiar.
Some of the stuff I’ve been saying here and the second tier is the academic competencies for example mathematics cartography computer science engineering geography and so on okay then the third one is workplace competencies teamwork creative thinking preparing planning organizing communicating checking quality control all that sort of thing and then moving up at the pyramid is industry and occupation specific competencies like if you were going into GIS as a city planner versus a GIS in a business sense business marketing and so on and so forth or using GIS to you know manage a restaurant chain versus using GIS as a wildlife manager okay so this geospatial technology competency model I think is informative.
I would highly recommend you take a look at it now. There’s a couple additional GIS skills that I don’t think really fit into the top five; but they’re very important and a couple of my touchdown. When I talk about the geospatial technology competency model. Now one of them is what one. Additional skills number one teach yourself new procedures workflows and software. Don’t get stuck in the rut. Okay even if your job demands that you basically do the same kinds of things every week or every day. Challenge yourself by learning some new things on a regular basis.
Keep your mind sharp keep your GIS skills up also work in a team. Now again if that’s not part of your job it is for most people but maybe you are a solo kind of person that just does your thing with GIS. Whether it’s in the field or in the lab but I encourage you to work as much as you can. With teams of varying years if experience of diverse backgrounds and so on. Work in a team that’s very important in this 21st century world and also act based on. What I was saying before your curiosity but also your responsibility. As GIS science professional to communicate well to really document your data to be clear about your objectives. Why you embarked on the study in the first place and so on to be ethical in all of your workings and also find mentors.
These programmatic skills evolve right and you know 10 years ago was you know C++ Avenue scripts. You know for the old ArcView three two-and three-and AML arc macro language. And you know it’s increasingly diverse. These skill sets especially in programming but you know. It’s obviously going to be heavily web-based but also increase your GIS skills and problem-solving. Is a good thing so read books on you know. How to manage data. How to solve problems, How to be a good person in a team that sort of thing also spatial thinking. So there’s an increasing literature on spatial thinking.
I encourage you to take a look at that. Also none of us have you know infinite amount of hours each day. But find your own niche also be a good you know in a sense generalist in other words. Have you know core GIS skills and perspectives and the content knowledge that we talked about. But also be an expert in something that really motivates you. And as well as, also something that you can real sell out and make a contribution to your organization in one specific area of thought or discipline or sub discipline. A couple of additional GIS skills is you really need to know these days.
How to use GIS and configure GIS on a desktop, in the mobile world and in the cloud world. You need to know something about Web API as I mentioned a Python scripting. Also I think you really need to know about spatial statistics at least sup to some degree. No matter what kind of position you’re in. It’s just going to help you in terms of your own research and development. Now additional discussion on GIS skills as I mentioned I do live for this IDI community blog and I one of the links here is the top five GIS skills needed to be successful.
There’s a couple of things in the directions magazine. There’s quite a few things about careers in GIS science and directions magazine so I encourage you to take a look at that. Then also you know I’m kind of leading you with a couple of last thoughts. Here but think of the consequences. If future societies do not value thinking spatially. They don’t understand the value of thinking spatially that’s super important.
I don’t think you’ll disappoint with your career in GIS science, GIS systems. It is something that’s helping people. It’s helping the planet in many ways that we could discuss here. But ranging from wildlife habitat protection to water quality improvements, to human health advances, to understanding climate systems, and dealing with natural hazards making better decisions in a city government looking at sustainable agriculture at Solon and so on. So forth so GIS Skills is really a worthy endeavor. It’s helping people, it’s helping the planet and I think you will really enjoy. A career in GIS Skills so I encourage you to pursue it pursue it with all your heart. And don’t look back surround yourself with positive people in the profession there are many many positive folks around there. I wish you all success thanks so much for joining me tonight take care.