I have only taken one formal course in GIS; however, I consider myself a confident practitioner of the software and am constantly learning more despite not having access to a costly software licenses for ArcGIS or similar desktop software. In order to enhance my GIS skills while transitioning from a job in environmental engineering to a career in geospatial web design, I’ve been taking advantage of freely available software and resources. While doing so, I have found that advances in the design of open source GIS programs have made acquiring GIS expertise achievable for someone without the cash to plunk down for expensive software and training.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term, open source software is developed by programmers who make their program source code freely available for those who wish to use or edit it under the condition that it never be commercialized.
In addition to the benefit of reducing cost, there are many other reasons to learn about and how to use open source GIS software:
1. Introduce Yourself to GIS from an Open Source Perspective:
While there are plenty of websites that will provide information and tutorials (paid and free) about the principles, business, and history of GIS, if you are going to take an open source approach, it’s good to learn about these topics in the context of the software that you will be using. One of the most useful resources for the uninitiated is the eBook, “A Gentle Introduction to GIS”, which was introduced in another post. This short, but complete guide provides enough information and examples to take a beginning GIS student from software installation to creating maps and performing complex geospatial analysis using the user-friendly Quantum GIS software platform (discussed further below).
2. Learn About the Different Types of GIS Software:
GIS applications take many forms and serve a variety of purposes in GISystems. Some software providers offer enterprise-wide fully-featured desktop solutions that rival the functionality of ArcMap and ArcInfo, while other focus on specific aspects of GISystem software architecture. Your choice of software will largely depend on how you want your knowledge of GIS to augment your career. The following are examples of popular software providers for some of the main components of a geospatial software system:
3. Learn interactively:
Free video tutorials and online classes are great resources for those of us who are visual learners and enjoy more of a classroom instructional setting. Learn immersively while using real data sets and software. Some excellent resources that I’ve used are:
4. Learn socially:
Increase your career options and learn about other developments in the world of GIS through Linked in and Facebook groups, and by attending open source GIS conferences and meet-ups.
5. Don’t forget about the Library:
It has never been easier to take advantage of public resources in your local area. You don’t even have to go to the library to check out a book anymore! I found several useful eBooks while browsing my library’s online collection:
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