Moving Beyond Waiting for GIS’ Sally Field Moment

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To say the least, I was mildly boggled when I noticed that was running a poll on “Is Geospatial Special?” which was a followup to a January post also with the same title. I thought the insecure handwringing was beaten out of GIS professionals back when Don Meltz posted about GIS is Dead – Long Live GIS“ which triggered a slew of rebuttal arguments and agreements from the geo blogosphere.

As a fellow GIS professional, I feel we need to move beyond the need to have a Sally Fields’ moment of “you like me, right now, you like me!” GIS professionals also need to move beyond that the stifling fear of “What?!? You can’t make a map without me, can you?” and adjust to the new georeality.  Yes, the coworker down the hall, who has never taken a cartography course, can geocode a spreadsheet and embed that Google Map into a web page.  And yes, there are still 651,000 references to “Graphic Information Systems” floating around out there.

Spatial is special, and yet it’s not. The “specialness” of GIS has always been dependent its intrinsic value to other processes; the “of course” that now enables applications to inherently have mapping and spatial capabilities (for example, when was the last time you saw a real estate app that didn’t incorporate the ability to view listings within a radius of a specific address?).

It’s up the the GIS professional to stay on top of the trends and changes and to adjust to what’s needed in terms of specific GIS skills.  The best GIS professionals are those that remain highly adaptable and don’t let past notions of what GIS should be keep them stagnant.  St. Francis of Assisi understood that when he said “Preach GIS always, use words only when necessary.”


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2 thoughts on “Moving Beyond Waiting for GIS’ Sally Field Moment”

  1. I like the argument that analysts are actually going to be needed more in the future (there’s a McKinsey report circulating that supports this argument). But then again, I’m primarily an analyst so of course I’m bound to believe it.

    In the field of natural resources, for example, there are many who can use GIS to turn layers on and off, import/export, and do rudimentary analysis such as selections and counting how many are within and how many are without.

    However, when it comes to things like multi-criteria decision analysis, creating training data for a landuse characterization, or calculating directional trend ellipses, the GIS analyst will always have a place.

  2. You are right, these days almost anyone can “make a map”. As a geospatial professional, it used to be fun to impress people by showing them even the basics of what a GIS could do. Now, so many people use spatial technology in their every-day lives (smartphone apps, GPS devices and websites of every niche ) that it takes a lot more to create a wow moment. However, there is a big difference between using a pre-fab map app to show a single relationship and developing specialized applications around the back-end technology that address deeper questions.

    The days of “easy” GIS are over but as spatial technology develops so should the professional. I find that a good way to “stay on top of the [GIS] trends and changes” is to keep on top of geospatial job postings. Find out what skills employers are consistently looking for in new hires and you can adapt your skills if it seems reasonable to do so.

    Thanks for the great post!

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