We need each other: People and Maps that change the world

By Barbaree Ash Duke

Who are the people of GIS? What are they doing to make a difference in the field? How does this impact you? Well, it comes down to learning, connecting and having a grateful point of view.

Esri President Jack Dangermond makes this point clear every year in his opening remarks at the Esri User Conference: It’s about the people. “The purpose of this meeting is the exactly the same that it was 36 years ago, which was actually to get people together and build a network and have some relationships form, teach each other, create understanding…all of those interesting things,” he stated.

We, the attendees, comprise a dynamic community revolving around maps, data and solutions that most often relate to the people of the world. We quickly forget that we're at an event sponsored by a large company and get engrossed in conversations about cutting edge programs, world-changing ideas and mapping challenges that we all face. Year after year, it’s like a family reunion of kindred geogeek spirits.

It takes about 30 seconds for the annual conference to become about people rather than software or even Esri. It’s the smile of a friendly face and the hugs of long-time colleagues that encourage me to return to see what they're doing and how they’re changing their world. Don’t mistake me — the technology and its capabilities just keep getting cooler — but I find most geography and geospatial events have these similar moments, whether it’s the gathering of folks focused on open source, the regional location intelligence event or the Big 5 in London. I don’t think that it matters who sponsors the event or where it’s located. It’s about the people in this amazing geospatial community.

At Directions, we want to learn what people are doing and how we can effectively share their work and solutions with you. How can we help? What do you care about? Paychecks and profits are nice but that doesn’t make us bravely face each day. Passion about your solution or cause keeps us motivated and energized to move forward.

Learn more

Staying abreast of the latest developments is important. Just a single moment at the conference might spark the next great idea. Many folks in the Startup Zone shared their great ideas, and showed us that brave initiative and unique approaches can meet our needs.

Who is ensuring that every location on the entire planet has an address? what3words is, 3 square meters at a time. Next time I need to share an exact location, three words could do the trick.

Trash is spatial. Well, of course it is, but who knew that the truck and collection process were so intricate? The City of Los Angeles showed off a new truck with more gadgets than my smartphone and an impressive production. They are sharing their GIS data online.

Compressing large data fast is the job for a lizard! Well, a smart reptile persona, with a nod to their beginnings in the southwest region of the U.S., LizardTech continues their evolution with new LiDAR compression. The MrSID champions continue to make data more accessible with lightning fast response to huge datasets along with a suite of management and viewing tools. Bravo for making a key component of many geospatial processes smoother, affordable, versatile and swift.

3DR and the drones of our future can’t be overlooked. I learned that the folks at 3DR developed an autopilot that’s being implemented across many other providers. Also, their code is open source! GitHub is your friend if you want to see what’s making their drones fly so well.

George would be proud. Seeing Mt. Vernon in 3D and how they’re using geospatial technologies for historic preservation is impressive.

Get involved

Geomentors are evolving and eager to help. We need to continue to foster connections between education and the professional workplace. “Why do they need to know that?” has answers.

The Geotech Center has some terrific professional development and research available for students and employed geospatial enthusiasts.

Connect with colleagues

Some days “connecting” might be commiserating, but none of us are alone in our struggles with making maps and wrangling data. Regardless of your software preference, there are events and ways to keep you collaborative. Some upcoming events might suit your needs. URISA’s GIS Pro event will be in Spokane, Wash. this fall. Pitney Bowes is packing their tour bus and will host location intelligence events around North America from September through October. Even companies themselves have special user networks like Esri’s GeoNet to facilitate a rich, user-driven community. Also data warehouses and a thriving geospatial community at GitHub are invaluable to pushing us forward.

As geospatial professionals, we’re building a collaborative community around tools, projects, ideas and problems. The bottom line: meeting in person does make a difference, whether it’s a regional user group meeting or an international, company-sponsored conference. If you can’t get to the event in person, try the next best thing: interactive discussions online. LinkedIn offers many groups and companies.

Find a local, regional, national or international event to add to your calendar. Use your mapping powers for good!


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