Women in GIS: Caitlin Dempsey, Editor-GIS Lounge

By Joe Francica

Caitlin Dempsey seems possessed by GIS.She has to be to not only manage the GIS systems for the city of Santa Clarita, California, but as editor of GIS Lounge, she is constantly scanning the GIS universe for new and interesting information in which to populate the popular GIS portal.She says, "As the editor of GIS Lounge, I get many emails from students and people working in GIS asking for help." Ms.Dempsey, in this interview, provides a brief history of GIS Lounge as well as her insights about using GIS at the local government level.

What is your position in your company?
I am the editor of GIS Lounge, a portal for all things GIS. I am also the GIS Coordinator for the City of Santa Clarita (northern Los Angeles County).

What is your background?
Both my bachelors and masters degrees are in Geography.I started learning about GIS as an undergraduate when "Hand Cartography" was a class offering! My first map was programmed in QBasic.I got hooked and started taking all of the mapping and GIS courses available at UCLA. My first hands-on experience in GIS was as an intern with the National Park Service.I stayed in the Natural Resource field until about four years ago, moving into local government.

How did you get involved with the GIS Lounge? Who started the portal?
I originally started out as the Guide at About.com for GIS back in May of 2000.Matt Rosenberg, the Geography Guide at About.com felt GIS deserved more attention than he could provide and recruited me the run the new GIS site.I was responsible for creating a place where people looking for GIS related resources on the Internet could come to for guidance.Last September, I had the opportunity the move the site to its own address.GIS Lounge went live last October.

What is the most difficult thing about being in the ".com" business?
With any subject, there is an overwhelming amount of information out there. Since the focus of my site is to help direct people to relevant resources on the web, I spend a significant amount of time reviewing other sites. GIS is a rapidly growing and dynamic industry.Keeping on top of what is new and relevant is a key priority.

What does your typical day or week look like?
At the City, we have an Enterprise GIS, which means our group provides GIS services to all of the departments and divisions.We work on a range of projects from GPSing trails to developing EOC mapping applications. As the GIS manager, I coordinate efforts between City staff, consultants and other agencies on GIS related issues. I also supervise and direct the GIS staff; providing technical guidance when necessary.

As the editor of GIS Lounge, I get many emails from students and people working in GIS asking for help, so a good portion of time is spent responding.I also visit sites suggested as potential GIS resources.My main focus is to understand what information people are searching for in GIS in order to best present the related resources.

What involvement do you have with GIS professional groups or organizations?
I am involved with a local GIS users group that specializes in local government issues. Every other month, the meeting is hosted at a city or government agency and usually features a presentation by the host as well as a roundtable opportunity for everyone to talk about current issues affecting local government. I also participate in some of the ESRI sponsored special interest meetings that happen locally.

What is the most important "next thing" that will happen in GIS?
Accessibility to low-cost yet quality data is increasing. With the spread of GIS into the various levels of government, the amount of public data is on the rise. I am also seeing a trend with data derived from image analysis. I am seeing more and more companies get into the aerial and satellite imagery business, which is lowering the costs while increasing the resolution.

What is the accomplishment of which you are most proud?
I am most proud of what I have been able to accomplish with GIS Lounge.It is the culmination of two years worth of researching and exploring GIS. Being the editor of the site has been a great vehicle to network with other GISers around the world and to stay abreast of the developments in GIS.

Before you came to GIS, what did you think your career would be?
Both my degrees are in Biogeography so my initial leanings were towards the Natural Resource Management field.As a geography major, I had taken some computer cartography courses that I found fascinating.While I was in graduate school, I did an internship with the National Park Service and that is where I really got hooked on the field of GIS.

Would you recommend GIS to other women?
Most definitely! Since GIS is relatively new to mainstream industries, GIS presents dynamic and exciting opportunities to all, regardless of gender. With solid GIS skills, the potential to enter a wide variety of industries from law enforcement to geology is enormous.

Why is GIS an exciting industry in which to participate?
GIS takes decision making to a completely new level.It is fascinating to be able to visualize information for people so they can have an increased understanding of their environment in order to make better decisions. My favorite GIS quote from Jack Dangermond sums it up: "Knowing where things are, and why, is essential to rational decision making."

Published Thursday, September 19th, 2002

Written by Joe Francica

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