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Saturday, January 28, 2023

What Type of Geospatial Staff Do I Need? – Geospatial World

Industry is speeding up at a phenomenal rate due to incorporating geospatial technologies, but are these companies getting value?
It is a natural business decision to employ developers to get something built. They know how to code and put things together. They may even apply some of the geospatial elements from information available online.
Sure, a product manager may know some geospatial and can guide the product or technology in the right direction, though none of this would be as efficient as if you had someone who knew how to work with different coordinate systems, enable the correct geospatial interactions or to just visualize the multitude of different data.
Of course, many businesses employ GIS editors to produce maps, maintain web maps, update and author GIS data. These GIS editors may have expert knowledge of the intricacies of working with geospatial data yet may not be used to their full potential, they may have some coding capability which could be shared with the development team and it would get completely overlooked.
The question came up recently on a Twitter poll, whereby @Dragons8mycat asked how many of the 5000 users connected with him coded. The answer was quite interesting:
Of the 62 responses, there was almost an even one third split between coders and those who dip in and out of code and complete non-coders. Coders are defined as those who use Python, JavaScript, SQL or other.
When thinking about the average geospatial user, many will maintain PostGIS (PostgreSQL) databases which rely on SQL queries to analyze the data being stored or need to query the data within a GIS.
GIS systems such as Esri ArcGIS Pro and QGIS use a programming language to enable further querying. Within GIS, it is common to need to know some coding to be able to alter, sort or work on the data attributes, similarly in a way that Excel requires some knowledge of mathematical syntax and code to get results.
Therefore, it could be assumed that two-thirds of the results alluded to non-coders or GIS editors who need to use a little code within the system.
The question is, how to know what geospatial people are needed? Of course, this will wholly depend on where a business may be in their development of their geospatial capability and what type of service they plan to deliver.
So, for the purpose of this article, focus will be on a business entering its journey into geospatial and how the right recruitment may help increase desired capabilities quicker.
At the beginning of the journey, a business looking to embark on embracing geospatial would do well to employ a GIS person who has a few years’ experience with managing a GIS team and the use of a few different geospatial platforms (for example QGIS, Esri or MapInfo).
It may be slightly more costly than taking on a junior or someone who can quickly edit maps, like a GIS Editor, but at the start of the journey is when it is vital for a company to know what is available to them.
The value of having the right software, good practices and a knowledgeable ear to discuss the next steps to take will accelerate the geospatial capability exponentially. This person does not necessarily need to be a coder as third-party geospatial developers can be easily hired for short sprints of work and there is a wealth of geospatial support companies for all kinds of open source and proprietary systems.
Once the capability has developed and the time comes for more geospatial staff,  there are some simple guidelines for the type of resource which could be helpful;
Business Intelligence:
This requires data analysis and therefore a strong logic skillset.  If using PostGIS, SQL would be useful, Python or RStats knowledge would be useful too
Web Mapping:
There are applications which can be used out of the box but configuring them to your need and ensuring it is secure requires some coding skills.
Commonly HTML, CSS, Javascript are good languages for this sort of work, for the geospatial side, SQL if using a database store and a little exposure to Geoserver, Mapserver, Cesiumjs, OpenLayers or Mapbox to have a head start on configuration.
GeoAI and Machine Learning:
Many artificial intelligence applications are Python based, big data or statistic knowledge would be useful too.
Internet of Things and Real Time Sensors:
Although many of the shelf sensors  will have their own software, setting up something bespoke needs some knowledge of how geospatial sensors work, the common data formats and frequencies as well as some Python and maybe SQL (some sensors poll to SQLite databases)
Extending Geospatial Software:
To retain IP (Intellectual Property) and to improve or create tools for the GIS, it is relatively easy to the right person to develop the tool in-house. This is easily done in QGIS and Esri using Python.
Automation (ETL)
Quite a lot of automation is done with Python, interestingly a few of the off the shelf systems like FME use Python, so having the ability to use Python can extend their capability.
It can be seen that having one or several geospatial staff with strong python skills can be a huge benefit as it can address many of the geospatial growth areas which a business may want to hit. This does not mean that just because an employee has Python skills, they will be able to deliver the items on the roadmap.
As these technologies pass R&D and into production, they will require somewhere to place the code and some infrastructure like some cloud storage and databases.
At this stage of growth, a developer could swoop in and set up all the infrastructure, but it may not be as efficient or compatible with the necessary systems as it needs to be.
Many geospatial specialists will have a story about setting up their GIS computers. It should be a relatively simple task to go to a shop or the IT department and buy a laptop or desktop which can run a GIS.
In reality though, there aren’t many who can say that they are happy that their machine meets their needs, see this blog. The crux of this being that there are specialties which only those who have got under the bonnet of a GIS will understand.
To fulfil this need, a GIS Software Engineer is required. This person treads that careful line between coder and geospatial, they are a developer whisperer and able to code, build and design geospatial tools and interfaces.
Of course, this skill doesn’t always come cheaply but it is insanely valuable especially to any company looking to develop a strong stable geospatial core and revenue from geospatial products.
At the start of a geospatial journey it can be confusing and disorientating when the goal and possibilities aren’t clear, this is why it is important to get expert help at the beginning, whether it is as some consultancy, through mentorship or by reaching out to a Chartered Geographer (Cgeog) or Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP).
It is a great time to embark on this journey as there is so much help out there. There are groups on Twitter and Mastodon, like the #GISChat or for general questions you could just reach out with the #GIS hashtag, but be warned that with such an eclectic mix of experts, unless you know your goal you could get more confused than focused.
Geospatial is special, but don’t let that be a blocker to your journey, just engage with the right people and you will flourish. By reading this, you are already one step ahead of the competition.
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