I know this is Tumblr, but have any of you GIS folks spent time on the GIS subreddit? It’s worth checking out.
What I like about r/gis is that it’s probably one of the most approachable GIS forums on the internet right now.
GeoNet (ESRI’s forums) are all about ArcGIS stuff, the Stack Exchange is very dev-friendly and not so much geography-friendly, but fair enough. In my observation, those forums go over people’s heads a lot of the time, especially if you’re a student or you’re new to the professional world of GIS.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned this casually on Tumblr before, but I’m totally a redditor. It’s an entertaining way to pass the time, especially when you’re just running a tool in GIS and all you can do is wait.
Like I said, r/gis is one of the most accessible and approachable places on the internet right now for discussing everyday GIS stuff. People talk about getting jobs, moving up in their careers, what programming languages to learn, or just to ask for advice. It’s technical at times, but there’s also good general conversation about the industry and where it’s heading.
That being said, recently there was a really cool post, titled “Problems with how GIS is taught” which I linked. It’s refreshing to hear so many people calling out the industry for being so dev-oriented. People have discussed how frustrating it is when they ask how to move up in their careers and the first answer is to learn more programming. Of course, while programming is absolutely improving the amount of work we can do in less amounts of time, and building tools and interfaces, what of it? Are these folks really trained enough in geography or the social sciences to be conceptualizing how we map and look at data in space?
The gist of the discussion was that overall, there’s a major disconnect between what is taught in college for GIS, and what the industry wants with GIS. Obviously there’s the glaring issue of GIS being taught almost always in Geography departments. If a school wanted to really prepare students for a GIS career, it ought to be connected to a computer science program. But should it be? At the same time, the industry needs to start understanding that there are different types of GIS knowledge. If they want someone with a richer social science background, who knows the theory and advanced concepts in some discipline like retail, urban planning, migration, etc, they currently should not expect that person to also be a software developer, since those disciplines don’t overlap enough yet. This disconnect is causing young folks to scramble outside of college to gain more technical skills and certifications to actually get a job. That’s ultimately unfair, because they just paid for years of college to supposedly do the same thing!
For me, finishing school with a Master’s degree in Geography, the best comparison I can give is that it felt like I went to school trained to be an engineer, and had to get a job as a drafter. But how often does that happen for actual engineers? I learned all these theories, read the literature in my area of interest, wrote a thesis, did all this geostatistical modeling, writing, and mapping. But making the maps was just part the final product! Forget all the research and conceptualization involved in getting there. Then I got a job where I had 5 hours to map a dozen points on an aerial image. Part of me was disappointed and so bored. But then part of me felt like, well ok, there’s also the starting at the bottom type thing, gotta start with grunt work and earn the more complex work, but in many industries I don’t see that really happening. They often already have people to do that work, they just want a map monkey on payroll to make their work pretty.
It is rare to find work that actually uses the knowledge gained with a Master’s degree in Geography. If you want that kind of work your best bet is academia. The professional world loves its products, its marketing/design, and its clicks because they make the money roll in.
But I digress! I definitely recommend joining the conversations on r/gis, because they give comfort to young folks trying to find their way. Don’t be afraid to ask questions–in fact, please ask more! We need to be discussing issues like our industry more, so things can improve.
Hope that got the wheels turning for you!