January 3, 2003


Education and Careers Trends Issue

• Editor's Note
• GIS Training: How it May, or May Not, Get You a Job
• GIS vs. Other Professions, Licensing vs. Certification
• The State of Web-based Vendor Education
• GIS Education on Campus
• Education and Career Notes

Letters, Points of Interest, Week in Review, Back Issues, Advertise, Contact, Subscribe/Unsubscribe

Welcome to 2003. This first issue of 2003 arrives on a Friday, due to the holiday. GIS Monitor will return to its regular Thursday schedule next week.

Also this week, we introduce our first focus issue. Each month, we'll devote an issue (or two) to a particular facet of the geospatial marketplace. This week we take on education and career trends. Next week, to start the new year, we'll take a look at technology trends and new products. If you know of some new products or services becoming available in the next few months, drop me a note.

In the next few months we'll tackle Location-based Service (Feb), Utilities, (March), Measurement and Positioning (April) and Satellite and Aerial Imaging (May). If you'd like to see the entire editorial calendar, please contact our publisher. If you have suggested topics, questions, or technologies that should be covered in upcoming issues, please send me a message.

Best wishes for the New Year.


Training to Get Ahead

It'd be great if employers selected new hires based simply on their academic credentials. But, they don't. When a job candidate walks into the interview, be it with just one person or a group, there are many more things evaluated than just which courses were taken. I receive quite a few messages from students, job-switchers, and those hoping to move up the career ladder. They all have roughly the same question: What should I study in GIS and remote sensing to get ahead? What software? What courses? What school?

I'll suggest it doesn't much matter what GIS software is tackled first. The idea is to get your head around how GIS "thinks." What are its key parts? How do they interact? How do you tell the system what to do? How do you know if your resulting map seems valid? What kinds of data are out there? How do you determine which datasets to use?

I remember back to elementary school math. The teacher argued that we should have some sense of how big the answer to a summation problem should be before we total up the columns. If it's out of the ballpark, she said, there's a good chance you made a mistake. The same principle can be applied to analyzing GIS expertise. If you understand your goal, as well as the steps along the way, and end up with some bizarre result, then there's a good chance you made a mistake. And, if you are the type of person that can find those mistakes, there's a good chance you know what you are doing. You may not know what command to use in MapInfo, but you'll know about the tools and the process.

The other point I like to make to those who write me with education questions is that while generic GIS software users are common, those with a special perspective on the technology are not. That perspective might be technical (such as database or programming skills) or discipline-specific (such as GIS in business or GIS in utilities project experience). The most important aspect of the complementary study is that it be something of interest to the student. Some of the most successful GIS people I know used the technology to complement interest in areas such as forestry or business.

Is GIS Training Worth the Money?

I attended a user group meeting recently and one of the attendees asked the question "Is GIS vendor training any good? Is it worth the several hundred dollars a day?" He was a manager at an engineering firm that was just getting into GIS. I responded with a few ideas.

First, I explained, if at all possible it would be best to take any software training, GIS or otherwise, after having some experience with the software. Otherwise, you spend too much time pushing the buttons, and too little time understanding what you are doing. I remember my first GIS class, the weeklong UNIX ArcInfo class, about ten years ago. I'd never touched UNIX before. I couldn't figure out the three-button mouse (which actually had 9 buttons, if you knew the tricks). I didn't understand the syntax of commands, in contrast to the students with UNIX experience who found them rather intuitive. I didn't know what a parameter was. I made my way through the class, and did pick up quite a lot, but undoubtedly I'd have picked up more with a bit of exposure beforehand. A few years later I taught a workshop using ArcCAD. Several of the students had never used a mouse. These days computer familiarity is more widespread, but a bit of familiarity with the software still goes a long way to boost the results of any training course.

Second, I could tell part of the concern of the questioner was related to training costs. How was he to train the staff of GIS users and stay on budget? I suggested Web-based training, workbooks, and tutorials. Another option would be to select a "lead" user to take the training who could later train the team.

Third, I reminded him that there are many other "training" opportunities that may not have "training" in their titles. These opportunities include Web-based seminars, users conferences, newslists, forums, and even (!) help systems. I suggested that a training class should perhaps be positioned as grounding for future independent learning or discovery, not as the end of the process.

The Bottom Line

Training is not magic It will rarely be the only thing that gets a prospective employee a job or a promotion. Universities, software companies, and resellers push training for several reasons. (1) It adds to their bottom line. (2) It usually means few support calls. (3) It can lead to further training and services.

The most successful consumers of GIS education are the ones who do their homework and first explore what they need to learn and how best to do so.

Many professionals must maintain their licensing from year to year. Licensing, which is done by government organizations, is required to help protect the public from harm. Part of the maintenance of a license includes collecting continuing education credits, which can come from seminar attendance, Web-based courses, and other sources. And, as you might expect, there are all sorts of companies that provide services to make it easy to fulfill these requirements.

These licensed professionals are the principal users of services like RedVector.com, which provides Web-based courses for architects, engineers, land surveyors and others. Professional Surveyor works with RedVector.com on the surveying aspects. I've heard concerns raised that a company that provides education that isn't involved in the discipline in question may not provide a quality product. Recall that there are all sorts of organizations that manage the logistics and delivery of trade shows and conferences, even though they are not directly involved in the industries themselves. At the conferences, just as in education, specialists choose the content and find appropriate instructors.

In the GIS community, URISA is nailing down a certification program which has an education component. Certification, according to a URISA FAQ, aims to "establish professional and ethical standards," but also states that the prime beneficiary is the public, just as it is with licensing. The FAQ page also states that salaries of regional planners certified by the American Planning Association (APA), are typically 25% higher than for those who are not certified.

I'm not aware of any GIS professionals who are required by their employers or states to update knowledge from year to year. Despite the lack of requirements, many GIS professionals work hard to get to conferences and training classes and take full advantage, even though they do not receive formal credit.

URISA has organized the GIS Certification Institute to administer its program, which is nearly complete. The latest draft is dated Dec. 4, 2002, and differs little from previous versions. A pilot program is expected to begin earlier in 2003.

I've written about certification before, but want to examine it in light of the impact it may have on education and careers in geospatial technologies. A poll on the URISA website (no dates are provided on when it began, or how participants were directed to the poll) shows that of the 1757 respondents, 70% support certification, while the other 30% do not. While that is promising, it does not indicate whether those same respondents will seek certification for themselves or use it as a criterion for selecting employees. Will you seek certification or use certification to select employees? Let us know here.

Do I expect that those offering classes will advertise that by attending a class one can claim so many URISA certification points? Possibly. Do I expect conferences to advertise that attendance is good for points? Again, possibly. Will education content or delivery change significantly? I doubt it. The industry (and it really is an industry) that has grown up to support continuing education credits for licensing is not likely to grow into GIS. First off, the numbers are not there. URISA is steering only those who spend most of their time doing GIS analyses and helping others to use GIS toward certification. Second, since URISA's certification is voluntary, there is no "ready-made" demand, which exists in these other sectors.

How do I expect employers will use certification? Do I expect to see employment ads stating: "URISA Certification required"? Unlikely, at least in the early days. In time however, if those certified "live up" to the expectations, the program should carry some weight, like the APA program noted above. But, APA certification, in addition to educational and experience requirements, involves a mandatory written exam. That may be the key missing element for quick respect for URISA's program.

The APA, like other national exams, is precisely the one thing that employers can use to compare one candidate to another in a somewhat objective way. Comparing a diploma from one university to another is tough - each uses different courses, curricula, and evaluations tools. Comparing eight years of work for one company vs. another is equally challenging. But, looking at two people who took the same exam, which one passed and one did not, is much more clear. I'm the first to admit it may simply mean one candidate is a poor test-taker. And, should employers feel the need to provide "objective" tests to potential employees, they are able to do so.

So, we are back to what I suggested some months ago. My prediction is that certification will not shake up the education and career paths in geospatial technologies. Some practitioners will go through the documentation process and add "URISA certified" to their resumes. Some employers will recognize the added verbiage and use it in hiring decisions. Many more, in both groups, will not. But that doesn't lessen the importance of the program itself, in my mind. Simply documenting what we as a professional community value in education, service, experience, and ethics is a huge step forward.

I did a survey on the state of Web-based GIS education from vendors. Here are some of the noteworthy offerings I found.

ESRI provides free one-hour live seminars on the Web. Next up: On January 16th there will be an hour on Survey Analyst. Once the seminars are run, they are available free to view at any time. Basically, these are "live" in the sense that the presenter speaks live and the student watches slides or software demonstrations. Many of the presentations are not by the marketing team, but by ESRI's trainers, so expect to get right down to business. As usual, you can test out many of the ESRI Virtual Campus Courses via a free first lesson.

Intergraph's Web-based classes use WebEx so that students can watch what the instructor does and the instructor can watch the student's progress. That requires a downloaded plug-in. During class, the student needs to be on-line and call a toll-free number (international callers must pay for the call) for the audio. Currently Intergraph is offering a free one-hour class covering new functionality in GeoMedia 5.

To date, MapInfo has not offered Web-based training, but does provide Web-based seminars on products and market areas such as location-based services. The company offers a multiple-choice quiz to determine whether an introductory or intermediate course is recommended. The focus seems to be on the correct command to perform a particular operation, and includes questions such as, "16. How are lablels [sic] saved?"

I looked around at some of the other companies that offer GIS products to explore their Web-based training offerings. Autodesk partnered with Headlight to provide Web-based training in 2000. However, after Headlight filed for bankruptcy in 2001, Web-based training never returned. Manifold.net does not explicitly note training tools on its website. Caliper offers a beginner class on its Maptitude product that includes exercises that students can follow along with on their own copy of the software.

GITA hosts its latest series of six webcasts for 2003. The one-and-one-half hour interactive sessions cover the GIS business case, Homeland Security, local government, mobile technology, the enterprise and utilities. There's a package deal: register for five, get the sixth free. Archived seminars are available at a bit of a discount. Information on the 2003 is expected on the website soon.

Several programs are being furloughed or reduced at Central Oregon Community College, including associate's degrees in Drafting/CAD and GIS. According to an article in the Bend Bugle, these are "professional/technical degrees, sometimes referred to as vocational programs." Part of the argument for these cuts is that GIS is expensive to teach, since it requires workstations, and "software for each student is very expensive," as Ron Paradis, director of college relations put it. The college currently has a lawsuit pending against the state. The college is arguing that state reimbursements should vary with the cost of providing a course, and not be the same for a course such as GIS that requires a lot of overhead expense, in comparison to one with less overhead, such as psychology.

Over at Western Wisconsin Technical College's (WWTC) the construction of a new building that will house GIS is expected to begin in 2003. The Technology and Business Development Center will serve as a regional training center for new technologies like GIS and distance learning. Interestingly, the new facility replaces a parking lot. WWTC has provided bus passes to all of its students to lessen the demand for parking.

Carnegie Mellon University teamed with Gateway Engineers to map the sewers in Oakmont Borough (Pennsylvania). Six students from the university's engineering program created a GIS of the sewer system in Oakmont. Andy Blenko of Gateway Engineers donated his time and resources to the project.

Education does not always happen in the classroom. GIS has taken some bold steps in museums. I know that the Boston Museum of Science uses GIS in an exhibit about coastlines. My eight-year-old niece thought it was "cool." MapInfo is helping the Junior Museum in Troy, New York, with its new Hudson River exhibit. The application will illustrate the migration of fish and birds.

Internships are sometimes formal, and sometimes not. Someone seeking an internship might be interested in contacting the folks in China, Maine, who just received a small grant to set up a GIS of Branch Pond to monitor water quality. I point this out not to send a fleet of phone calls up to Maine, but to highlight that keeping abreast of local issues is a great way to find an internship opportunity.

GIS Monitor as GIS text. I recently learned that GIS Monitor is required reading in a Rutgers University course titled Intermediate Environmental Geomatics. The syllabus notes, "We will discuss timely news items from GIS Monitor in class."

LawMeme, a website that explores law in technology, published by the Yale Law School, ran an article highlighting how universities, including pubic ones, are signing contracts with Microsoft for inexpensive software that prevent public disclosure of the terms of the agreement. This has some up in arms since in many states the documents of a public university are supposed to be public.

The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook citing data from 2000 notes that growth in jobs for surveyors, cartographers, photogrammetrists, and surveying technicians are expected to be on par with other sectors until 2010. Positions as surveying and mapping technicians might grow a bit faster. Also worth noting: engineering and architectural services firms employed about 63 percent of the 121,000 workers in these areas in 2000. Federal, state, and local governmental agencies employed 16 percent.

Wireless in the classroom. The New York Times reports that professors are now confronted with students distracted by the lure of the Web on their wireless enabled laptops. Keeping the students interested led one faculty member to climb a ladder and disconnect the wireless access point in his classroom. Some students have made the choice to leave the laptop at the dorm and use good old paper and pencil, but indications are that the days of taking notes that way are numbered.

• Bruce Westcott wrote to respond to my discussion of Homeland Security in the annual Top Ten:

"In reviewing the 'Top Ten of 2002' Adena nominated 'Homeland Security Funds for GIS' (#3) and 'GeoSpatial One Stop' (#8). Exercising admirable editorial restraint, in both of her thumbnails she suggested that we should have been building a sharable data infrastructure 'all along' (i.e. before a bunch of terrorists sharpened our focus last September). My predictions for 2003:

"1. A confusing array of federal initiatives will continue to make lots of hot air about portals and standards. Their efforts will have marginal impact on the day-to-day GIS work of building real useable data at local/regional/state levels, while

"2. Nary a federal homeland security dime will go for intergovernmental incentives and cost-sharing programs to build that data, and

"3. Zillions will be spent on toys for spooks and soldiers.

"Why is it that all we can say is that we 'should' be building shareable data? How can decision-makers continue to ignore the fact that local/regional/state governments experience additional costs to make their data standardized and shareable? Broad-based federal cost-sharing of standards-based data development would improve routine and emergency services, and would save money in the long run."

• Jim Herberich wrote to follow up on Bill Huber's points about GIS and homeland security in the December 23 issue:

"I couldn't agree more.

"Can you say M-O-N-O-P-O-L-Y. Sure, the 'the industry's major vendor' is not alone, but not too long ago GIS Monitor showed the market share of GIS, and there really isn't too much competition, now is there? Throw proprietary formats (like map documents and geodatabases) in the mix and customers as hostages doesn't lead to incentive for a company to expose its weaknesses in the form of bug lists and rapid, well-publicized fixes.

"My take on the situation is that GIS software customers are either afraid to, unaware of their right to, and/or realize that it does no good to complain vehemently when the software for which they spent significant money has bugs. But if enough of us speak up, hopefully things can change. But if they don't, hopefully there will be someplace else we can spend our GIS software dollars.

"Every time (once should be bad enough that the owners of 'the industry's major vendor' should be embarrassed, yet I still see them out in public pretending like they are doing something well) I report something amiss to 'the industry's major vendor,' and am told that it is a 'known issue,' I tell them that their bug secrecy policy is shameful. How many others do that?

"I have another point. Disclaimers. We have come to believe them. But, unfortunately, the software companies or data providers are the only ones who can be responsible for the products they produce. We should demand that they take that responsibility, even if it means waiting for the next 'update' until they get it right."

• According to an
article from the South China Daily Post on CNET, Asia's first broadband delivered via the electrical network was turned on during Christmas week. It offers 1.5 megabits per second service at a monthly cost of HK$138 (US$17.70). That compares to prices ranging from HK$68 (US$8.70) to over HK$200 (US$25.60). That price requires users to commit to a seven-month contract.

• Wired hosts an article evaluating IDC's technology predictions from last year. The score is good overall. One prediction of note in the geospatial world addressed the hype about Web services. The article notes that the understanding of that term is so broad that 82 percent of executives claimed their companies used Web services. As Jupiter Research representative put it, "Speaking of a market for Web services is like speaking of a market for molecules. It is undoubtedly large, but nonsensical."

• Remote sensing in the snow. Technologists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, are designing a portable device that transmits and receives avalanche victims' vital signs through snow, up to 80 meters away. Called A-Life, the unit not only sends out a location signal, but also vital signs which ideally help rescuers reach those most in need first. The developers acknowledge the ethical issues involved in using an instrument that prioritizes who to save first. They have taken that into account in one way: reports about multiple victims are delivered without identifying who is who.

• Vacuum on a random walk. The Roomba, a round, self-contained vacuum that retails for approsimately $200 is the latest robotic device for consumers. It uses a combination of concentric circles and "wall following" to tackle the dust and dirt in small, medium, and large rooms. The verdict of two reviews in Wired and the New York Times: it's cool, but a human can do better.

• Delivery without, well, delivery. Wired reports that two New York companies are managing Web-based ordering from city restaurants, but they don't do delivery. While the restaurants actually produce and deliver the food, the Web-based companies manage the restaurants' websites and customer payments. The disadvantage is that orders that come through these services do take a bit longer to process. The advantages are that companies maintain up-to-date websites with menus and keep fraud down. Some consumers prefer the sites to the dated stack of menus many of us keep in the bookcase.

• During Christmas week National Public Radio ran a series on prayer during All Things Considered. One topic covered was "spiritual mapping." In essence this practice defines locations (parks, playgrounds, houses), in part based on their history, as worthy of cleansing via prayer.

• Lobsters can find their way home in the ocean over long distances using the Earth's magnetic field as a detailed map. UPI reports that researchers at the University of North Carolina "blindfolded" lobsters, tethered them and tracked their movement. As one researcher put it, "We kidnap the lobsters, then tether them to this ridiculous setup…Despite all the things we've tried to do to them, they walk toward home." If I were a lobster I'm sure I'd want to get away from the mad scientists, too!

• Yes, that's right, there is a proposal on the table in Oregon to track the miles of state road traveled by each vehicle, via GPS, and charge taxes based on the measurements. As expected, some call the plan "nutty" and an invasion of civil liberties.

• The San Francisco Chronicle highlights that geography matters in housing prices. An average four-bedroom home in Palo Alto, California, population 59,000, costs $1.26 million, the highest price in the country. The same house in Yankton, South Dakota, population 13,500, will cost $101,000, less than anywhere else in the nation.

• FloraMap is an application that finds matches for climates. Once a species is found in more than one location, the software program can create probability maps of other locations to search. The program, on a CD-ROM, was developed by Peter Jones, of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), near Cali in Colombia. Read more in this article from the BBC.

• I was really hoping for a happy story to end the year, but it was not to be. The story of a Kenosha man who used a GPS tracking device attached to his girlfriend's car to track her down and stalk her has been getting quite a lot of coverage.

• There's a nice article about the Amboseli Elephants in The Daily Camera. It highlights, among other things, how the high price of satellite imagery prevents many researchers from using this technology. On the other hand, ESRI's commitment to the project and work with Digital Globe, has allowed these researchers access.

• Remember the six degrees of separation? Well, two friends have developed a free, "agendaless" software program to map connections between people. The program called Huminity, requires the Flash plug-in.

• ZDNet reveals the ten technologies to watch in the year ahead. Location-based services is one, so is telematics. Perhaps I'm jaded since I'm so involved in watching those technologies, but I've not seen any significant motion in either this year that makes me confident things will spring ahead in 2003.

• The Canadian Press reports that Russia launched three navigation satellites into space on from Kazakhstan on Christmas day. The satellites are to become part of the GLONASS satellite navigation system of the Russian military. The old system needs constant upgrades since the satellites do not last more than a few years.

• As usual, Analytical Graphics Inc.'s satellite tracking and visualization software tracked Santa as he performed his present distribution. This article from the Philadelphia Business Journal explains how this NORAD tradition started ("wrong number").


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• Announcements
Maryland's DNR announced the availability of its new Geospatial Data Center today. The Department's geospatial data products are now available at no cost and without license restrictions. DNR recently revised its external data distribution policies to provide free public access. This action was taken to assist the many citizen groups and government agencies that help DNR better understand and protect Maryland's natural resources, including Chesapeake Bay. All vector files are distributed as Shapefiles and all images are distributed as TIF files with a .TFW reference file.

The Planning Department of the Hong Kong SAR Government is using ESRI's ArcIMS to power a new Internet service to give the general public first hand, up-to-date information about statutory plans. Working with ESRI China (HK) business partner, PCCW, the Department has developed the e-Statutory Plans Internet Service.

GeoSpatial Solutions reports that the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has contracted with the GeoData Alliance to conduct the Open Data Consortium (ODC) project. The project aims to develop a model Data Distribution Policy. USGS has committed 60% of the project's $132,000 price tag. Other contract funding is provided by private companies including Digital Map Central, Metropolis New Media and ESRI.

Spatial Insights will act as a value-added reseller and master distributor for Pinebush, and is offering Pinebush's HyperXpress suite of printing and plotting software.

The International LIDAR Mapping Forum's Third Annual Meeting (ILMF2003) will take place in New Orleans Jan. 27-28, 2003, at the Chateau Sonesta hotel.

The North Carolina Floodplain Mapping program website and database is up and running. Flood maps are available for review online and the data is available for download.

The town of Greenwich, Connecticut has delivered on a promise to appeal a recent Freedom of Information Commission ruling granting a consultant full access to maps and images of the town. The appeal, filed in state Superior Court, challenges the state agency's application of public records laws to its data. The town cites security issues as its argument.

The folks at IDC are making their predictions as to how vendors should weave spatial technologies into their offerings. Their suggestions: Identify and exploit "unique location-enabled solutions." Those who don't provide "Open data access and spatially enabled database management" will be left behind. Before Web services takes off "the IT industry will have to develop and implement a much more mature Web Services architecture." There are two several thousand dollar reports available, too.

RMSI announced that it has successfully carried out a pilot catastrophe risk assessment study for four Indian states-Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Orissa-as part of World Bank's ongoing regional initiatives for risk transfer in Asia. The project involved a comprehensive risk assessment study of these states pertaining to the assets of housing and public infrastructure against natural catastrophes like cyclones, earthquakes, and floods. RMSI was recently listed at the 114th position in "Dataquest's Top 200" survey on IT Companies for the year 2001-02 in India.

Analytical Surveys Inc. has been notified by Nasdaq that the company's common stock may be delisted from the Nasdaq SmallCap Market for not maintaining a minimum market value of $1 million. The company has until March 27, 2003, to regain compliance.

• Contracts and Sales
PlanGraphics, Inc. has finalized a contract with the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications to continue the implementation of the Citywide Geographic Information System Utility. The contract as registered by the New York City Comptroller on December 27, 2002, covers a period of three years at a maximum value of $15.4 million, and has two optional one-year renewals that the City may exercise.

• Products
ERDAS IMAGINE V8.6, now provides customers with the ability to use ESRI's ArcObjects environment to interact with the latest generation of ArcGIS software and data formats including the geodatabase. By using the ArcObjects environment, ERDAS IMAGINE and ArcGIS users have shared access to vector data sources.

INPHO GmbH launched inBLOCK, bundle block adjustment software. inBLOCK combines advanced mathematical modeling of multi-sensor systems and up-to-date matrix technology with ease-of-use and interactive analysis capabilities supported by strong graphics.

ESRI announced the release of MapObjects 2.2-Windows Edition. MapObjects-Windows Edition is ESRI's collection of embeddable mapping and GIS components that can be used to add dynamic mapping and GIS capabilities to existing Windows applications or to build custom mapping and GIS solutions. Highlights include support for Visual Studio .NET (VB.NET and C#), new sample applications and useful documentation for getting started with MapObjects in Visual Studio .NET, tracking layer smoothing, improved projection engine (along with new formats), enhanced labeling, elimination of the separate end user license and fee requirements previously required to read GIF and TIFF/LZW images. MapObjects 2.1 customers who are current on their maintenance will receive MapObjects 2.2 at no charge.

SVGMapper 2.0 for ArcView GIS 3.x has been released. SVGMapper enables vector-based interactive Web mapping for ArcView GIS 3.x users. Maps from ArcView can be exported into SVG and then displayed as interactive map in Web browser.

• Hires and Appointments

Dr. Douglas B. Richardson has been selected as the new Executive Director of the Association of American Geographers, effective January 1, 2003. Richardson, formerly President and founder of GeoResearch, Inc. has been serving as Director of Research and Strategic Initiatives at the AAG since July 2001. He succeeds retiring Executive Director Ronald F. Abler. "Dr. Richardson is superbly qualified to lead the Association of American Geographers at this particular point in its history." said AAG President M. Duane Nellis.


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