Full Stack Geographer

Todd Barr
3 min readJun 30, 2015

About six months ago during an interview, which I viewed as a throw away, they asked the typical question about me and my resume. “You have Management skills, Analytic skills, Developer skills, and Data Management Skills. You’re kinda all over the place.” They normally pause here, I don’t know if they are collecting thoughts or what. My normal response at this point is “Well, I’m a consultant. You know, you learn whats billable.” Which while it is the truth, isn’t MY truth. I like having the ability to talk about GIS up and down. Not just one part of it. But this time, THIS TIME, I wasn’t going to respond like that. I let my improv skills take over and didn’t think about the answer, and the following came out of my mouth. “I’m a Full Stack Geographer.” Mental high fives where given by neurons in my brain. I liked that, because it was acknowledging that I didn’t just like one part, and I was doing for the billability. I was doing it all and learning it all because I loved it, I liked having that knowledge.

So what is a Full Stack Geographer then?

A Full Stack Geographer is someone who has a solid understanding of both IT, GIS and customer interfacing. While they might not be experts in all aspects, they have midline understanding of it, and how it would impact the project as a whole. Because I like bulleted lists, here is one.

  • Servers (both hardware and software), Network and DA CLOUD
  • Relational Databases, both Spatial and Non-Spatial
  • A web scripting language, basically Javascript and a number of APIs both Viewer specific and like Angular, or whatever the JS API de jour is.
  • Data Analysis, both desktop and server side
  • Geoprocessing Service Development
  • A “server side” language.
  • Data Quality and Modeling
  • Understanding customer and business needs

Again, you don’t have to be an expert in all these things. God knows I’m not. I know enough to follow instructions and the right words to put into a Google query. I think that is where a number of analysts get hung up on coding. No one is asking you to be spectacular at it, you’re going to write shitty code, but that gives you a better understanding of how the guts work.

Ask questions, break things. Spend a lazy Sunday installing PostGIS on your laptop and break it. Books, Google, trial and error, these are the methodologies to learn these things. If you wait until your boss sends you to a training for “Sql Server” you’re going to be spinning your wheels forever. You really don’t learn anything in those classes in 5 days that you can’t pump out of a book in 6 hours. There’s always that one person who holds the class back. I remember in a Java class, we spent the first 3 sessions learning how to FTP, because two people couldn’t get the concept that you can upload things from your computer to the internet.

As you pick up the IT/GIS skills, look at your work flows and ask “Where can my new found, know enough stuff to be dangerous, knowledge help me improve.”

Speak up during a meeting if something is stupid. Seriously. If the process is broken, and you know how to fix it. Fix it, and then show your boss/customer what your new found Python skills did. Maybe you can reduce the size of a shapefolder, from being 20x too big for what it is to only 19.99x too big for what it is.

The above tech can be either an ESRI stack or an FOSS4G Stack. However, the first “Full Stack ESRI Geographer” i hear about, I am going grill on Relational Databases :).

The one bullet in the list that ties it all together Customer and Business needs. You need to understand how the GIS system will influence the customer’s business processes as well as understand its role in their greater IT Enterprise.

I want to remind you that you don’t have to be a Guru, Ninja or Sherpa in all these things. Just know how they interface and influence each other and how the puzzle pieces fit together. Now, go out there, and be bold, break shit, and learn.

Originally published at www.spatialcapability.com on June 30, 2015.