I’m excited to bring you the first in my blog series with GIS colleagues in Maryland. As I have been working in the GIS field for 10 years in Maryland, I have met some interesting, talented, intelligent, and motivating GIS colleagues along the way. Hopefully this blog series will share with you some exciting tidbits of information from each person who has touched my career in some way.

I first met Dr. Mike Scott when we started working on the Maryland Broadband Mapping Initiative project together. He is outgoing and incredibly knowledgeable in the field of GIS and geography. Throughout this project I have found myself looking forward to hearing his viewpoint on a topic or asking him for his opinion. Dr. Scott’s advice is far reaching, and his passion for teaching and leadership with MSGIC is admirable.

Quick Facts about Mike Scott

Tell me something fun about your job.
Working with young people, teaching them about the power and possibilities of Geographic Information Systems, couldn’t be more fun!

What is one of your favorite hobbies?
I love solving jigsaw puzzles, although I don’t have much time for it.

Where are you from?
I was born just outside Washington, DC but my parents moved to the Eastern Shore to raise chickens when I was 3. So I grew up on a chicken farm in Hebron, a little town near Salisbury, Maryland.

What is your favorite GIS book?

Analytical and Computer Cartography by Keith Clarke (1995). It was formative for me as a GIS professional.

1. What resources would you recommend for learning about GIS?
I think it depends on your goal and your starting point. Obviously, I’m biased towards a higher education-based approach for preparing for a GIS career. I continue to believe and promote the idea that Geographic Information Science is actually specialized applied Geography – the science of solving problems using geographic information. But I send a lot of true GIS neophytes to ESRI’s Virtual Campus to truly get started. The online courses are well-crafted and begin to allow people who have had limited experience with GIS to begin to ask the right questions necessary to find a GIS program that fits their career goals and learning styles.

2. How has GIS changed since you first started your career?
Wow – a lot. When I began in GIS (1992), there was no Internet to speak of and no World Wide Web. Arc/INFO was manipulated with a sequential set of text commands and simple polygon overlay processes needed to be run overnight on stunningly expensive Sun SPARC UNIX workstations. The only organizations using GIS were federal and (large) state agencies, universities, and major corporations. Nearly any data of reasonable quality had to be created hunched over a massive backlit digitizing tablet. To show a map in a slide presentation, we literally took photographs of our computer screens in darkened room! Yes, things have changed a bit.

3. Where do you see GIS going in the future?
Curiously, I think it difficult to predict. I say that because the trajectories of today’s GIS trends (ubiquitous personal location devices, a plethora of open source data and software, massive leaps in mobile computing capabilities, increasing sophistication of predictive spatial models, spatial query language eliminating the need for cumbersome server-side geoprocessing tasks, voluminous data collection devices at micro-resolutions) are all disruptive and all are accelerating. I think we can be certain of a few universal truths. 1) Teams of problem solvers (in a huge variety of industries) are going to need people who can help explore the spatial aspects of their problems. 2) Spatial data pedigree and therefore quality and appropriateness is going to be critical to document in order for disparate users to find the data useful in their application. 3) Understanding how the GIS reaches its conclusions will be key to applying it effectively; the GIS as a “black-box” will not suffice for solving complex spatial problems.

4. Could you explain how/why GIS is important in today’s world?
I believe we’re going to look back in a hundred years and recognize that we lived in a time where several of the most important technologies ever devised were invented – specifically the Internet, Global Positioning Systems, and wireless networking. Being able to know where you are on the surface of the planet, communicate that via a wireless network, and use that location as a key to unlock the whole of human consciousness currently being collected and stored on the Internet will continue to reinvent the way we live, work, and play. GIS is absolutely central to linking those revolutionary technologies and making any one of them effective.

5. Where do you see the job market going in terms of opportunities in GIS?
There will be several repercussions in the GIS job market from the explosion of trends I described above. First, I do think that the expansion of jobs titled “GIS Analyst” will continue to grow at a slowing pace and then stagnate all together. The skills necessary to solve spatial problems will continue to grow in demand at an increasing rate, but they will likely be combined with some other knowledge base, like business analytics, or biometrics, or urban dynamics. Second, I believe there will be an increased demand for managers of geographic information resources and managers who can supervise interdisciplinary teams to solve complex problems. That’s why I helped develop the Master of Science in GIS Management at Salisbury University. Third, I do see a resurgence in the need for people who can communicate spatial problems and solutions effectively. The lack of specialists in cartographic visualization is already being felt across many different industries. Making multi-dimensional, complex spatial data understandable and transformative to both specialists and generalists is a set of skills that all can learn but only a few can master.

6. How did you get interested in the field of Geography/GIS?
Looking back on it after the fact, I was always interested in maps and patterns in the landscape. I channeled this interest into history in high school, because I didn’t know geography was even a stand-alone academic subject. After I took a sophomore-level “Weather and Climate” course at Salisbury State University, I suddenly realized why I was mildly dissatisfied with my major in History. History was dead…Geography was alive! This was a discipline that was trying to answer the questions about why the world works the way it does, in the most general sense. For me, that drive to understand why the patterns of the world manifest themselves the way they do continues to be a powerful motivating force. I later learned that my interest in computers (I bought a Commodore 64 in 1984 with money I saved from working on neighboring farms all summer!) could be combined with Geography and Cartography. It wasn’t until I reached the University of South Carolina in the fall of 1992 that I heard of GIS. My wife then decided for me that GIS seemed much more likely to lead to gainful employment than my first choice of historical geography. A career was born…and a marriage was saved!

7. What is one piece of advice you would give to a newbie in the field?
One word of advice that I press on all my students: Internships! In today’s economy, people who have zero real-world experience will likely receive zero calls for interviews. If you are in school at any level, talk to your teachers or advisors about internship opportunities. If they don’t know of any, make your own by talking with local non-profit organizations that you admire or businesses that you or your friends work for. Ask about putting their data up on websites like ArcGIS.com or MapBox.com. Offer to geocode membership directories or customer lists. With products like Open Street Map or Google Sketch-Up, you can even create your own self-directed internship to improve your local street data or create a 3-D spatial model of your community. This kind of initiative will get you noticed by employers and graduate schools – and from there your career in GIS will go nowhere but up!