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 was first introduced to Jim last year at a MSGIC meeting and then subsequent MD iMap technical committee meetings. I was immediately drawn to listening to Jim as he speaks because of his experience with both GIS and imagery and the way he communicates. Jim is able to look at the big picture and disseminate information in a clear, concise manner. Maryland is very lucky to have someone like Jim as a GIS leader!

Quick facts about Jim Cannistra

Tell me something fun about your job.
I like working for MDP for many reasons. Our agency is a very GIS-centric organization. The leadership within the agency recognizes and appreciates the value of GIS technology in support of smart growth and planning analysis work. I am also fortunate to be able to work with a very committed, technically knowledgeable, and diverse team of professionals. MDP has a long history in advancing GIS in the State and the data and tools we produce are used by a wide array of users in many different industries. It has also been enjoyable learning more about Maryland. I have learned more about the geography and issues of the State during my 2 years with MDP, than in my previous 20 years as a resident.

What is one of your favorite hobbies?
I enjoy traveling, hiking, and visiting historic communities. I also play tennis quite a bit in the spring and summer.

What is your favorite GIS book?
I tend to read more online publications and journals than GIS books. With the technology changing so much it seems as if GIS books are outdated before they are even published. It’s amazing to me that our industry has progressed to the point that there is now a GIS for Dummies book available from Amazon. I do enjoy looking at various Atlases from National Geographic and also like ESRI’s compendium of user maps distributed at their annual conference. In terms of textbooks, I would have to say that Mark Monmonier’s “How to Lie with Maps” is a classic because it illustrates the importance of cartography and map design in conveying information.

1. What professional organizations are you active in?
Currently I am heavily involved in state-level activities through MSGIC and MD iMAP. I am the Chair-elect for MSGIC so next year should be interesting in that regard. I also try to participate to the extent that I can with URISA and the American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS).

2. How would you recommend others get involved in GIS?
For those who are just starting out — taking some online tutorials (many are available from ESRI especially), taking a class at one of the local universities, or attending one of the local GIS user group meetings are all good ways to get involved.

3. What resources would you recommend for learning about GIS?
There are a wide variety of resources available. At the University level Towson, Salisbury, and UMBC have particularly strong programs. Over the past year I had student interns from the University of Maryland and another from Morgan State and was pleased with their GIS skills. At the Community College level, I recently had the chance to participate in a class with Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) and was very impressed by their program.

I also think the MSGIC quarterly meeting, local user group meeting, and the ESRI special seminars present great learning opportunities.

4. How has GIS changed since you first started your career?
When I first started the focus was on building the GIS infrastructure. Now the focus is much more on how to leverage those investments to solve problems. Everything related to the technology has changed in terms of data availability, applications, user interfaces, systems infrastructure, networking, etc. The one thing that has not changed is the importance of an organizational commitment and the allocation of resources (budget and people) to successfully implement and utilize the technology.

5. Where do you see GIS going in the future?
For those that believe recent history is a predictor of future trends, the next few years will be exciting. Despite the downward economic cycle we have seen major investments in GIS by Microsoft (Bing Maps), Google (Google earth street view, etc.), in data collection technologies (digital cameras, mobile mapping, LiDAR), and in GIS applications, ESRI (ArcGIS Online). We are seeing a blurring of the differences between consumer-based users of GIS technology and professional GIS. Within the next 5 years I think there will be an increased business focus to make sure the technology is being used to solve problems in a measurable way. Maryland’s “StateStat” programs are an example of this. I also believe we will see a lot more movement towards integration of technologies with GIS serving as the focal point. Increased emphasis on visualization tools (3D, street level LiDAR and imagery) and the need/desire to support mobile users will also impact our industry.

6. Where do you see the job market going in terms of opportunities in GIS?
I continue to believe the job opportunities in GIS are strong. I think this is especially true in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region. The D.C/Maryland/Northern Virginia area, along with the Denver to Colorado Springs hub (home to a lot of the satellite and remote sending/mapping companies) are the two strongest areas in the country for opportunities in public and private sector GIS.

Employment opportunities for people with GIS expertise in fields such as public health, planning and engineering, and the environmental seem to be strong. In the past 5 years, opportunities in defense- related industries have been tremendous. It will be interesting to see if that continues over the next 5 years. I also think the increasing emphasis on professional certifications and accreditations strengthens the industry and increases opportunities for GIS professionals overall.

7. How did you get interested in the field of Geography/GIS?
I have always been interested in geography and traveling. After my first physical geography class as a college student at SUNY Plattsburg I changed my major to geography. My interest in computer mapping and GIS has continued since that time. I became interested in State and local governments application of GIS when I started working for PlanGraphics.

8. Did/do you have a mentor? Who?
I have been fortunate over the years to have the support of, and learn from many individual in the GIS community. A few key people that were influential earlier in my career include:

  • Dr. James Carter from the University of Tennessee: He encouraged my interest in remote sensing and computer mapping.
  • Mike Kevany from PlanGraphics: Mike taught me about the importance of the GIS requirements, design, and implementation process and was a mentor in terms of learning how to guide a GIS team.
  • Drew Dedrick (Montgomery County): Drew’s support enabled me to get a foothold in the GIS community in Maryland.

More recently a lot of people at MDP and throughout the State (Bob Dadd, Graham Petto, Stephanie Martins, Kenny Miller and many others) have served as advisors, in terms of increasing my understanding of planning programs and statewide activities.

In case you missed the second installment of “On the Map,” check out my interview with Barney Krucoff.