The Power of Open Source GIS, personal journey

or how to buy a quarter-inch hole

The Power of Open Source GIS, personal journey

or (How to buy a quarter-inch hole)

My first foray into the open source world started with attending CUGOS (Cascadia Users of Geospatial Open Source) back in 2007 at Lizard Tech in Pioneer Square. At the time, I didn’t know anything about what open source was and how it was being used. Since that initial meeting, I’ve met wonderful, smart people over the years, someone like Dane, a geographer who worked with ESRI tools but learned open source tools and helped to build an amazing start-up like Mapbox. Or Aaron who built servers and applications to deal with disaster like Deep Horizon oil spill remotely all from his home in Langley, WA with team members from all over the country. Over the years, I’ve learned so much from CUGOSians on technologies, how to have better workflows and discover new things. Working as a GIS analyst at a public agency using proprietary enterprise software didn’t help me understand the need and importance of open source software.

My first FOSS4G (Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial) conference was in Victoria, Vancouver Island in the fall of 2007. I wasn’t familiar with any of the the open source (OS) tools and software other than recognizing that some of those tools are very similar to what I do as a GIS analyst in a typical work day. Since then I’ve learned to use some basic command line, was exposed to programming (javascript, python), postgres (OS relational database), web mapping, and many utility tools and libraries. I recognized the importance of OS software and how powerful they’ve become. One simple example of the power of OS tools is the rise of the Google search engine. If Google wasn’t able to use open source software Linux OS and Apache server for their operation, and instead had to purchase Microsoft Windows OS, there might not be Google.

I used to think that open source software meant simply free—not costing any money. But the more educated I became, I realized that free open source software meant that people can share its code design and change it as needed. This sense of freedom and transparency is what really drives open source software. The increase in availability of open source software where one is free to share, modify and enhance it, allows a whole range of opportunities to exist. Students can easily access and make use of it. Businesses can leverage it in unexpected ways because there is no software cost to expand the operation. Government organizations can easily share solutions with each other and with the public, and with non-governmental groups. I strongly feel that this demand will only grow.

I feel very fortunate to have been exposed to geospatial open source tools since my first 2007 CUGOS meeting. Since then, I was led to learn numerous tools and meet a number of fantastic people in the FOSS community. My love of geospatial technology and its power has only increased.

This past fall of 2017, I attended FOSS4G again which was held in Boston, MA. There were more than 1,000 people who came to share and learn from each other about open source GIS. I attended various workshops and attended many presentation talks and felt that the main theme of the conference was that “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want to buy a quarter-inch hole”. I felt like this FOSS4G was a place where one could find and share the best tools to make that hole in the wall. Here is the link to summary conference note.