Friday, April 25, 2008

GIS Recognition

I recently moved to Australia a few months ago, from the United States. My goal was always to continue in my GIS career, but in case that wouldn't be practical I was prepared to go another route (like work in a bookstore). Luckily, though, finding GIS work has not been a problem.

Of course finding work in Darwin isn't that difficult. If you can't find a job here, you're not looking, or you don't actually want one. Actually, you probably don't even need to look, and a job will fall into your lap. This probably refers mostly to "skilled" labor.

I'm sure the job market has something to do with all my new found work, but I think there is a deeper issue going on. I believe that Australians are more open to the spatial side of life. Spatial awareness seems to be much more prevalent here. Even on the bus the other night, I overheard a mobile phone conversation (not that you cannot overhear someone talking on their phone in public) and he said, "Do you want me to do a presentation on the geographic study?" In the states, I felt I constantly had to insist on the value of GIS and Geography. Here it is more like: "Oh, you do GIS, would like a job?"; instead of "You study rocks?[glassy eye look]" It just seems that Australians are already thinking spatially. I've worked for a company where I tried to implement GIS, and it was a struggle (despite already using CAD extensively). Actually, it really never happened. Then I've worked for a company where GIS was already established, and continued to invade every aspect of the firm's services. Once GIS is there, then it is there to stay. In the least, most everyone in Australia has heard of GIS, if they are not able to explain it, and are definitely open to the value of maps. Some people are skeptical though. As in one case, I was told that it is silly Google Earth (I believe "flashy technology" was used) is the motivator for data collection initiatives. In other words, this flashy technology was what they were using to push for more data. I resisted the urge to state that this person had just slapped an entire industry in the face by calling GE and GIS by extension "flashy technology", and calmly explained that the true value lies in the capability to analyze and display said data geographically. I asked, "Wouldn't it be useful to consolidate thousands of pages of financial data and display it on a map, where one can quickly identify where the resources are and are not?" There is probably a paper in there somewhere about the impact GIS has had on policy and policy/makers.

I think Australia, and probably all of the commonwealth, gives geography a higher place in education than Geography has in the United States. Let's face it, we Americans really aren't geographic people. The Geographic Literacy survey shows that. I think the downfall of Geography is well documented in the American Geography community. From the loss of Geography in Ivy League Universities to the advent of social studies, Geography lost its ground in the 20th century. Take a look at Why Geography Matters for a good read. It's coming back though; the American Association of Geographers is reporting record membership and conference attendance numbers, Harvard has even made steps to reintroduce Geography. I'm sure we all know that this is partially due to the Google Maps and Google Earths. These technology have made Geography extremely accessible.

Moving too Australia has definitely been a good career move for me.

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