More open source GIS software

One of the previous posts requirements was:

The GIS guy needs to know that there is more to GIS than Esri”.

I am working with MapInfo and talked about QGIS yesterday. Today I came across OrbisGIS which appears to be designed to solve environmental modelling questions. This appealed so I downloaded it. Expect my verdict in the future.

I also read an academic journal article on open source GIS. It was nice to read a journal after more than a year away from academia, even if I couldn’t be happier atm to not be locked in the library reading hundreds of them like most students are right now. It’s a little old (2008) but a good summary.


Death of the GIS Guy

Death of the GIS Guy

I found yet another blog!  This one has an article on the future for GIS professionals, which mirrors my own views and expands upon the ‘GIS drivers licence’ article which inspired me to begin my own blog.

It lists the following as vital skills for a modern GISP:

  • The GIS guy needs to be well versed in relational databases.
  • The GIS guy needs to be able to program
  • The GIS guy needs to know geospatial analysis.
  • The GIS guy needs to know how to integrate web-based technologies into their GIS technology.
  • The GIS guy needs to be a GIS expert. 
  • The GIS guy needs to continue to learn.
  •  The GIS guy needs to know that there is more to GIS than Esri.
  • And finally, the GIS guy needs to know how to make a web-map using a data feed from twitter…Know and understand the trends in the field and be able to communicate in the lingo of what is “next”.

I’m pleased that point 1 is ‘understand relational databases’. As my previous posts have been about my efforts to learn SQL and database management. A positive sign that I am working in the right direction.

Full article here –

(also has a good SQL for geographers article)

SQL resources

In addition to the videos linked in the last post I have found the following to help me along the way to learning SQL. has a good resource of SQL articles


This website looks useful –

Some lecture slides on databases and SQL for GIS. An interesting summary with a link at the end to a tutorial website –

I found this online book about learning SQL  – – it looks like it is aimed at an advanced beginner with some previous knowledge. There is a similar book in the series which covers the language Python which is also used by ArcGIS –

The book recommends the SQLite database software for learning SQL with. So that’s what I will be working with. Hopefully it will teach me general database skills and I can still apply the SQL back to GIS.


If you don’t know already SQL (structured query language) is used query and edit databases. This is useful in GIS, as databases underpin all the data that we work with. In my previous job, database management was a key role of the GIS department. So it is high up on the list of skills I plan to master in the near future to make me useful and employable in the GIS industry.


I stumbled across an article explaining why SQL is useful non-techie marketers as well as the devs that use it to a high level.  It mirrors my attitude that learning little bits of coding can be useful and relatively easy. I have done the same thing with Visual Basic for excel macros, KML for google maps/earth customisation and HTML for web design. It just gives you the control to do things exactly how you want instead of relying on software.

ArcGIS uses SQL in the field calculator and select functions. MapInfo has a function more explicitly called “SQL Query”. I use these features everyday, letting the software help with the syntax and rarely doing anything complicated. Except on the odd occasion I google around for a more complex statement. A recent example being a method of capitalising the first letter of every entry in a column.

Currently I am working through the video tutorials linked from the above article. Seems like an easy way to start. Maybe I will supplement my learning with a proper course once I have basic to intermediate stuff sussed out.


I have been looking into QGIS and found some blogs on the topic. The Anita Graser blog being my favorite as it has a cartography focus, which I enjoy. Having studied  the principles of modern cartography last year, I have developed an interest in data visualisation and mapping. It is something I hope to get involved with in the future.

Open Source GIS

I am predominantly an ArcGIS user and would choose to use it whenever possible, but the  high cost of licences mean it is not practical for everyone. For the same reason I have not had a version on my PC since I left university.

Whilst working in the Bracknell Forest Council GIS department there was lots of discussion about the potential for local authorities to move across to an open source solution. My manager was intending to write a Masters thesis on the subject. However all agreed that in an ideal world Arc is first choice and I have heard it quoted that 70% of the industry agrees. It is just a more powerful and well built tool than its competitors.

In my current role I use Arcs main competitor MapInfo and am constantly frustrated by its lack of functionality and terrible usability. It appears that no concession has been made to ease of use and all decisions were made for the benefit of the software developers. Overall it is very tedious but I have no choice as the company is dependent on the ParkMap MapBasic Application. This programme has its merits but is ultimately let down by being based within MapInfo.

So I have been investigating open source alternatives and QGIS seems the popular choice. It is also being discussed on the InfoGeo blog run by an ex-colleage of mine.

My initial impressions are that it is similar to ArcGIS in style and feels well designed. I will explore its capabilities and report back in future posts.

Google Earth

Google Earth, Maps and Street View have revolutionised everyday life for millions of people by providing a vast ammount of spatial data and easy to use GIS software to the general public.

Google Earth has also created a huge community of obsessives who amongst other things; find secret North Korean military targets, find errors in the mapping (a professor who taught me at Southampton) and enjoy the surreal images created by glitches.

Google Maps is now being updated once again and upcoming changes look very exciting. You can sign up for the beta version here:



GIS careers resourses

Following on from my last post, here is a list of links to careers advice articles from GIS Lounge:


Career progression:


CV Tips:

Interview Tips:


The GIS Drivers Licence

The title of the blog was inspired by another blog post by Muki Haklay, a GIS professor at UCL. He describes the ‘GIS drivers licence’ as the basic software skills required to to get a job in the industry, which were traditionally learnt via a Masters course. He however claims that as GIS software becomes more user friendly that these basic skills will not be enough to obtain employment and that GIS courses must provide high level skills.

I am inclined to agree, having spent time job hunting in the industry and seen that the majority of specifically GIS roles go to developers and programmers, often with a computer science rather than GIS background. The basic skills needed to apply simple GIS tasks can now be learnt on the job by employees with other skills.

This has forced me to consider carefully how I will work my way into the industry and what I must do to develop my skills. Despite the implication of the article I think the GIS drivers licence is still a necessary first step even if it must now be followed by successive steps. To achieve this obtained a basic GIS role with a local council, with the skills I developed at University. Luckily I was given free reign to learn the basics of ArcGIS software, research any problem that I was faced with and to talk with other GIS professionals. 

The nexts steps were to begin to self educate myself in skills that appeared to be important such as analysis, model building, database management, SQL database language, python progamming language and Visual Basic. I have also researched qualifications and courses which I could take to certificate my skills.

Future posts will discuss the steps I intend to take to progress my career considering these facts.


Who am I

I am George Godfrey, a Bsc Geography graduate from the University of Southampton. My degree gave me the chance to get involved in GIS and Remote Sensing and I have now chosen to pursue a career in these areas.

This blog will chart the skills I learn, the problems I face and any other interesting information I stumble across as I attempt to become a fully-fledged GIS professional.

One year after graduating I have worked in two GIS roles and am learning new things everyday. Check out my Linked In profile if you are interested.