Thursday, December 6, 2007

The teachers life...

I'm out of town this week in Albuquerque, NM teaching Introductory GIS concepts to a collection of students from the public and private sectors.

The first question I get after folks ask me what I do for a living (Corporate Trainer/Instructor by the way) is "What is GIS?" My answer is simply this - "...have you ever seen a National Geographic map?" Most folks answer yes. Then I follow up with - "...well our company produces the software that National Geographic uses to create those maps." This inevitably leads to next question - is it like Google Earth? Well, not exactly - GE is more like the "eye candy" or the "gateway drug" into GIS technologies. You see, people all around the world are involved with GIS technologies whether they know it or not. Car companies are installing GPS devices for street navigation in automobiles. Other are buying hand held GPS devices for geocaching or navigation. Runners have GPS wrist devices like Garmin Forerunners to track their distance and time. GIS has moved into the mainstream and most individuals don't realize it.

I work for a company called ESRI - Environmental System Research Institute ( ESRI is the world's largest GIS software company and has offices worldwide. In terms of market share, they are the largest in the industry. There are other GIS companies out there, such as MapInfo, Manifold, GRASS, OpenSource GIS, and a host of much smaller companies, but ESRI is certainly the largest.

I've been involved with GIS technologies for 15 years in both the public and private sectors before accepting a position with ESRI in January 2007. I fell into GIS completely by accident - it was the only job I could get right out of graduate school (horrible job market) AND I had zero experience. My first employer (South Carolina Appalachian Council of Governments - offered me a 1-year contract to learn the software and become productive. If, at the end of the first year, I was not able to learn/use GIS, then we would part ways. I stayed on board for over 5 years. I am completely self taught in ArcInfo, ArcView and ArcGIS. I've held the roles of GIS Technician, GIS Analyst, GIS Programmer (although I hate to program), GIS Coordinator, and now, GIS Instructor with ESRI.

I love my new position, meeting new people in the classes, and teaching them how to use the software. My biggest reward (besides salary... :-) ) is seeing the proverbial light bulb go off in their heads. The "ah-hah" moment I call it! In every class I teach, I can see when that moment hits and the student's understanding of what I've been lecturing for 2-5 days finally hits home. It's pretty cool!

Well, I'm about to begin a new lecture. Climb on friends!


Matt said...

What clases do you teach, Robert? I, like you got into GIS by accident--once I found out about it, I saw one great use--as a runner, I was looking for a better way to measure my routes.

Robert LeClair said...

Matt - I teach "Introduction to ArcGIS 1 & 2", "Working with Spatial Analyst" and am ramping on "Building Geodatabases" as well as "Creating and Editing Parcels."

Speaking of running and GIS, I created a running map around the ESRI-Denver office for the folks I run with at ESRI. So many practical applications...


Steve said...

I'm working on fielding ArcGIS throughout my section at work. Right now only our topographical analysts have it. Not sure how lucky I'll be (with the 12k pricetag to start!) but it's such a great tool and definitely worth an attempt.
My actual question is when is the "14'er" season in Colorado? Looking to be stationed in the Colorado Springs area sometime and I'd like to bag a 14k!

Robert LeClair said...

Steve - 14er season for most folks is May/June to September/October. It all depends upon the snow season and how much is on the high peaks. With that said though, I've done 14ers in April/May is deep snow. It's a lot more work and you have to be more cautious of avalanches. There are a couple 14ers considered "avy safe" in the winter time such as Bierstadt and Quandary but not many others. You should check out for a ton of good info! All the best!