Open Source GIS

Myth-busting and Careers Advice

Jo Cook / @archaeogeek

Astun Logo

The Questions

  • What is open source, and what is it not?
  • What are the key gis technologies to focus on?
  • What careers are available?

The Myths

It's not like this

Or this

Microsoft Communism

David Erickson (CC-BY-SA)

Or even this

Free Beer


And you won't be left on your own with no support


Jez Arnold (CC-BY-SA)

So what is it about?

A different kind of license that protects the author of the code, but disallows discrimination and restriction

There's no getting around the fact that cost is important

Nobody got fired


But there's no vendor lock-in

Kitten behind bars

phphoto2010 (CC-BY-SA)

It's about interoperability


Kate Andrews (CC-BY-NC-SA)

It gives you control over your work


Massimo Valiani (CC-BY-NC)

It gives you choice over the tools you use


OSGeo Live Wordcloud

Key Technologies

Having established there's a lot of choice of open source GIS tools, there are some key technologies to focus on

Databases: PostgreSQL

  • PostgreSQL is increasingly used as a cost-effective replacement for proprietary databases
  • The basics of server-based, spatially enabled databases are roughly applicable to PostgreSQL, SQL Server and Oracle
  • So installing PostgreSQL/PostGIS and learning some SQL is a really good thing to do

This needn't be difficult or time-consuming...


Desktop GIS: QGIS

  • These days, QGIS is a perfectly acceptable replacement for proprietary desktop GIS
  • It's also fully cross-platform, with loads of support
  • Learning how to translate skills learned in other packages is important

It's increasingly being installed in "traditional GIS" environments

Simon Miles

Scripting: Python

  • Both open source and proprietary GIS use python
  • It has modules for working with rasters, vectors, databases and many more
  • You WILL be able to write working code within minutes of starting to use it!

Use it to automate or chain together tasks that would otherwise eat up your time

Carson Farmer

Sharing: GitHub

  • The easiest way to learn about repositories and version control
  • It's not just for code- share documentation/presentations/data/your CV
  • Both proprietary and open source companies have an increasing presence

Honourable Mentions

  • Mapserver- for making your data work on the web
  • Javascript- the language of choice for web-based mapping and data visualisation
  • CSS- for making maps look pretty
  • Open Data- for having something to actually work with

So, can you make a living doing all of this?

Yes! That's what we do at Astun

We have a software suite

...but behind the scenes it's built on open source

Astun Stack

We take (often messy, sometimes broken) data

Police data

Run it through postgresql, python and a few other tools

Police data process

So we can display it in any way we like

Police data result

We do this with many types of data

NHS Choices

To make front ends that often don't even look like maps!

South Norfolk DC

But are we typical?


User Group

...and No


Working for a company like Astun requires more than just knowing which buttons to press


Typical Interview Questions:

  • What's your favourite text editor?
  • What's your Twitter/GitHub handle?
  • Which do you prefer, Mapserver or Geoserver?
  • (We do ask serious questions too)

Things to take away

  • Learning SQL and scripting will get you a step up, whatever area you go into
  • Learn how to do things in multiple packages/ways, rather than learning a sequence of button presses
  • Keep exploring and sharing- you never know what opportunities will show up
  • Keep an open source mindset!



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