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SpatialTau - Is or Isn't, what's the big deal?

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I was on a phone call with some folks and at the end they joked toward me, “Spatial isn’t special, right?”. I laughed and realized I hadn’t thought about that in a long time. Back in 2013/2014, that was the mantra. Everything we’re doing isn’t special, it’s just another tool in a larger set of tools everyone uses to get work done. I looked back at my blog to see when I talked about this phrase and guess what, I haven’t truly blogged about the concept ever. Mostly just thrown in as weasel words to make another point. But for a phrase I get thrown at me every week, I would have thought I would have written a canonical post on the subject.
But if there is one thing the internet does well, it helps you find every word you’ve ever written. I wrote this bad boy back at WeoGeo over 10 years ago:
Well hell of a title, right? It is a period piece for sure, it even has that image of the guy in the recliner that I loved to throw in blog posts. But the core of the post is me saying that if everyone uses spatial, it’s just easy enough for anyone to do it. Thus, it really isn’t special. Now before you throw pies at my face, let’s think about 2009, Esri was putting ArcGIS on every desktop, everyone has Google Earth and uses it to perform basic GIS queries. Of course, the concept of Spatial isn’t Special would be everywhere.
How could I not include him?
How could I not include him?
But what about today? I looked in Twitter and I can’t find much of me saying the term since about 2014 other than as a joke. Probably because we know spatial is very special. While it isn’t unique in the sense it is a tool that is used by many companies without thought of it being special, it by itself is very special. I’ve hired so many people over the years for GIS development and I can tell you, some people get it and others just don’t. The tools by themselves might not be special, but the people to make them sing sure are.
I talk about GIS being hard in a newsletter earlier this year and how that was perfectly OK because the problems we are solving are exceptionally hard. These tools are driven by people who know exactly what they are doing. The complex problems require experts to drive the software. Now this doesn’t mean Spatial is Special any more than it means that Spatial Isn’t Special. I think in retrospect, the call to these types of posts wasn’t that GIS is going to be so easy anyone could do it but more specialize or you won’t have a seat at the table when this transition is all done.
At the end of the day, there is one thing that separates everything. The fact that people are special and special people do amazing things. I did a keynote around 2012 where I tried to instill this into people and the one thing that our space does well is reward the people who do hard work. While we won’t be seeing any conferences this year, we’ll still be hearing about the awards Esri, Autodesk and open source will be giving out to those in their spaces that do amazing things.
I remember my first Esri UC back in 1995 or 1996 and how I was in awe of those who were called up on stage to accept an award for doing the impossible. That is how we know it is the people, the people who solve the problems, write the software, donate their time and push us all forward into the unknown space beyond where we are today. That’s the think I love at spatial, the people and I sure as heck miss them while we are all locked up.
Probably also the biggest thing I look forward to when I find my next adventure, being with amazing people again.
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James Fee
James Fee @jamesmfee

Spatial, workflows and technology

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