Call me a GIS sociologist. Or historian. Or whatever. I’ve been around this business long enough to have watched things evolve. If that doesn’t make you feel old, I don’t know what will. At any rate, I like to consider the state of our industry today and discuss some of the ideas that float around on occasion. One of my favorite topics is the paradigm shift in the GIS industry. How GIS professionals have changed over the last 4 decades or so.
In the beginning, there were scientists. Remember we are talking GIS, okay? The scientists were trying to figure out how do analyses with these cool computer things and apply that to maps and spatial questions. Those smart scientists started developing computer applications to help them do their day jobs. GIS was an applied science. One guy could do it all. The GIS guy.
Fast forward a few years and those GIS guys began migrating away from their scientific day jobs, because, well, GIS was just so cool! They began to see how GIS could be applied to a wide variety of problems, not only scientific, but economic, demographic and sociological avenues. It could be used as a real differentiator in understanding and solving business problems.
We started seeing the GIS guy get stretched thin on his ability to know it all, but most of them could still do it, and most of them still started somewhere else before they came to be the GIS professional.
Then, something happened. In conjunction with the rapid development in desktop computing power, application of GIS in scientific and demographic communities, the GIS guy became a specialist who actually went to school to become a GIS guy. We needed it to be that way, and so the paradigm of the GIS professional shifted. It is analogous to what happened in the broader computer science industry 2 decades earlier. The mathematicians and engineers who adopted computers and were the early programmers were replaced by the computer science graduates who specialized in all sorts of areas in the “computer science” industry.
The thing that fascinates me about the paradigm shift is how quickly it seemed to happen. Can we look to the broader computer science landscape and see what is possible with GIS? Are we already there? Have we simply been absorbed into computer science as a niche market or are we something altogether different? The old scientist in me says the latter, but I could be convinced otherwise.