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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

What the Heck do I do for a Living? - Part 1

Whenever I tell someone I studied Geography the first thing they ask is "Are you going to teach High School?". Unfortunately for most people, the only thing they know about Geography is what they learned in Junior High and High School. Geographers generally call that "Place Name" Geography. Geography is actually a very involved discipline, and has a lot more to it than "place names".

Often after saying I don't plan on teaching High School I tell them I work as a GIS Analyst. Barring the perhaps two people I have talked to who actually knew what I meant this usually elicits one of two responses The first is a cocked head and a puzzled look, and the second is an "oh" (after which they quickly walk away to find someone who isn't speaking Geek). My solution is simple I am making this a semi-reoccurring feature to slowly unfold the mysteries of "real" Geography and GIS to anyone who feels like reading.

First off, lets get some definitions out of the way. (Click on the links to find the definitions)

Geography

GIS

Now, I will start with my current position as a GIS Analyst. A GIS Analyst uses a GIS to "analyze" (obviously) spatial data. The GIS allows you to layer different features together (see image above for an example), and mathematically analyze their spatial relationships. Using the layers in the image above, imagine I am an insurance salesman that wanted to sell flood insurance to customers that lived below flood levels. I could take my elevation layer and compare it to my customer layer to select the individuals that fit my criteria. I could then further refine my analysis by comparing these customers to the parcels layer to determine property values so I know how much I should be charging them.

GIS isn't just used for business or marketing though, it is used in just about every sector of industry and government. Here is a list of many of those industries. The thing I love about Geography and GIS is it's interdisciplinarianessocity(I figured if I kept adding letters it would make a word eventually... I was wrong). Basically, it straddles the fence of so many areas of knowledge. Just about everything we do as humans has place attached to it. There is always more to analyze, and people are beginning to use the technology look at old things in new ways.

I hope you liked your introductory lesson into the mad world of Geography and GIS. If you have questions post them in the comments and I will answer them as quickly as I can.

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