GIS is Complicated By Design

I was going over some work last week with a colleague and they mentioned to me that basically every GIS package they own or use (proprietary or open source) is complicated and requires lots of training. I really didn’t have any response other than to nod my head knowingly. GIS software is hard to learn and use. I still to this day have problems using ArcGIS or QGIS let alone PostGIS or Oracle Spatial. We almost seem surprised when something we do works.

But why is this? Is GIS by its design just complicated? Possibly, at least the analytical aspects can be. Cartography is pretty strait-forward but the minute you start rolling out your script that calculates some impact on some area of the earth, all hell breaks loose. I’m a big fan of FME and it comes naturally to me, but you don’t just pick up the tool and start using it without some training. That goes for ArcGIS, QGIS, PostGIS or anything else.

Now lets be honest here. It isn’t a problem with just GIS. Drop me in some financial software and I’ll just randomly click around in hopes of paying an invoice. But as we discussed last week, GIS seems stuck in the same way of doing things. AML -> Python? Same way we did things 20 years ago. ArcView 3.x -> QGIS? Same crazy terminology…. We’ve seen some cool stuff with visualization and web mapping, but that’s more mainstream and possibly more controlled. I guess this is a way of our industry protecting its own.

That said, I often wonder why we don’t see more people pushing the envelope with workflows. I find myself looking for the crazy ones in our space. We’re littered with them and I’m going to try and focus on using more of their ideas in my own workflows. This isn’t about how bad things are, but how great they can be. As Steve Jobs says in that video, “…the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” We hear about them, look at their GitHub repository and tweet, “Freaking awesome”. Yet back we go to the same old, same old. I think the crazy ones in our space are changing GIS and I want to come along for the ride.

GIS is complicated, only because we accept it.