Generalists Will Rock the Future of Geospatial Industry

education GIS maps space

Today’s life is a complex tangle of situations, solutions, technologies, traditions and many other nodes*. We have to take decisions and be able to find answers quickly. The more knowledge a person has mastered in different areas, the greater his ability to improvise in such a complex world.

In the 18th century, Adam Smith pointed out that the division of labor is the engine of capitalism. But he also noted that the division of labor leads to mental mutilation. If we look at a number of examples from the history of innovation, we will notice that new ideas are often born by combining knowledge from two totally different areas. Famous generalists who’ve made significant discoveries and contributions to the science, art and technologies are Leonardo da Vinci, Goethe, Benjamin Franklin, Richard Feynman. And if you still don’t believe that generalists are better in innovative thinking, let’s look at the life of Elon Musk – maybe the most famous innovator of our time. He has an economics degree from the Wharton School and a degree in physics from the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences. He was also a self-learner in the field of computer programming when he was teenager. So, there you go – three totally different fields of expertise combined in one brain that led to the creation of some of the most innovative companies of our time.

Today, sitting all day long in front of the computer, we are trying to specialize deeper and deeper in topics that mature well on the labor market. For every job application we need to edit our resume so that we show only those aspects of our experience that are relevant to the desired job position. But is this good or bad? Well, there is a third option available.

What types of people do companies need – generalists or experts?

Maybe the answer is somewhere between those two – experts with broad knowledge in different topics.

In the context of geoinformation science and emerging technologies, having broad understanding of all fields of study, related to geography, is becoming more and more important. For example, if you have deep understanding of Geographic Information Systems it will not make any sense if you don’t understand the basics of Remote Sensing, GNSS, UAVs, etc. and know how to work with data from these sources.

Some computer skills are being taken more and more for granted, for example using email or Microsoft Word. Likewise having basic knowledge of today’s geographic technologies is important skill for every student, teacher or professional.

T-shaped professionals – the perfect ingredient for every company

I heard for the first time about the T-shape profile during a training session at SAP Labs several months ago and it sounded like something I’ve been looking for years now.

It describes two important for today’s business world qualities of a person:

  • The upper horizontal line includes your broad knowledge and skills – communication, management, leadership, etc;
  • The vertical line stands for the topics you’re specialized for – your field of study, your core foundation as a professional.

According to this article in Psychology today the horizontal crossbar refers to the complementary skills of communication (including negotiation), creativity, the ability to apply knowledge across disciplines, empathy (including the ability to see from other perspectives), and an understanding of fields outside your area of expertise. We could add here some of the basic geographic skills that are important for any geospatial professional – spatial thinking and working with spatial data.

The vertical part of the letter T is where we put our expertise – our mastered skills. If you are geospatial professional you have to put there only what you are really good at – software development, map design, satellite data analysis, etc.

What skills employers are looking for?

Today’s economy is expecting from us to have broad understanding of many different themes, which is pretty normal having in mind that some are saying that we’re living in the times of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

General Skills – the horizontal part of the letter T

No matter what your job is – waiter, doctor or teacher, there are some skills that affect all professions. Nobody wants to work with people that are always late or don’t know the meaning of the word deadline. Here are some of the most important general skills employers value:

  • Computer and technology skills
  • Time management skills
  • Writing skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Team work
  • Emotional intelligence

No matter what your dream job title is, you have to be good at these. There are numerous training materials, YouTube videos and courses about all of them.

If we have to list general skills in the field of geography, they will sound like the following:

  • Spatial thinking
  • Interdisciplinary thinking
  • Working with GIS (basic knowledge)
  • Global perspective

Expert skills – the vertical part of the letter T

The demand for experts in different geospatial technology fields is growing worldwide. Their preferable profile depends on the field the company is operating – natural disasters, climate change, geomarketing…

Here’s a classical example for this – an ad for Data Analyst job at oil and gas industry. The perfect candidate must have IT and GIS knowledge and experience in oil & gas is desirable.

In other words – when you find the field you like dive into it, but don’t forget to screen what is happening in all the other geo industries too!

Geography and technologies – where do they meet?

I’ve asked many times different people I was training this question, including university students, professionals, teachers, kids and the answers were always limited to: Google Maps and Google Earth. These two apps have made a significant PR of the whole industry actually. I admit that I’ve used them as an example many times when people ask me what I do for living.

The meeting point of the classical geography and technologies actually is not a point – it is more like a polygon. I expect that in future we’ll see even more technologies being used by geographers.

In my opinion, the hot topics, related to geo industry today, are (but not limited to):

  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Remote Sensing
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones
  • Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS)
  • Data visualization & design (cartography also fits here)
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Mobile applications
  • Virtual Reality
  • Autonomous vehicles

Having an idea of what all those terms mean and some important stuff about them is okay for an emerging specialist. If you want to be good at something – dig deep, but keep in mind the new trends in all the fields so you don’t miss some hot opportunity.

T-shape profile free printable

Now as you are aware of what a T-shaped professional means is time for you to think of yourself – what are you really good at? What are those topics you have knowledge of, but you are not expert in? Download here the printable and fill it in!

* Graph theory: vertex or node is the fundamental unit of which graphs are formed: an undirected graph consists of a set of vertices and a set of edges, while a directed graph consists of a set of vertices and a set of arcs. Wikipedia.


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