Any professional working in the Geospatial domain is inherently familiar with ESRI and their software. They were already the established GIS juggernaut well before I dipped my toe into the Geospatial discipline for the first time in 2003. However, my current position places me with a client that values Open Source Geospatial offerings above all, and having to come out from under the comfortable umbrella of ESRI products has forced me to grow as a GIS Analyst in exciting and unexpected ways.
I found that ESRI’s familiar tools and powerful algorithms had largely become a crutch over the years, easily leaned upon without the need to completely appreciate the underlying geometries and complex calculations taking place. Entering the Open Source Geospatial world, I was left with a need to not only vet the tools that I was using, but to bridge the gap where comparable ESRI functionality had not yet been introduced.
Just as the adage goes, I found that “Necessity is the mother of invention”. Operating without the ESRI safety net, I was forced to dig deeper into the algorithms I once took for granted, or develop my own through a deep dive into Python coding and other documentation. Through a combination of available software (QGIS, GeoServer, etc.) and custom Python development, I found myself coming out stronger on the other side, a better and more competent practitioner of the Geospatial craft.
I also found a thriving and helpful community within the GIS Stack Exchange (https://gis.stackexchange.com/) while undertaking my journey into largely unfamiliar territory. I would not hesitate to recommend this resource to both those GIS Professionals venturing into Open Source solutions as well as ESRI adherents.
In conclusion, where I had anticipated my departure from ESRI to become a hindrance in my GIS career progression, I found that it instead dramatically enhanced my understanding and overall capabilities. So, I challenge my fellow Geospatial practitioners to step out of their comfort zones, and if you’ve neglected to delve into Python programming or exploration of the ever-growing Open Source offerings, there’s no time like the present to get onboard and become a more rounded Geospatial Professional.