Glenn Letham | Profiles from the Geospatial Community

Caitlin Dempsey


Glenn Letham is a geospatial reporter, having first founded the Spatial News site before creating GISUser, a geospatial industry news site.  In addition to reporting on the latest geospatial news, Mr. Letham posts on his blog, Anything Geospatial.  

Mr. Letham manages two other technology sites, LBSZone and SymbianOne.

How did you get involved with GIS?  What drew you to this industry?

This takes me back (way back) to high school where, like many students, I was influenced greatly by a fabulous teacher – turns out he was my geography teacher. After I graduated from high school I was initially chasing a degree in Business Admin, however, during my first couple of years I realized that perhaps business wasn’t the path I wanted to take.

I continued on at a Junior College with courses that would transfer to University and found that I was really drawn to computer science classes and geography. A University program offering Co-op Education hooked me!

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You’re the editor of a few popular geotechnical sites. What tools do you use to help you stay on top of news that you want to pass on to your readers?  What do you enjoy most about reporting on the geospatial industry?

Glenn Letham in London for a recently held Nokia launch event for the Nokia N97 and Ovi Maps. Photo provided by Glenn Letham.

Sources for news are wide and varied these days, much different than 10 years ago. Today there are a host of new media resources, blogs, newswires and others, selecting the best of the best is the real challenge.

Tools of choice today are RSS feeds, Google and Yahoo! alerts, newswires specifically for journalists, and company newsletters. My main resource, however, is the direct connections I’ve made in the industry over the past decade… there’s simply no way to replace direct contact and word of mouth.

How do you decide which geospatial conferences to attend?   What were some of the highlights from the most recent conferences you reported at?

That’s a little tricky as these days timing and budget are large considerations. Location can influence me, for example, places like San Francisco, and San Jose are appealing to me because they are easily accessible, fun, and relatively cheap.

Conference agenda obviously influences me. For example, in an ideal situation I’d like to get in and get out in 2 days so if I can absorb the “meat” of an event in 2 days that’s perfect. For the most part, attending an event for 4 or 5 days is simply too much time away for my liking, although the ESRI UC is always that one exception.

Finally, the attendees, speakers and exhibitors are a defining component for me. Ideally I like attending events where many decision makers will be around, I like to hear about new technologies and new product launches and a good cross-section of exhibitors will always help draw me in.

Some highlights of recent events include, quality keynote speakers, for example, the GIS in the Rockies event is cozy and small, however, when you have key State Government officials on stage sharing information that you simply can’t get any other time, that’s a great draw! I’ll be honest, I’ve also recently attended some fine online webinars and events that were live streamed. This is becoming a favorite of mine and is a huge time and $ saver.

What’s the one direction that you would like to see GIS evolve towards?

It’s no huge surprise to people that have followed me over the years that I’m a huge fan of mobile technologies. I’m excited to see developers from our industry finding exciting ways to leverage their skills, data resources, and their talents, to create fabulous mobile applications.

I see so many companies making huge strides in mobile technologies that I’d love to see some of the great talents from the Geo arena be creative and come up with some compelling mobile applications, particularly on the iPhone and Android mobile platforms. There’s huge opportunities here and the GIS industry has some amazingly talented people!

You probably get asked a lot about employment in the geospatial field. What advice can you give to those looking to develop a career in GIS?

A great question. Many of the things that I can think of are likely common sense, however, they are little things that we often simply overlook.

I’d suggest that people try to keep a log of projects and success stories that have been completed. Save screen shots of maps, web apps and the like and keep project descriptions from RFPs that you’ve responded to. Keep a journal of accomplishments, and events you’ve attended and think about developing and maintaining a PowerPoint that logs all that you’ve done.

For sharing, I suggest you keep an archive of your Career PowerPoint online using Slideshare and think about blogging as a way to archive and share anything and everything that interest you… be sure to also keep your LinkedIn profile up to date and packed with interesting material – you never know when you might need it in a pinch!

Finally, don’t stop learning. When time and dollars permit, take extra classes, think about also expanding your skills by learning unrelated skills like ways to harness social media to your advantage.

Any other thoughts or comments you’d like to add?

GIS and geospatial technologies are going mainstream and gaining momentum. It’s exciting to see that everyone is familiar with GIS and Geo technologies in some ways, even if they don’t realize it.

Stay active, stay involved and keep learning.

I’ve met many fabulous people online via social media outlets (Twitter, LinkedIn) and have met many of them face to face. Do whatever you can to stay informed, keep learning however you can, volunteer your services whenever possible (give a presentation to a class of school kids for GIS Day or ??), and evangelize what GIS is (and what you do) in any way you can.

Thank you, Glenn!

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.