A Newbie’s Experience at FOSS4GNA

I’ve transformed my career in a little over a year. About this time last year, I was taking my first GIS class at the City College of San Francisco. I was working as a nurseryman at that time and felt like I was topping out at my workplace. Beginning in Fall last year, I began going back to school in attempt to get my GIS degree. I began to fall in love with everything geospatial. Like I did with plants, I took every class I could and spent my time fully engaged in the community. Fast forward through meetup groups, BAAMA meetings, and several classes, I attended the FOSS4GNA conference a week ago. I knew some things about open source software like QGIS but didn’t know the community was this large, complex or dedicated.  The morning of the conference, I was a bit overwhelmed, wondering if the conference was worth it, will the people be inclusive, and exactly what was it all about? In short, yes it was worth it, people were accepting, and I learned a great deal about geospatial open source software.


I’ve tried to throw myself into the geospatial community to see what’s out there, what people are doing, and find my niche. This was a great place to do that. Many smart and freethinking people who are thrilled and excited about what they’re doing. Workshops were what took place the first day. I was quickly learning skills that were helping build a solid foundation of the open source world. Not to mention, specific skills for obtaining a job. I started out in the Python for GIS workshop and although I could not keep up with the class, I was able to install the software and extensions, and run some processing which is a feat in itself. I was struggling in parts of the class and thought the class shouldn’t have been marked beginner but intermediate. I was encouraged by the people in the class who gave an assisting hand when they could. On to my next class, Introduction to QGIS with a jovial Randal Hale.

The Introduction to QGIS was a great walk-through of one of the main pieces of open source geospatial software. Over the next few days, I learned about PostgreSQL, PostGIS, Mapbox, Python, drones and so much more. I felt very inspired by everyone I met. Teachers took time after class to answer any questions that were still lingering. Even Ragi, who taught the drones class walked me through every part of his and where to find it.B_xC6SoUwAAWNQ3

I was challenged to learn new software and techniques. I didn’t understand everything that was being presented but that was ok. I was learning about things I never knew existed. I found myself getting home late after the conference and downloading PostgreSQL and running basic SQL commands. At one point, I reached out on Twitter to fellow attendees on help importing SHP files into Postgres. Sure enough, someone contacted me the next day and ran me through the process.

I encourage anybody who is interested in open source software and the geospatial world to attend. Although, it did cost a fair amount of money, it’s definitely worth it. They do provide student pricing so contact them early about discounts. I’m hoping to continue going to these conferences and I’m even thinking about presenting my research in the future. There was great food, good company, and a wealth of educational sources. I can’t say it enough, the conference has inspired me to do more in this industry and that nothing is impossible to learn if you’re committed to doing so.

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