Python and C#/VB.Net are best languages to learn development in GIS. – Swanand Kannur

Swanand Kannur
Application Developer-GIS at IBM
Pune, Maharashtra

Q1. Please share your educational and professional journey?

Geography was one of my strong points during my school days and I always had interest in the subject. Back in 2003 when I completed my 12th standard, there was not much awareness about GIS (Geographic Information System) field, for that matter even I was not aware of this subject or career option.

Coming from a family with Medical & Pharmacy background, I took admission for B.Sc. Microbiology based on my merit. While pursing my B.Sc., I got introduced to GIS as a subject and was instantly attracted towards it. I completed my B.Sc. in Microbiology in 2006, but by then, I was already sure to pursue my career in GIS. After some consultations and convincing, I went to Sinhgad College, Pune for completing a 2 years Masters Diploma course in RS-GIS and viola, my GIS adventure had just begun.

After my masters, I started my first job as a Field Surveyor and was doing survey on the streets of Ahmedabad for 6 months. I got an opportunity to work as a Cartographer to digitize Maps and GPS data using various tools like AutoCAD, ArcMap, Telecordia Network Engineer.

For better career visibility, I decided to pursue MBA in IT, blending IT, management and GIS together, which is my current domain. This gave a new direction to my career – I landed in a GIS startup company in Mauritius as a Technical Lead. GIS was in a nascent stage in Mauritius at that time and hence I could grab the opportunity of working with heads of various utility companies to make them understand the importance of using GIS applications and their advantages in the long term. The startup was not successful, and eventually I had to come back to India.

Based on this experience, I got an opportunity to work with TomTom India Pvt. Ltd as a GIS Developer until 3 years. During this period, I worked on various process automation projects and eventually became a GIS Full Stack Developer.

Since the past 4 years now, I have been working with IBM India Pvt. Ltd as a GIS Application Developer and honing my skills in cloud and Micro-services in GIS.

Q2. What did attract you towards MBA in IT after Masters in GIS?

I completed my Masters in GIS and started working as surveyor moving to Cartography and then GIS Analysis. By then, I wanted to give a hand at developing applications in GIS because of the challenges it posed as well as for my career growth. 2009 came with the Great Recession and there was though miniscule, some layoffs in my organization and I realized the need to do an MBA to give a different aspect to my career. I had an option to do my MBA in HR, IT or Marketing and my newfound infatuation for coding and the fact that I wanted to continue to work in GIS helped making the decision easier and I took admission in MBA IT. This was the second turning point in my career and now I am back in GIS, but as application developer.

Q3. How do you motivate yourself at every morning?

For me, GIS is more of passion than just work. You get to see new challenges ever day be it designing GIS system, developing applications or as simple as maintaining systems for clients. The GIS Technology is advancing at a great pace as well, opening new horizons within GIS. There is far less monotonous or mundane work with new challenges every day and trying to find solution for them motivates me every morning.

Q4. Which is the best language to learn development in GIS?

GIS development is a bit different than developing other applications development as in you have to work on Raster and Vector data. Then there are complex structures like topography, directions, geometric network, topology and much more that play an important role in GIS Applications. The database used is also spatial, to store the complex GIS features in them.

Almost all the programming languages have an extension or package for GIS development. There are various languages used in GIS development. Google has Java APIs, so has ESRI when it comes to Mapping and GIS. Smallworld, a GE product, uses Magik language or developing applications in Smallworld. ESRI products are based on .Net technology, C# to be precise while QGIS, which is an open source product, uses Python Programming language.

Going by current market share and future growth prospects, learning Python and C#/VB.Net are best languages to learn development in GIS.

Q5. Where do you want to see yourself after 10 years in career?

I do believe that GIS is a great leveler as a technology and gives a head start to businesses which use GIS in decision making wherever possible. GIS has the capabilities to provide solutions to some of the complex real-world issues like planning roads in existing urbanscapes with as less demolition required or in difficult hilly terrains. 

After another 10 years, I would like to see myself as a GIS Consultant working with multiple renowned clients globally. I would like to use my experience and knowledge in GIS industry to augment GIS solutions at client sites as well as using GIS to give my small bit in making the earth a better place for everyone.

Swanand Kannur

Q6. Today world is working Online. Which is the option to work online in GIS?

GIS, from Database perspective has long transactions. What this means is that transactions can take up to days to get posted, which is opposite of something like banking in which transactions are posted within seconds. So, GIS systems can be setup with multi-versioned Databases to work around databases locking. What this means is that GIS has always been online system, as in more than 1 person working on same area or feature in their own sessions or DB versions.

ESRI has come up with a product for online working called as ArcGIS Online. You have similar products from other vendors like GE (Smallworld) and open source technologies like QGIS and OpenLayers.

Q7. Which one thing do you want to change in yourself and why?

I enjoy spending time with family or pursuing my hobbies like trekking or reading books. Sometimes, I get so engrossed in work that I tend to forget all of this. This is one thing I want to change in myself to be able to give time for my family, friends and for me as well.

Q8. What is the role of GIS in this Modern Digital India?

GIS has a very big role to play in this Modern India. There have been massive technological advancements in our lives in past few years right from a Google Map, to tracking parcels, online food ordering apps to cab service bookings, and all of this has come on the back of GIS and location-based systems.

GIS is also avidly being used in Forest departments, town planning and even the “Namami Gange” the River Ganga clean-up initiative of Indian government is using GIS. You can do a lot of things using maps and GIS like locust tracking, cyclone tracking and predictions etc., which use GIS to a very large extent, and these are just a few examples.

This is just the tip of the iceberg and GIS Technology has the power of providing much essential and crucial knowledge to government and people which can make decision making easier for them. The COVID-19 tracking maps are 1 such example, which are helping people out there understand in which zone they are which is affecting their daily lives.

Q9. Which one skill do you like most about yourself?

It is difficult to mention one skill that I like about myself. I can surely say that my ability to keep learning new things certainly helps in updating my knowledge in my profession. I also like to help my colleagues or guide the aspirers especially in the field of GIS. I love the fact that no matter how big the challenges I face, I never give up!

For me, coming this far was not easy and that’s why I value this journey the most.

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