27 People in a QGIS Class

Aug 27, 2015 | Education, GA URISA, Open Source GIS

Teaching is one of those things I hate and love all at the same time. I taught the Intro to QGIS class this week for Georgia URISA. It doesn’t get taught as much as you think – a lot of times people still brush it off as “that other stuff that isn’t as good” so you have a bit of an uphill battle. The GIS world is an ESRI world for many. I have enough people telling me they want to take it but don’t have a use for it outside of their normal GIS setup. It’s frustrating.


This week 27 people appeared. I always ask “How many ESRI users?” which is about 80% of the class. I then ask who has at least downloaded the software and used it beyond what the class will cover. This time 40% raised their hands. While class is going I randomly ask “Why are you here?”

Answers this time:

  • I need a budget friendly alternative to <fill in the blank>.
  • I’m not upgrading my equipment and I think this will work.
  • I can’t run ArcGIS on this laptop anymore.
  • I don’t like where <fill in the blank> is going.
  • I’m really curious to see if this works.

Not all the answers were ESRI which caught me off guard. People were using other vendors and weren’t happy .

So we run with it. We talk about open source. We talk about why QGIS works. We get some stories from users like “I’m using this for data conversion” and “I’m using this to create contours”. It was hurried. I had four hours to run through this as opposed to the 8 I normally use so we didn’t have time for as many questions as I would like. I didn’t even ask everyone to do the last minute “What’s your name and what do you do?” So people randomly told me. People tracked me down post workshop with more questions. It was encouraging.


My class was followed by a PostGIS class taught by Sara Yurman. I ended  with the most practical example I could to lead into her class which was “I took a lot of data and shoved it into PostGIS/PostgreSQL for a client”. The delivery of this data is to an all ESRI shop. Yes it’s in a database as opposed to shapefiles/file based Geodatabase. Yes it works. Yes your data can be passed to ESRI users without a hitch. So they were hit with 8 hours of open source for one day.


Another class at the GA URISA workshop was on Lidar. Students were told to bring a laptop with ArcGIS and one of the extensions. I have no clue which one. People started sneaking out and were asking me questions on break. “We’ve got the DEM’s Loaded in QGIS how do I mosaic them?” “How do I symbolize this raster?”. “Can I make a hillshade in QGIS?”.  I wandered in on break and started helping people. The instructor ran me out because I was being disruptive. He later came out “You know most of the students were using QGIS to do the class. I think they could do it all with some examples”.


Today an environmental conference. Ga URISA had a room and the GIS folk stood there answering questions. I suck at wearing a salesman’s hat. Out of the room we had two “open source advocates”. I should say “data enthusiasts”. So we stood there – me showing of QGIS and Sara working the PostGIS angle. That was fun. “Join our community – we have cake and fun”. Worry about your data. Worry about your fellow workers. Don’t worry with licensing.

I do enjoy teaching because it’s disruptive. I’ve been slowing down teaching in favor of working with clients and their data though. If my had my druthers that’s all I would do and then just do teaching for annoyance.  So I teach once a quarter OR for conferences. I may be headed to another conference in a few months and I’m told I get the whole 8 hours to be disruptive with QGIS.

I am going to rewrite a part of the class. I made a point of repeating this week this is professional software. Yes you bought a lot of software but no reason you can’t join the community and use this and be different and productive all at the same time.

So 27 people did something different. World Changing? Nope. Did we put a dent in the giants armor? Nope. Did we start a bit of small talk over in the corner. Yes. Did I hammer on “Data over software” – YES

You always have that one person in the class. I looked up and I had lost him. Last time it was a her. This guy was sitting in the back and I could see him sit there looking happy and confused. Break came and he ran up front and he said “don’t worry I’m having fun“. Are you OK with what we are doing? “Oh yeah – I’m building work projects back there. I’m rebuilding some of my ArcGIS projects in QGIS. This runs like a dream and this is old laptop. I don’t know if they will let me switch software packages but I have another piece of software at my disposal now. Thank you”.

The class moves onward.


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