Today marks the first day of classes for the spring semester at Salisbury (Maryland) University. This is significant for me because it also marks my first day as an instructor in the Masters of GIS Management program, teaching an online course called “Leadership in GIS Organizations.” This is my first foray back into academia in the 22 years since I finished my own degree.

Aveiro March 2012-18
By Alvesgaspar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

This new venture doesn’t represent a career change for me so much as an enhancement. I have spent my entire career working as a consultant, primarily developing geospatial systems for government (mostly federal government) users. This means I live in the for-profit private sector and interact with government fairly regularly.

Being a consultant has its peculiarities. Unlike a traditional vendor, I don’t have a “thing” to sell. Unlike the customer’s senior staff, I can advise and strongly recommend, but I can’t ultimately decide. But, also unlike vendors or my customers, I am free to be an omnivore. I am not required to adhere to one specific technical solution nor am I required to operate within one specific problem set. My basic responsibility is to know my craft so well that people want me to come in and ply my craft for them. It is almost always a supporting role; sometimes highly visible and other times quite anonymous.

It is not for everyone and I’ve loved it the entire time.

That said, I am a big proponent of “sharpening the saw.” I started to sense that I was getting perhaps a bit too comfortable in my consulting role and decided to broaden my perspective. This has taken a couple of forms:

As discussed in previous posts, I applied and was selected for an appointment to Maryland’s new Open Data Council last summer. The council has met once month since August and it has given me a much needed view into policy-making in general, and state government more specifically. I have been involved in some federal policy efforts in the past but it had been quite a while.

Of course, the class I mentioned at the beginning of this post is another part of this process. Academia is a completely different perspective for me. I’ve continued my learning in various ways over my career, but a classroom setting hasn’t been a part of that. Comfort zones are things that best left behind.

Additionally, I’ve taken on some personal projects to learn about problem sets outside those to which I am typically exposed, such as the relief and development area.

These are all part of a process. I often hear the term “giving back” and a couple of these efforts would probably fall into that category. I find myself taking exception to the term as it implies, to me, a one-way transaction. In practice, I find such activities to be more of an exchange as I develop a broader set of knowledge while applying my own skills. Benefit is achieved in both directions.

I’m finding, not surprisingly, that actively seeking new perspectives helps me be more effective in my consulting activities with my core customer set. This has been true from a technology standpoint, as my exposure to open-source tools has helped me be more effective with proprietary tools as well. I am finding it to be true across problem domains as well.