Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some answers to things I get asked a lot, and I’ll keep adding to it as people ask me questions. Can’t find the answer to your question? Feel free to ask it via the contact me form!

1) I want to take a GIS class. Where should I look?

If you’re a currently enrolled at a university, there are a bunch of options. I always recommend starting with a basic statistics course– see if your program offers an applied statistics course. For GIS-specific courses, you can look in a wide variety of departments such as Geography, Natural Resources, and Agriculture/ Ag Engineering. Sometimes you’ll see applied GIS courses in social sciences, city and regional planning, and meteorology. A lot of the GIS content/ computer skills translate across all these disciplines, so don’t worry too much if it seems like the labs are on topics you’re not familiar with.

There are also a wide variety of online learning options for folks not affiliated with a university. I have gotten a lot out of LinkedIn Learning, including Charlie Hadley’s Tidyverse class, and other instructors on LinkenIn Learning have classes on QGIS and ArcMap. Esri also has their own free Massive Online Open Course program available here. There are also free, official QGIS training manuals available in a few different languages on the QGIS website here. I highly recommend getting started with some sort of structured class or training manual instead of building your own from a set of shorter tutorials or videos, since longer form materials will be set up in a way that helps you learn fundamentals and improve problem solving skills for GIS.

2) Spatial stats is cool. What should I read?

Statistical Methods for Geography: a Student’s Guide by Peter A. Rogerson is shockingly readable for a stats textbook. A Practical Guide for Geostatistical Mapping by Tomislav Hengl is incredibly detailed and includes some great breakdowns of different interpolation methods. The QGIS training manual is worth skimming. I have also learned a lot about cartography from the blog somethingaboutmaps.

3) What software should I learn?

Free stuff: R is fantastic for analyzing spatial data. QGIS is great for making maps. SAGA GIS is good for terrain analysis and other raster data manipulation. There’s a SAGA plug-in for QGIS, but sometimes it’s nice to just use SAGA itself. GeoDa is a nice point and click software that makes Moran’s I and LISA maps really easily. It does some spatial regression things and basic maps too.

Not free: MatLab is my favorite place to make graphs. R, specifically ggplot2, can make gorgeous graphs, but you have to fuss a bit. The defaults for graphs in MatLab are gorgeous. Maybe not worth learning a new software for some people, but consider it if you’ll be making lots of graphs with many colors or any 3D graphs. Most of Esri’s programs cost money, although they have some web-based GIS tools available for free these days. Many people use ArcMap for map making and spatial analysis. I like their mobile platform a lot, especially Survey123. SAS is a common statistics software, especially in natural sciences. I don’t use it much but I should probably get better at it.

Agriculture specific: There are tons of options. A lot of people use SMS, but it’s pricey. If you want to go into crop consulting, it’s probably worth learning. If you’re looking for personal use, shop around and try the free trials of lots of different software programs.

4) Why do some of your screen shots look pink?

I have a filter on my phone to reduce the blue light output. It looks light pink during the day and is darker after the sun sets. If you look at my phone, you can’t really tell because the whole screen looks like the same. My screenshots also look pretty normal on other screens with a filter, but if you are looking at this site on a device with no filter they will be noticeably pink.