“Have fun with GIS,” John Potter, Roger F. Tomlinson Lifetime Achievement Awardee, shares some advice

November 25, 2015 Joy Chan

At our User Conference held in Regina on November 3, Esri Canada presented John Potter with the Roger F. Tomlinson Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions in advancing GIS in Saskatchewan. In this blog post, John shares his insights on receiving the award as well as some tips for building a successful and lasting career in GIS.

At our User Conference held in Regina on November 3, Esri Canada presented John Potter with the Roger F. Tomlinson Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions in advancing GIS in Saskatchewan. In this blog post, John shares his insights on receiving the award as well as some tips for building a successful and lasting career in GIS.

What's the significance of this lifetime achievement award to you?

I was very surprised and certainly honoured to be selected for this award by Esri Canada. The fact that the award is named after Dr. Roger Tomlinson, ‘the father of GIS,’ is also truly inspiring. He was a giant in the development years of GIS. I had the privilege of speaking with him at length when he was in Regina as the keynote speaker at our SaskGIS Conference a few years back.

This award provides personal recognition for my many years of GIS work, but even greater I believe, it provides recognition for the work of many other people and organizations involved in GIS in Saskatchewan. It’s an acknowledgement that we’ve collectively been on the right track and are doing very useful work for the greater Saskatchewan community. The continuous development of geographic data and applications with GIS in key fields of government and corporate operations such as emergency management, crown lands management, mineral administration, transportation routing and watershed management, to name a few, is essential in creating efficiencies in this complex data-intensive world we live in today.

John Potter with Alex Miller, Esri Canada president, at the Regina User Conference

You’ve built a successful GIS career over the past 40 years. What do you consider your most significant accomplishment?

The Saskatchewan Geomatics Strategic Plan for 2011-2016 was a key accomplishment for me as it articulated many long-term aspects of GIS for the province. It also enabled several ministries and agencies to get behind the plan and work together through the Executive Geomatics Council.

The Geomatics Plan in large part enabled the development of the Saskatchewan Geospatial Imagery Collaborative (SGIC), a partnership of 30 organizations that have pooled knowledge and financial resources to acquire and maintain up-to-date aerial photos and satellite imagery of the province on which many organizations depend for daily decision-making. The program has shown that partnerships like this are very efficient and cost-effective, and it paves the way for other such programs in future.

John led the formation of the Saskatchewan Geospatial Imagery Collaborative, which administers FlySask, an online site that provides public access to Saskatchewan’s aerial photos and satellite imagery.

What skills and training did you find useful in your career?

My experience in project management, business case development, strategic planning, building and sustaining partnerships, negotiating contracts and marketing proved to be very useful throughout my career. As well, my studies in surveying engineering certainly provided extensive applied technical training in surveying, photogrammetry, cartography, digital mapping, land information systems and remote sensing – all of which served me well. I’m also a registered Professional Engineer (now retired life member) with the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Saskatchewan.

Finally, what advice can you give today's GIS professionals looking to build successful GIS careers?

Start with good training and improve continually every chance you get. Attend workshops, conferences and register for courses to upgrade your skills.

Build your network of relationships to support your business endeavours and help your advancement. Having a network with whom you can share your work successes and defeats can make your life so much easier and enjoyable.

Always look for the positive aspects in your work and don't let occasional setbacks get you down.

Have fun with it. For the many years I've been involved with GIS and geomatics, I've always enjoyed it immensely and it seldom felt like work. It was what I liked to do – not unlike fishing or skiing – but someone was paying me to have fun. What more can one ask for?

***

John retired from the Government of Saskatchewan in May 2014. While he’s still active in the GIS community and does project-based consulting work, he now spends most of his time with family, travelling and pursuing outdoor activities.

About the Author

Joy Chan

Joy Chan is the Marketing Communications Manager for Esri Canada. She is passionate about sharing how GIS makes the world sustainable and how you don’t need to be a cartographer to make great maps. Joy has a Master of Science degree in Integrated Marketing Communications and has over 15 years’ international experience in the technology industry.

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