Say hello to Josh Campbell, our new Vice President for Product Development! Josh brings vast experience building geographic computing infrastructures in academia and government. I sat down to talk to Josh about what he’s done, where he’s been, and where he’s going to take us.
Welcome to the team! What was your role before you joined us?
I was a Geographer and GIS Architect at the Humanitarian Information Unit (HIU), a division of the Office of the Geographer and Global Issues in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department. At the HIU we utilized geographic technology and spatial analysis to do research and analysis of complex humanitarian emergencies. Additionally, as part of the Office of the Geographer, we were trying to demonstrate to the Department the value of leveraging the geographic dimension of their data. Given the humanitarian mission of the HIU, the global footprint of the State Department, and the relative lack of legacy GIS, we advocated for the adoption of open source geographic tools, and built several innovative applications from them.
What was your experience as an open source advocate at the Department of State?
I pushed for, and was ultimately successful in, getting a range of new geographic software approved for use on the department’s network, both open source and proprietary. The first package that we got approved was OpenGeo Suite 3.0.2 but I also pushed for getting Google Earth, Mapbox, GeoIQ, and Metacarta approved. Today, OpenGeo Suite 4.0.2 and Geonode 2.0.1 are in review and on their way towards being approved. It’s a big point of pride for me that we were able to succeed in bringing this new range of tools into the Department.
Where does your passion for open source come from?
On the campus of the University of Kansas. As part of my PhD coursework, I took the my first WebGIS class in 2006 and learned the basics of putting geographic data and maps on the web, utilizing mostly ArcIMS and MapServer. I then attended FOSS4G in 2007 and got my first real introduction into the broad ecosystem of open source geospatial tools and the folks who build them. Between 2007 and 2010, I designed and built a comprehensive WebGIS for the Kansas Applied Remote Sensing program – a research group responsible for mapping and analyzing the biological and ecological diversity in Kansas and the Great Plains. Over three years, I led a small team that deployed a WebGIS infrastructure comprised of a hybrid open/proprietary solution that used ArcGIS Server, GeoNetwork, and Django.
After KARS, I joined the Humanitarian Information Unit at the Department of State and brought with me the experience of building a brand new GIS system from scratch. Since I had just come from building a hybrid solution, I was tasked with doing something similar for State. Unlike KARS, however, State had no legacy GIS systems and no existing site licenses so we started with a clean slate. Pursuing a proprietary strategy would have been incredibly expensive, as State has a global network of embassies and consulates, so we decided trying to take an open source approach. By 2010, the OpenGeo Suite and other open source tools had become robust enough for enterprise deployment, and I chose open source solutions instead of proprietary ones.
The Department of State is a customer of Boundless. What was your experience with OpenGeo Suite support like?
Boundless (at the time still called OpenGeo) formed the software foundation of our approach to bringing a geographic computing infrastructure to State. The first thing we had to do to make this happen was get the software accredited for use on the internal network (not a trivial task in the government). Typically, open source tools are hindered from getting network accreditation because there is no corporate or organizational body that can assemble the required documents or provide support and maintenance. We had to push to get that done and I remember Eddie Pickle actually wrote the documents himself! Juan Marin helped with that process as well, discussing the architecture and system design of the OpenGeo Suite. Having an organization to rely on for that was very helpful. We also encountered some bugs along the way, as well as deployments on multiple operating systems, and the support team was key to overcoming those challenges and keeping the project’s momentum.
Did State contribute any modifications back to the software?
We contributed in three ways. First, we put resources on core development, helping to get PostGIS 2.0 completed, and now with GeoNode. All of these advancements went directly into the software core. Second, we published our customized tweaks and projects via HIU’s GitHub account. This took a bit longer than originally planned, but some good stuff is up there now, and more should become publicly available over the next couple of months. Third, we worked across the interagency to support the development of open source tools. For example, the HIU is part of the management team of the ROGUE project that built the GeoGit library.
What are you most proud of from your time at the Department of State?
Two things, Imagery to the Crowd and increasing the appreciation of geography in the Department. As we demonstrated the applications we were building, more and more people saw the power of maps and geographic data. We quickly realized there was more demand than we could answer within the humanitarian context. Working alongside colleagues in State’s IT Bureau, we established a geographic development team within the eDiplomacy division to help build geographic applications. They have already done some great work, all with open source tools, and more is coming. I’m proud to have left that legacy.
What drove the creation of Imagery to the Crowd and MapGive?
The inspiration for Imagery to the Crowd, and now MapGive, was the 2010 Haiti earthquake response, where the power of online volunteers, OpenStreetMap (OSM) and easily-accessible commercial satellite imagery combined to change humanitarian response forever. Imagery to the Crowd was our attempt to combine several technological and societal trends to create a repeatable, open, crowdsourced process to support humanitarian response through free and open geographic data. And to do it from inside the government — innovation at its hardest! We took commercial satellite data that the government had already purchased, processed and hosted it as Tiled Map Services in the Amazon cloud, then made it available to online mapping volunteers who created free and open geographic data stored in the OpenStreetMap database, ensuring it’s free for anyone’s use. The return on investment here is something that I think everyone can get behind.
The first test we did was to map refugee camps in the Horn of Africa during the 2011 famine. While there was plenty of data about the camp populations – the UN was tracking it in real-time – the data in OpenStreetMap was all but nonexistent. So we knew 50,000 refugees were living in a location, but it was a blank area in the OSM database. Using the Imagery to the Crowd methodology The Department of State worked with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team in using the OSM Tasking Manager to source volunteers to improve the data. We put out a call and had over 40 volunteers mapping the areas and putting 600k people living in the camps on the map. Over the past two years, this process was deployed 15 other times, supporting disaster response, community resilience, disaster risk reduction and sustainable development.
Check back tomorrow for the second half of the interview, which will focus on his efforts with the future direction of data collaboration, creation, and editing products at Boundless.