It’s been 4 years since I’ve joined the GIS.SE community – one of the sites under the StackExchange umbrella. It’s a good time to reflect a bit I guess. I have learned a lot during those years reading answers provided by peer GIS professionals. I have also learned quite a lot while answering questions for which I thought I could provide a working solution. I have never thought I would get so many reputation points though. Yet I have now just over 20K (which places me in the top 20 users of the GIS.SE site), which is quite amazing as I have never thought that my answers could get so many up votes.
In one of the episodes of one of my favorite Python podcasts – Talk Python To Me – Martijn Pieters provided his thoughts on why he enjoys answering questions on StackOverflow. I’ve decided to share my arguments why being involved in GIS.SE is so great:
- Answering questions is a great exercise which you can do just for fun. For instance, someone has asked a question – Displaying attributes upon their polygons within ArcMap legend?. I have never done it myself, so I got curious whether this could be done. After searching around in the UI for some time, I finally found the sequence of steps to perform and shared it with the questioner. Great.
- An answer can be a form of organizing own knowledge about a subject. For instance, someone has asked a question – Formatting street network data for ArcGIS Network Analyst?. I have been working with Network Analyst for many years but never have compiled a short “getting started guide” on where to find data sources, what skills are necessary etc. Answering this question gave me a chance to put all my reference information into one place which other users can also find and read.
- An answer can help someone who has faced a very peculiar problem to get a solution quickly without spending hours if not days. For example, someone has asked *.lyr to *.style conversion in ArcGIS. I needed to do exactly this just a few weeks earlier and was searching for the tool to do this for some days. Being able to answer a question in 10 minutes after it was posted knowing that someone else wouldn’t need to go through all possible UI tools in ArcMap is incomparable.
- An answer I give to others can be an answer I will be looking for in the future myself. It is funny, but sometimes, when I have a question I am trying to find an answer to, when using a search engine, I find the GIS.SE page with the answer I just needed and a sample code snippet I can use. I am so pleased someone has found the time to post it. Looking at the author of the answer makes me laugh because it was me.
- Answering questions makes me a better writer as I need to formulate my thoughts very accurately and convey the information in a clear and consistent way. I should also be concise yet comprehensive. I believe answering on GIS.SE helped me to become a better writer which I think is a great skill to have.
- Answering questions makes me a more competent professional as I learn a lot about the GIS software and GIS programming. I have answered many arcpy related questions while I was learning arcpy myself. In addition, some questions gave me a chance to play with a software I don’t use daily which helps me to stay up-to-date on what software is being used by other people and how.
To summarize, over last 4 years, I learned a lot about GIS software features, helped many people with their tasks, improved my writing skills, and became a more competent GIS expert. Not too bad!
PS. Go ahead and read a great meta post How do high reputation (>5,000) users find time to commit to GIS Stack Exchange?