Meet the BayGeo Board

Dennis Karaim

Dennis in Yosemite

Dennis in Yosemite

Hello all of you wonderfully talented Geofolks!

If you're reading the BayGeo Journal, you're most likely just as passionate about GIS and maps as I am. It’s also very likely that you know at least a little something about BayGeo because you found your way to the Journal... either that or you accidentally clicked on the wrong link and decided to stay a while. Either way, Welcome!

For those of you that haven't met me yet, my name is Dennis Karaim and I'm on the BayGeo Board... yeah, yeah, I know… just hearing the words "Board Member" sounds a bit stuffy and unapproachable, so the goal of this article, and future articles about the Board Members and Staff, is to share a little bit about ourselves with the hopes of making it easier for everyone to connect with us and share their thoughts, ideas, and talents. Although the Board and Staff are all active in the geo-community, the more eyes and ears we have, the better decisions we can make on behalf of the members and the Bay Area communities. So let’s get started with a little bit about myself.

I joined the BayGeo Board almost two years ago when I discovered it was filled with passionate people who believed that sharing their skills, knowledge, creativity, and information is the best way to build the strongest GIS community. This is also the same reason I embraced the role as the Coordinator for the San Francisco Bay Area GIS User’s Group in 2013.

In case you’re wondering how I got started with my GIS career, it all started in Upstate New York, where I was born and raised. For those of you thinking ...What's Upstate New York?... well, it's basically anywhere in the state that's north of New York City, which happens to be most of the state. Much of my family, and therefore my heart, is still in NY, but the rest of me has been thrilled to be living in the Bay Area for most of my life.

Upstate New York gets the credit for being the birthplace of my passion for putting lines on paper. I can still remember spending countless hours on the living room floor in front of the fireplace drawing up residential floor plans on gridded paper. I was fascinated with the idea of putting lines on paper, which could later be used to build virtually anything you could think of. Although I dabbled in residential architecture, my line-drawing career started with industrial drafting and design work for a large public wastewater utility in the East Bay. There, I learned the basics of graphic design and pipeline design, but found that supporting the treatment plant design efforts provided me with the greatest opportunity to learn about all of the major engineering disciplines. Fast forward several years, and after working in the Telecom and Power industry, I found myself working for another public utility in the Bay Area. My initial work there was to support the wastewater treatment plant design efforts once again. By then, I was well into using Computer Aided Design and Drafting (CADD) software, but had not been involved in GIS.

It wasn't until about five years ago, during an asset management project, that I had the opportunity to scratch the surface of GIS. I was instantly intrigued by the thought that simple lines could contain an extraordinary amount of detailed information… it was just like being a kid again and learning about my passion for drafting. About a year later, a position in the GIS water systems group opened up at the same company. My knowledge of GIS could fit into the palm of my hand, but I believe that my passion to learn everything I could about GIS is what got me the job. When I first joined the well-established group, I felt extremely fortunate because I was working alongside supportive co-workers who patiently showed me the ropes. That was also the time I began to discover GIS organizations and user groups. I started to attend every meeting that BayGeo (BAAMA at the time) and the San Francisco Bay Area User’s Group held. During those meetings, I gained a greater understanding for all of the different application that GIS could be used for and also met really creative and knowledgeable people.

the idea of running the user group scared the heck out of me, as most things do when we venture out of our comfort zone

Less than a year later, the Coordinator of the San Francisco Bay Area User’s Group, Lilli Remer, announced her decision to retire from work and the user group. When she first asked for someone to take over the group, I had only been in the thick of GIS for a few months. After a couple more meetings, no one had offered to step in. I had a difficult time imagining this free resource disappearing after she retired, so I volunteered to “take the reins” as she put it, and she assured me that she would help with the transition. Regardless, the idea of running the user group scared the heck out of me, as most things do when we venture out of our comfort zone.

I’m happy to say that I’m able to continue to host free quarterly user group meetings in downtown Oakland, thanks to my partnership with BayGeo, their funding, and to my employer for the meeting space and setup. The meetings have a focus of sharing what GIS professionals do for a living, introducing new technologies, and the developments in our field. It’s also a good place to hear first-hand when employers are looking to hire and to let people know that you are looking for work, and better yet, it provides an opportunity to chat with each other one-on-one. The meetings are held from 9 AM to Noon just one block from BART, and most employers support attending the meetings and value them as training. If you’ve already attended, thank you for your support and motivation to keep going. If you haven’t attended yet, I hope you’ll visit the BayGeo Meetup page and look for the next San Francisco Bay Area GIS User’s Group meeting. By mentioning this article, you’ll be entitled to an extra snack or hot beverage… just kidding, they’re free. ☺

I've now spent almost five years as a Mapping Services Supervisor, three years as the Coordinator of the user group, and almost two years on the BayGeo Board. Looking back, I realize that our greatest challenges most often bring the greatest joy and feelings of accomplishment. If you haven’t already done so, I’d like to encourage you to slip outside that  comfort zone and join me by jumping feet-first into our Bay Area geo-community.

Fall 2016 Volume 9 Issue 2

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