You won’t need a map to find him: Introducing Kierran Sutherland

If you start to notice an influx of engaging maps on our website and in our emails, you have GIS Specialist Kierran Sutherland to thank. We asked the newest Casey Trees staffer some pressing questions: mainly, does a man who’s made a career out of mapmaking ever get lost?

Casey Trees: Tell us about yourself!

Kierran Sutherland: I was born and raised in Central Jersey, no matter what people from South Jersey or North Jersey say. I went to Rutgers University, where I met my wife on the day we moved into the dorms our first year. I’ve worked full time in GIS since graduation and in my free time, I volunteer as a mentor with the Big Brothers program and as a tree planting crew chief with the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy in Baltimore County. And, at the end of a long day, nothing beats a good craft beer!

CT: What about GIS and mapping makes your heart flutter?

KS: My favorite part of using GIS is when people see a map or mapping application that amazes them. Not because of how it looks, but because they are looking at data in a new way, and it makes them think about what the data really mean.

CT: How do you explain what you do to your friends and family? Does it require visual aids — perhaps maps?

KS: If I don’t really want to go into detail, I’ll say GIS is spatial data analysis and visualization. That’s usually enough to end the conversation. To properly explain what I do, I usually use the London cholera outbreak of 1854, which Dr. John Snow mapped. Without intimate knowledge of the neighborhood where the outbreak occurred, there was no simple way to understand that the source was likely a well, which everyone was using. When you plot the homes of all of the affected people, and the local water wells, it became very obvious that the outbreak was centered around one well.

CT: Is it possible to have a favorite data visualization? If so, do you have one?

KS: I love cartograms, which are maps where the land area of a particular place is substituted with a thematic variable, like population. I find it to be particularly powerful when mapping election results in the United States.

CT: What map icon makes you mad?

KS: Every map icon can have its place. Like trees, map symbology works best when you use the right symbol in the right place. To quote a friend of mine, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

CT: Even though you frequently work with and create maps, do you ever get lost?

KS: A geographer is never lost; he is always precisely where he means to be.

CT: What is your favorite Google Street View sighting? 

KS: I enjoy that Google now has Street View of some of the major hiking trails around the country, like the Grand Canyon!