GEOG 485:
GIS Programming and Automation

Instructors Information


Instructor for Fall-1 2017 (August-October)

James O'Brien

Teaching Assistants: Three very talented teaching assistants, and former students will be assisting with the grading of your assignments (A grader will be assigned to you during the first teaching week once enrollments are finalised).

Email: Please use the course e-mail system (it ensures your emails don't get caught up in any spam filters). I check e-mail regularly and will do my best to respond to questions at least once per weekday and once on weekends unless I notify you otherwise. If ANGEL is down you can try

Office hours: By appointment.

I got involved in GIS in 1993 but via a slightly different path perhaps to most people. A year earlier I'd been introduced to GIS at a university promotional event where it was described as "Computing and Environmental Studies." Intrigued at how the two could be combined, I went along, listened, liked what I heard and selected GIS as my undergraduate degree.

That degree, combining GIS with a solid background in Computing Science, led to me being employed as a computer programmer, hardware technician, cartographer and a few other things along the way. I obtained a PhD at Penn State (01-04), and followed that up with a year in Australia doing financial management before returning to Penn State for a one year Post Doc working on the final year of the Human Environment Regional Observatory project( At the conclusion of that project I moved to Kingston University in London, UK as a Senior Lecturer in GIS and then as a Principal Lecturer teaching ArcGIS customisation, spatial databases, GIS & Hazards, Mobile GIS and Geoweb Development (which uses ArcGIS Server), Project Management and a few other things. After 4.5 years doing that, I was enticed back to Australia to join the Risk Frontiers research centre at Macquarie University where I work as part of a team using GIS (and a range of other tools) to model the spatial distribution of natural hazards (and their associated losses) like fire, flood, earthquake, and cyclone (hurricane) for insurance companies. As the Chief Geospatial Scientist I spend a lot of my days designing and building spatial tools for analysis particularly using Python but also a range of other languages. I'm based in Sydney, but don't let the 12(ish) hour time difference to the East Coast of the US concern you; I'm getting up when the majority of you will be starting work on the class :) This will be my 21st time teaching Geog 485, and as always, I'm really looking forward to it.


Now it’s your turn to introduce yourself (you don't have to post pictures!). Please post a brief introductory message to "The Lounge" discussion forum describing:

  • Your name and current occupation
  • Any experience with Python (remember, none is required for this course)
  • Any experience with other programming languages (none is required for this course)
  • Any questions or concerns you have about Python or this course (optional)