GEOG 863:
Web Application Development for Geospatial Professionals

Instructor Information - James O'Brien


Contact Information - James O'Brien

James O'Brien's photo

Email: jameso (at)

AVAILABILITY: Students are welcome to contact me by email any time; I am usually able to respond within 24 hours.  If you are a student registered for the course, please use the Canvas email system for course-related correspondence, as I prefer to keep those messages separated from my other email.  I am also happy to speak to students over the phone, Skype, Zoom, etc., though it is best to set up an appointment for a phone call.

Welcome to the course!

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 Ph.D. 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 customization, 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, then at Macquarie University, and now a private, employee-owned company 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 and a range of other languages, building online map applications using both proprietary and open source tools. 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 :)

I've taught a number of classes in the GIS program including Geog 485 (GIS Programming and Software Development (Python), Geog 489 (GIS Application Development - our new advanced Python class), Geog 585 (Open Web Mapping) Geog 865 (Cloud and Server GIS) and here, Geog 863. I've been with the Penn State online program since 2007 and enjoyed every minute of it and I'm very proud to be associated with both the faculty who teach these programs and the adult professionals who study in them.

Best of luck in the course!