Congratulations to our December Alumni of the Month, Karreem Ali! He graduated in 2015 from our Masters of Professional Studies in GIS program. Currently, he works with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as a GIS Developer!

What is a recent project that you have worked on that you has made you draw upon your skills from the MPS program?

I was charged to create a new enterprise geodatabase for an in-house working group. Using the skills that I learned from the spatial database system, and GIS programming classes, I was able to plan the database, and create an intricate data ingestion system that updates features in the database using Python. I also used the Javascript and HTML web programming skills that I learned while in the program to create an administrative health check application to keep up with it all.

How have the skills you have learned in the MPS program helped you progress in your career?


While I was in the program, I worked as an intern for a government agency here in the Metro DC area. From the beginning, I applied the knowledge that I acquired from the program in my internship. The program manager saw the value of my GIS knowledge, and extended my internship from just a semester to a full year! I am proud to say that the scripts and applications I designed for that government agency four years ago are still in use today. 


Today, as the only GIS Developer in my line of office, I am tasked with a majority of the large scale GIS projects. I recently built out an internal enterprise GIS from the group up; a majority of the skills I have learned in the MPS program were of great benefit to the effort. Some of the skills I have been able to apply from the MPS program include:

  • Scripted automated data ingestion processes using Python
  • Use of spatial analysis tools
  • Construction of GIS databases
  • Creation and design of GIS web services
  • Use of agile methodologies in project management

The MPS program has substantially enhanced my career in GIS. What I gained in the program helped me to become a better member of society, a geographic information scientist, and a highly skilled programmer. I am pleased to say that I graduated from this program.

What drew you to the MPS GIS program at Maryland?

I was impressed on how flexible the program was around my schedule. With the responsibility of a full-time internship/job during the workweek, it was important to me that the lectures were held in the evening. Having access to recordings of all the lectures, with the ability to review them whenever I wanted to was essential to my success in the program. The lecturers were cordial, and answered any questions I had; they were always timely, and relatable. Being in a program that recognizes the value of information availability, and access was very important to me.

What advice can you give current and prospective students about the MPS program?

Attend as many GIS meetups and professional development seminars as possible! In doing so, you will meet people of interest, and grow your net worth by increasing your network. Even if the event is not GIS-centric, you will come to find many IT applications have a geospatial component, or could be applied in a geospatial context. For example, I attended a Red Hat Linux developer event where they were making webmaps using some of the same JavaScript APIs as GIS techies do. GIS is everywhere, so be active in sharing its uses by speaking with people and planting seeds of opportunity for yourself. Meet people outside of your genre, venue or line of study.

What recommendations would you make to current students for career and academic success after graduation?

In general, always challenge yourself to learn different tools that you could use in your daily workflow:

If you are not a great programmer, take additional introduction to Python, JavaScript, or other programming language courses online. The UMD allows free access to training, if you are a registered student, so take advantage of this resource while you can! There are also plenty of other courses out there specifically geared toward GIS, you just have to look for them.

If you are more of an advanced user, try to be ahead of the curve with some of the new technologies in IT, and GIS. Right now, in the IT industry, there is a focus on DevOps with tools that help automate, and monitor your software, and hardware infrastructure. The GIS community is starting to use its own flavor of DevOps tools to work with GIS infrastructure. Try to learn as much as possible about these new tools, and others that are on the horizon.

What are some of your hobbies/interests? 

I used to be a mobile DJ during my time as an undergrad, and I still ‘whip out’ the old turntables (...or controllers nowadays) occasionally, to do a ‘gig’, or to play for friends. I am also interested in single board computing with Arduinos, and Raspberry Pi - very useful tools to improve your coding skills. Someday, I plan to build my own DJ controller from one.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Networking is everything. Feel free to reach out on professional social media outlets like LinkedIn, local organizations, and in asking professors for recommendations.

Stay creative!

Karreem Ali