Mike and Mike Talk CAD and GIS for Computer Science Education Week

Computer science is a growing field that drives innovation throughout the US economy, but is often overlooked in education from grades K-12. In fact, only 33 states permit high school students to apply credits from computer science courses toward graduation.

The week of December 5-11 marks Computer Science Education Week. To celebrate this event, we sat down with GAI Consultants’ (GAI’s) Mike Curry, Senior Lead Designer, and Mike Owens, GISP, Assistant GIS Technical Leader, to discuss Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), respectively. Check out what they had to say about their professions below.

In a nutshell, can you explain CAD/GIS?

computerscience_infographicMike Curry (CAD): CAD is a tool that creates an environment capable of documenting a design from its inception to final delivery. Whatever that is, be it a two-sheet concept rendering of a new city park or a 100-sheet hospital campus, this tool has allowed us to take the next step in production from the old days of drafting with a pencil and paper.

Mike Owens (GIS): GIS is a computer-based system designed to capture, store, manage, analyze, and display geographical (spatial) data—which means the data has a place in the real world. GIS works by combining both database functionality with computer-based mapping to allow a user to layer and compare different types of information and data for both visual and quantitative analysis.

What kind of schooling is required to do what you do?

Mike Curry (CAD): There are a couple different avenues people can take to become a CAD Designer. The most common route is a two-year technical school, or apprentice school. My route was a bit different. I was accepted into a design program at my employer, where I took intensive classes every day for half a year to learn design techniques/concepts and everything that goes along with the software. After the schooling, they assigned me a mentor, and I had a year to learn on the job with a seasoned professional. Looking back on that experience, it truly provided some of the most important steps for laying a solid analytical foundation for my design career.

Mike Owens (GIS): Aspiring GIS Specialists/Analysts should have at least a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science Degree in either Geography, Information Sciences, Computer Science, or similar from a traditional four-year university. I’ve also seen people with degrees in Environmental Science, Geology, or Planning, with a concentration in GIS—either a minor in GIS or a GIS certificate. I majored in Information Sciences, so my background is more rooted in general Information Technology, but I also had some GIS classes. GIS is not typically offered as a major at many universities, so a person doesn’t necessarily have to have a degree in GIS.

What computer software programs do you use, and what programs are essential to learn and master?

Mike Curry (CAD): I mainly work in AutoCAD Civil 3D. The alternate CAD program is Bentley MicroStation, which most departments of transportation (DOTs) use. It’s necessary to know one or the other to be a CAD Designer. A couple other programs that are helpful to know include Blue Beam, which is an intuitive program for viewing, creating, and editing PDFs, and AutoTURN, which is a vehicle analysis and simulation program.

Mike Owens (GIS): Esri ArcGIS is the most commonly used GIS platform in the industry and is essential to learn for any GIS career. To a far lesser extent, it’s helpful to be familiar with Google Earth, because most non-GIS users will fall back on this as a free alternative to Esri products.

What types of projects do you typically work on?

Mike Curry (CAD): We have a diverse flow of work in our group, so I find myself involved in many different types of civil design, from master stormwater projects, hospital campus improvements, multi-block streetscapes, and fast food restaurants to maintenance of traffic plans and AutoTURN exhibits.

Mike Owens (GIS): I work on a wide range of natural gas and electric transmission/power delivery projects in support of various environmental tasks. Our GIS team also supports DOT projects in various states, such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia. We also assist Cultural Resources projects for a variety of GAI’s market sectors. And very soon, we’re about to start on a three-year GIS consultancy project with a new wind farm client.

How does what you do bring value to our clients’ projects?

Mike Curry (CAD): The drawings (plans) we create in CAD enable our clients to secure a permit to then be able to start construction. So if they don’t have approved design plans, they can’t obtain the permit, and if they don’t have a permit, they can’t start construction. The most important thing we deliver is an accurate, on time product to the client. Ensuring the contractor has all the information they need to build the project is paramount to what we do.

Mike Owens (GIS): GIS has the capability to save clients time and money through task automation, resource optimization, and visual and quantitative analysis, resulting in quick and accurate decision making. In my experience, most databases can be displayed visually. And often, our clients have databases and information that they want to see on a map in order to make a decision, but they don’t know exactly how. So they come to GIS database professionals and we work to visualize that information and bring it to life, whether it be in a PDF map or an interactive map accessible on a smartphone or tablet.


Mike and Mike show us that with the right education, training, and software knowledge, careers in CAD and GIS can take on many different possibilities. To learn more about Computer Science Education Week, visit www.csedweek.org. The website offers many helpful tools to help advocate for and promote computer science education locally, such as sample letters to teachers, principals, and administrators; recommended policy ideas for states; helpful statistics and resource to assist in the creation of advocacy materials; and much more.

For more information on CAD, contact Senior Lead Designer Mike Curry at 407.423.8398. For more information on GIS, contact Assistant GIS Technical Leader Mike Owens, GISP at 412.476.2000.

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