By Christy Heaton on Apr 26, 2016
Guest Blog: Things I Learned Working at the Utah UGRC
This article will take 3 minutes to read
Hi there! I’m Christy. I work at a small consulting firm in downtown Seattle called SGSI. I also teach a summer GIS Programming course at the University of Washington and organize a Meetup group called Maptime Seattle.
Back in November 2009, I got my professional start as a GIS intern at the UGRC. During my time at UGRC I was involved in large-scale projects such as the Utah Broadband Project, the 2012 Re-Precincting Analysis, the Utah Historic Buildings map database, and the creation of the previous edition of UGRC website (version 5, I’m told). In 2012 I was accepted into the Masters in GIS program at the University of Washington, left my job at the UGRC, and made the big move to Seattle. I’m very happy with where I am in my career, and I have my start at UGRC to thank for that!
In this post, I’d like to share the top 4 things I learned while working at UGRC that have stuck with me and helped me along my career path. I hope they serve as advice for someone starting out, or as reminders of ways you can enhance your existing career. Thanks for reading!
1. The Value of Coding
While working at the UGRC I was often encouraged to find a way to automate repetitive tasks. While it was outside of my comfort zone and what I’d learned in school, I began to look into Python programming. Thanks to the help and guidance of developers at UGRC, I was able to save time and make my work more accurate by using Python. Once I used Python to write a script that identified the level of precision for the TURN GPS network and displayed the results on the July 2012 Utah Broadband Project’s Map of the Month. So cool! Now I use Python as often as possible in both ArcGIS and QGIS.
Professional networking has been key to finding interesting career opportunities. In fact, my start at the UGRC was due to networking! I met Bert Granberg at a University of Utah GIS Day event, where he gave an interesting talk about the work he was doing at UGRC. After the session was over I introduced myself. A few months later, after applying for an intern opening, I was working there myself. Since then I have networked my way into a GIS teaching gig in Spain and have even given a talk on networking. You can do okay without networking, but I encourage everyone to get out there and talk to people in your field. It’s a great way to stay on top of the latest technology and hear about interesting opportunities.
3. Making a Pretty Map
Making great maps is harder than you’d think. It requires a mixture of art, understanding of data, and the message you’re trying to give to the viewer. The more you can get a happy mix of these things into your map, the more attractive and effective it will be. Some people just have a knack for these things, but in my experience only practice and an understanding of map making best practices yields improvement. At the UGRC I was given the incredibly fun job of making the Map of the Month of the Utah Broadband Project. Check out my favorite map!
4. Giving Talks
While working at UGRC I was lucky enough to attend the UGIC state GIS conference every year. During my third year of attendance I gave a talk on the verification process we were using at the time for the Utah Broadband Project. The process of preparing and giving the talk was exciting and stressful, and so rewarding. Presenting work to your peers is such a great way to organize your own thoughts about your work. I am currently an organizer for a meetup group called Maptime Seattle. We organize monthly workshops using free and open source GIS software. Planning workshops has been a great way for me to continue to build my presentation skills. I’ve even taught workshops on a subject that I had little to no experience in, just so that I could learn it myself! I can’t say this enough: there is no better way to organize your own thoughts or learn something better than by teaching it to other people. Get out there and try it!