Will Carving Out A Geospatial Career

By William Jones

Geospatial is not a word you hear every day: it’s a bit of a niche industry.

I certainly wish that there had been more information about potential geospatial career paths when I was a GIS grad student at University of Canterbury last year. It was more through good fortune than knowledge that I ended up being an intern at Orbica and then went on to land a full-time position.

I’ve learned heaps in my first year though and I’ve got a few hints for people looking at making the leap from uni into a geospatial career, or even for people making a career change into this fast-growing industry.

Here goes:

1 Take opportunities

There are plenty and you don’t have to look too far to find them.

I presented my internship work on the historic Makogai leper colony in Fiji at the NZ Geospatial Research Conference. You can find out more about it on Orbica's YouTube channel.

I also presented a digital campus map that I worked on for Lincoln University at the Christchurch ESRI User Group conference and the Auckland ESRI User Group conference.

All it took was filling in a few application forms and putting together a PowerPoint presentation. But events like these are great career builders, so be proactive about getting out there.

2 Learn new skills

A geospatial career can land you in a broad range of places, from councils to big business to industry. I think consulting is pretty interesting because you see a lot of variety and it keeps it exciting. But wherever you are, keep learning.

That’s been a given at Orbica, where every new project requires thinking outside of the box and exploring new technology. But if that’s not you, get on the web and start upskilling yourself. Learn to code and develop and add some strings to your bow.

3 Be creative

The creative side of things is important to me. There’s the creativity of making something – even if it’s technical – then there’s the almost artistic side to designing websites and that type of thing. It’s about understanding how to layout a web page or choose a colour scheme that works.

For me, it’s about finding a way to incorporate something that I’m passionate about outside of work – painting – into what I do every day. Those two worlds definitely cross over.

4 Make connections

I’ve been a bit lucky in my first year in that I’ve spent two days a week working at the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery alliance (NCTIR). NCTIR was set up to restore the road and rail networks following the Kaikoura earthquake in November 2016. My role has included developing Fulcrum field collection forms. With the rest of the NCTIR GIS team we’ve got information flowing into systems smoothly, which is a leap forward from paper forms and manual entry. It’s also lessening the impact on the environment from the stacks of paper that would have been used.

A huge bonus has been the opportunity to head up to Kaikoura to see the work on the ground, which has left me wishing I’d been able to jump into my wettie at Maungamanu at lunchtime for a few waves.

A second bonus of being at NCTIR has been getting to know lots of different people in the geospatial world. That, as well as working with Orbica’s clients, has offered a huge pool of community. It helps knowing people in the industry. I guess it’s just cool being part of a community, going to Geo-socials etc and getting to know who’s out there.

5 Give back

There are lots of ways to do this. Some of it is knowledge sharing and some of it is building capacity. For me, the best opportunity was in mentoring a University of Canterbury GIS intern a year on from when I did my internship. It’s sort of like coming full circle. It was cool watching her develop her work because she fully seized the opportunity and learned a lot of new skills in programming and general web development, which she had barely touched before. Best of all she’s landed a great career-starting job in the geospatial industry.

It reminded me of my time as an intern. At Orbica, you’re thrown in the deep end but you’re not going to drown. There’s encouragement to think outside the square, to be innovative and to look for better ways to do things, and support to help you achieve your objectives. It’s been an amazing year and I look forward to keeping up this pace of learning and exploration.