Embarking on my second year at New Light Technologies and 5 years working in GIS, I found myself seated at GIS-Pro, contemplating the wealth of knowledge and experiences I had accumulated throughout my relatively young career. It struck me that it was time to pay it forward, to distill the wisdom I had gained from my colleagues, mentors, career development workshops, as well as sessions at GIS-Pro and Esri Conferences. In addition to these valuable insights, I delved into my personal reflections to compile the following list: I invite you to peruse these lessons and kindly share them with your friends and colleagues who are new to the world of GIS.
Find mentors and grow your network
- Utilize the URISA Mentoring Network | URISA mentorship opportunities, and join organizations where you can ask questions, grow your network, and explore learning opportunities and GIS pathways. Conferences are also great ways to make new connections. I often meet a new friend or a group of friends and try to navigate the conference with them. It is a great way to make the conference feel smaller and have more insightful conversations with your new network.
- Remember your friends and professors from college and internships; that is often the beginning of your network. GIS is a small world, so keep positive relationships a priority. You may not click with everyone, and that's okay, but never leave a working relationship on bad terms.
- Become a mentor. This could be in a more formal role as a URISA mentor or in many less formal ways. Always be approachable, willing to help, and inquisitive about new ideas. Advocate for other young professionals in the workplace, and be a friend to everyone. This will help grow your network and instill self-confidence as you become a leader.
Find your niche and advocate for yourself
- Identify and communicate your passions and strengths to your manager. Work on improving your weaknesses, but understand that it's normal not to excel in everything initially. Experiment early to find your niche; however, being a versatile "jack of all trades" within the organization is valuable too. Both specialization and versatility hold their own significance in building a successful career.
- It is okay to say no to positions that don’t fit you or your goals. It is tempting to say yes to the first job offer out of college, but intuition is your best friend. Listen to your gut; if this isn’t the right fit, something better will come along soon. You don’t want to settle for a job that you may not enjoy.
- When content in your current role and presented with a new opportunity within your organization, it's perfectly acceptable to decline. However, it's essential to balance your refusal with a constructive alternative. A flat-out rejection to your superiors can negatively impact your professional reputation. Instead, if the new role doesn't align with your goals or doesn't fit into your current schedule, frame your response positively. For instance, you might express, "I'm currently committed to project X until Y date. However, I will be available starting on Z date. Would this timeline work for the new role?" Alternatively, you could say, "While the offered role doesn't align with my skill set and strengths, I believe Jane would be an excellent fit. I'd be more suited to supporting the X, Y, and Z components." By responding in this way, you show respect for the opportunity presented while also highlighting your commitment to your current responsibilities and offering a constructive alternative.
- That being said, where you start doesn’t need to be where you stay. Learn everything you can, and when you find that you’ve stopped learning or need a shift in environment, leave on good terms. Moving workplaces is shown to be a good way to boost compensation and diversify your skills. If you are happy where you are, stay and continue to find opportunities to grow and learn in your current setting.
- Finding a place where you can learn is important for a young professional. I left my first place of work because I was the sole GIS analyst on my team. I was brand new to the field and didn’t have the opportunity to work with or learn from other GIS professionals. Now at New Light Technologies, I have colleagues who have been in the field longer than I have and have helped me tap into new resources and organizations to continue my growth.
Take yourself seriously
- People will take you seriously when you take yourself seriously. Being new to the field doesn’t mean you have less to offer; being young doesn’t mean your voice matters less. Your youth is a superpower. You have an updated worldview compared to some of your GIS veterans; bring ideas from your college courses or case studies into the conversation. Though there may be pushback or people resistant to change, there is still an opportunity for you to influence growth in your department. Be humble and respect experience, but be confident enough to voice your opinion and advocate for it.
- Your background makes you unique. Not everyone in GIS starts in GIS. In fact, most people don’t. If you started in Environmental Science, Urban Planning, Geology, or Computer Science, your background will bring you a unique perspective. Don’t be shy about it. It matters that you are here. You were invited; your ideas can make a lasting difference.
Leadership comes at many levels and in many forms
- It is okay to not always be a leader or want to be a manager; leadership comes in many forms. Even at the lowest level of your career, you can influence a positive team environment by showing up ready to work, listening to all of your peers, and creating an equitable space. When I think of leadership, some traits that come to mind are empath, advocate, and visionary. What traits do you think of? Anyone in any position can embody these traits and lead those around them to success.
- Focusing on technical skills instead of jumping into project management is still a great way to progress your career. If you find that personnel management isn’t your thing, there are still many opportunities out there to enhance your position. You can continue to grow in your field as a project manager or as a lead technician. If this is of interest to you, continue to grow and develop your soft skills and your technical skills. Be sure to communicate with your leadership about your career goals.
Soft skills matter
- Engaging with your coworkers on a personal level by asking about their day and showing genuine interest can be just as valuable as discussing project progress, especially when the context is right. Building rapport and fostering a comfortable environment for communication is key.
- The ability to articulate complex technical concepts in simple, understandable terms is a valuable skill. It not only enhances teamwork but also strengthens your ability to convey the importance of your work to clients and stakeholders. Personal relationships matter, whether they're within your team or with your clients. These connections can open doors, foster collaboration, and build trust.
- As for managing your breaks and workday, consider avoiding non-professional social media scrolling and minimizing phone use during working hours, if possible. Use these breaks to read blogs or books that contribute to your personal and professional development, whether it is enhancing your technical skills or honing your soft skills. LinkedIn can be a valuable platform for discovering technical updates related to the tools you use regularly, opinion pieces on the GIS field, work-from-home tips, and much more. Other examples of resources for geospatial science updates include GeoAwesomeness, GIS Lounge, Directions Magazine, and Esri Blogs.
Adapt and change with the technology
- As a young professional, you likely have a unique advantage—exposure to cutting-edge technologies and fresh ideas that your more seasoned colleagues may not have encountered. It's vital to leverage this advantage by staying curious and proactive. Continuously explore new concepts and embrace emerging technologies in your workflow. If you stumble upon innovative applications for Artificial Intelligence or discover new models, don't hesitate to share them with your team.
- To keep your skills sharp and relevant, commit to lifelong learning and stay up-to-date with the latest tools and technologies. While your job might predominantly rely on a set of 5–10 familiar tools and workflows, it's crucial not to let the rest of your skills grow rusty. Invest your personal time in ongoing education and knowledge enhancement.
You can have passions outside of GIS
- In the world of GIS, where passion often seems to be the driving force behind every conversation and project, it's easy to feel like you need to be the most passionate person in the room. GIS conferences, for instance, can be a whirlwind of intense discussions and enthusiastic exchanges that might leave you questioning your own level of devotion to the field. But here's the truth: You don't have to be the most passionate person in the room to excel in your GIS career.
- Enjoying your work, dedicating yourself to tasks with 100% effort, and embracing a growth mindset are all perfectly sufficient. You're not required to live and breathe GIS around the clock. What truly matters is that you find joy in your work, savor the conversations, and continue seeking opportunities for personal and professional growth. It's fantastic if GIS is what fuels your morning enthusiasm, and if completing projects is the highlight of your day. However, it's equally acceptable if your passion lies outside the confines of your working hours. Your extracurricular interests don't make you any less motivated in the workplace.
- For instance, I love my job, and each day I wake up excited to tackle the tasks at hand. Yet, my passions also lie in getting outside, spending quality time with my family, tending to my garden, and writing. These activities are my sources of motivation, and they've helped me realize that they are not distractions from my work; they are driving forces that empower me to complete tasks and excel in what I do. In GIS, as in any other field, being the most passionate person in the room isn't the only path to success. Your dedication, effort, and the things you love outside of work can all contribute to a fulfilling and productive professional life.
To the future generation of GIS professionals, you're already making great strides. Keep spearheading essential conversations, creating positive changes in your workplaces, and fostering an inclusive and equitable environment for those who will follow in your footsteps. Geospatial science is an ever-evolving field, and I encourage you to remain committed to your own growth, always finding new ways to stay ahead of the curve. Your contributions are shaping the future of GIS, and the journey ahead is full of exciting opportunities.