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Bonnie Lum: Trying to Find a GIS Job without a Map

I have always had an interest in maps.  Every time my family took a vacation, I was always the map holder even though I did not have my driver’s license yet. There is something about maps I find very intriguing and little did I know that there were jobs in this field of map making.  With little knowledge of what cartography was back in the day, I just knew I wanted to work with maps, however, I didn’t know how to get there when you have parents who kept encouraging you to be a “big money maker”.  I was following my parents’ dreams instead of my own.

I eventually graduated university with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Computer Science as technology was the next up-and-coming field. “That’s where all the jobs are”, people were saying.  However, throughout high school and even university, I have always had a fascination with taking Geography as electives.  I really did not know what to do with a Geography degree, so I continued with Computer Science. I even selected my 4th year Computer Science Thesis in “QA on Geographical Maps” where the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines was looking towards switching software for data collection.  They needed to know that they would see all their current map data from their current geographical software in another.

Now with my computer science degree, and having worked in the software industry as a Quality Assurance Analyst, or “Software Tester” in less technical terms, for over 10 years, I have come to realize how this background is so beneficial to the GIS field that I wish to achieve.  As a single woman with a mortgage and working a full time job, I could not quit my job to go back to school full time for in-depth training.  My best option was to take a certification program part-time offered by a community college.  I finally enrolled in the program when I switched companies.  My new and current company actually incorporates maps into their software.  It is nothing close to creating or designing a map or even collecting data to build a map, but I am able to see and use them as an under layer in the software that I test.  Although, the certification program was not the option I preferred, I knew I was going in the right direction and a step closer to the GIS industry.

After completing my GIS Certificate from Humber College, I started looking for volunteer work and a job in the GIS field.  I found that many jobs were in Western Canada and the East Coast.  As I mentioned earlier, I have a mortgage, and a beautiful home that I worked so hard to get.  I also have a second passion, which moving out of Toronto would not provide me this opportunity.  I reach for my goals in life and this does not mean only my career.  It also means passion in other parts of my life.   I believe in a work/life balance that will keep the mind and body healthy and strong.  With this said, I have been finding it difficult to find jobs in the downtown core of Toronto.  The next thing I realized was do I want to lower my income?  Sure, I have over ten years of testing experience and leadership, but I have zero experience in GIS.  Does this mean that I would have to demote myself a little just to get the job that I think I want?  Is it worth it with a mortgage?  These are all the questions I constantly ask myself as I look for jobs.  Volunteering for some experience would be the ideal option, but again, there are not a lot of volunteer opportunities in Toronto either.  I then thought of joining associations and organizations that may allow me to participate in networking activities or find some volunteer work, but with $150 annual fee to join on average, it did not seem quite worth it because many organizations provide seminars and networking functions during working hours which I would never be able to attend.

I was lucky to find a volunteer position through GoGeomatics Canada about 8 months after receiving my certificate.  I was actually using this site to find a GIS related job when I stumbled on this volunteer position.  It worked out because I was able to work from home during my own time even with head office located in Ottawa.  Seeing that GIS is now part of the technology world, everything was communicated and designed online.  It was that easy.  I really enjoyed what I did for GoGeomatics and it really helped me realize that GIS could be my calling.

I have not been able to find the time to find other volunteer work since but I did get a job interview as a GIS Data Analyst just 5 months ago.  I was so happy to have received an interview with a media/news firm.  I think it was my first application and interview in the GIS field.  The interview went well and I thought this position would be great for me to start and get some great working experience as I’d be working with two other guys who could definitely mentor me in this field.  Unfortunately, they went on to hire someone else with qualifications and experience more related to their needs.

Since then, I have been participating with the GoGeomatics monthly meetings.  It is interesting to hang out with a bunch of other people who also have interests in maps.  I never knew there could be such a group and I love how I feel like I fit right in even though I don’t quite work in the field yet.  One day, I still hope to be able to complete a degree in Geography, specializing in GIS.  Throughout my entire life, it appears I have been trying to make maps a part of my life from family vacations all the way to my current non-GIS career. I will continue to look for my dream job and reach for my goals.  I encourage you all to do the same whether it is GIS related or not.  I hope to connect with you at the Toronto GoGeomatics monthly meetings.

Check out other Canadian Women in Geomatics for International Women’s Day 2013 articles and interviews.

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