Career Profile: An Interview with Jackie Woodruff, GIS Technician
Meet Jackie Woodruff. She’s a BC-based GIS Technician with a strong passion for the geomatics community. GoGeomatics recently interviewed Jackie to find out what life is really like as a GIS professional. We hope that this interview inspires you in your own career paths!
GoGeomatics: Hi Jackie, thanks for taking the time to chat with us. To start, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Jackie: I grew up in North Vancouver, spending lots of time outdoors. I began studying at the University of British Columbia and then transferred to the University of Victoria, where I completed a BSc in Geography. After a few years of teaching, skiing, and working as a ferry boat operator, I wanted a more technical job. I decided to pursue GIS by taking the Advanced Diploma GIS program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.
GoGeomatics: What was the BCIT program like for GIS?
Jackie: The BCIT GIS program was very busy. Luckily, I had some transfer credits from university which lightened my course load. I found it provided great exposure to all of the different aspects of GIS and the various technologies that are used when working with geographic data. We were encouraged from day one of the program to think about what industry and technologies we were most interested in and to then pursue practicum or project opportunities relating to these. I decided that my interests were in hydrology and web mapping technology, which led me to work with the Okanagan Basin Watershed on a project which used an interactive web map to show people where their water comes from. I really enjoyed the project experience; it was challenging and demanding, so when it was complete I felt like we had accomplished a lot.
GoGeomatics: What drew you to GIS as a profession?
Jackie: I took some GIS courses in my Geography degree and found that I enjoyed the analytical and technical aspect of the profession. I also did well in these courses, so it seemed like a good area to pursue further.
GoGeomatics: What was your first job after graduating GIS?
Jackie: My first job in GIS is the one I currently hold with Chartwell Consultants. When I graduated in May 2011 from BCIT, I started volunteering with the Community Mapping Network to build on my web mapping experience. I also made a website for myself that I could refer potential employers to. It contained the maps I had made while at BCIT, a description of my BCIT project, and my resume. It was useful for networking and ultimately my employer said it showed organization and additional skill/interests which set me apart from others.
My role at Chartwell as a GIS Technician is primarily to update the GIS with new data that is collected by field technicians. I have also worked on forestry maps and with some municipal data. I don’t do analysis but I have learned a lot about databases and data management in my day-to-day work.
GoGeomatics: What software and data do you use day-to-day with Chartwell Consultants?
At Chartwell Consultants I work as a GIS Technician, where I mostly work to keep our clients data neat and tidy. We add new data, update existing data, and do quality checks to make sure it is informative and useful. At Chartwell we use ArcGIS and Quantum GIS. Most of our data is in PostGIS databases managed by ArcSDE. I also use FME on occasion for data translations and I also use pgAdmin to query our PostGIS databases.
GoGeomatics: You continue to work as a GIS contractor. What type of work are you doing?
Jackie: The work I have done as a GIS contractor has all spawned from my volunteer work with the Community Mapping Network. Through this network, I have been put in touch with lots of people who want to put web maps on the network or need data management and GIS tasks completed. I initially used Quantum GIS for these tasks but eventually I purchased a license of ArcGIS Basic so that I can use a platform I am more familiar with. Also, one of my contracts specified that the end product be in Esri file geodatabase format so it justified me getting ArcGIS. Once I had done a few web mapping contracts I decided to register myself as a one-man business called Evergreen Mapping. I evolved my student portfolio website into a business website where I list the contracts and volunteer work I have done. The website is www.evergreenmapping.com.
GoGeomatics: Do you consider yourself a specialist in any areas of GIS, or more of a generalist?
Jackie: For the most part I consider myself a generalist but I have a bit of extra interest in data management and web mapping. My favorite projects are those that incorporate different types of data from many sources to create a collaborative project that people get excited about.
GoGeomatics: You have been involved in the CGCRT project. What can you tell us about that and your role there?
Jackie: YES! Earlier this year I participated in the Canadian Geomatics Environmental Scan and Economic Value Study that was commissioned by Natural Resources Canada. During my survey interview with Ed Kennedy, he mentioned that there was going to be a workshop in Ottawa where the Pan-Canadian Geomatics Strategy was going to be discussed. He suggested I look into this event because my enthusiasm and ideas would be welcome. I decided to attend and I found the whole experience very interesting. I love contributing my ideas but primarily I find myself listening to what people who have been in the industry for a long time have to say.
I think the CGCRT has a lot of momentum and I’m excited to help promote and carry out the initiatives. I am currently part of the Education and Capacity Building Working Group which just came together for the first meeting in mid-August. This group has initiatives that range from changing K-12 curriculum to developing student unions and fostering academic/industry partnerships. Within the working group, I’m most interested in working with young professionals and industry to create resources and networks that will bring the two groups together more often. This interest stems from my own observation that there are lots of new graduates who have a hard time finding their first job.
GoGeomatics: You’ve attended GoGeomatics Socials on both of Canada’s coasts, Vancouver and Halifax. Have you found these to be good events for networking and socializing with the geomatics community?
Jackie: These networking events are a fantastic way to meet and greet others in our industry. They are invaluable to new graduates because you never know who you are going to meet! I also believe that as the networks become stronger the ideas and partnerships that will result from these events will be bigger and more influential. No matter how many people come to the socials, the conversations are always very interesting.
GoGeomatics: Where do you see your career heading in the future, let’s say ten years down the road?
Jackie: In 10 years I hope to have enough experience from jobs and contracts to allow me to take on more project management roles. Having had a variety of work experiences already, I don’t find any one to be better than the other so I would like to find a way to continue to work in various capacities on a variety of projects. I have found that GIS work can allow a certain flexibility in schedule and location that some jobs can’t. For this reason, it often isn’t a big challenge to juggle several projects. I have been juggling employment, contract work and volunteer work for 3 years now and I love it.