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Data and Systems at the Weather Network

In honour of International Women’s day on March 8th, GoGeomatics will feature interviews and articles by women about women in our field.  GoGeomatics Canada is honored to welcome Fiona Hatfield, GIS and BI Consultant to the community! 

GoGeomatics Canada:  Welcome Fiona and thank you for your contribution to Women in GIS.  Let’s start with a brief introduction.  Can you please provide a short bio for our readers? (where you are from, what schools you went to, anything you would like the readers to know about you)

Fiona Hatfield: After graduating from Carleton University’s Geography program in 1996, I struggled to find a job. Ottawa in the mid-90s was a difficult time to be a young inexperienced graduate. I went through unemployment, underemployment and much navel gazing, and decided to deepen my technical skills by attending Sir Sandford Fleming’s GIS Application Specialist (GISAS) program. About 4 days after I finished the program, I landed my first GIS job at the Ontario Ministry of Transportation in St. Catharines. I started my career programming in the proprietary languages of ArcInfo’s AML and Avenue for ArcView 3.x, and have been upgrading my technical skills since. My number one career goal is to learn something new every day.

GoGeomatics Canada: Are you able to pinpoint what led you to a career in GIS / geomatics? 

Fiona Hatfield: MapQuest led me to a career in GIS, I was blown away by a simple but powerful geocoding interface, it was 1998 and GIS looked like magic, I was hooked. I applied for Sir Sandford Fleming’s GISAS program, and have been keeping up with the changes in GIS software and technology ever since.

GoGeomatics Canada: Currently, you are working as a GIS developer for The Weather Network.  This sounds like a dream job!  Could you describe how you use GIS in your current position?  Do you have any Weather Network maps you can share with our readers?

Fiona Hatfield: My dream job has always been to work for a company that invests in its employee’s skills. I have only been with the Weather Network for a few short months and I have already attended several training courses to improve my soft and technical skills. Daily learning combined with working on interesting problems, alongside passionate people make the Weather Network a fun, challenging and innovative place of employment.

As an experiment I decided to track all the different GIS software products that I used today: ArcGIS Server 10.1, ArcGIS Desktop 10.1, Safe’s FME Desktop 2013, Safe’s FME Server 2013, PostgreSQL 9.1.3, POSTGIS 2.0, MS SQL Server 2012, Adobe’s Flash Builder 4.6, ArcGIS Viewer for Flex 3.1, ArcGIS API for Flex 3.1, and Google Earth. This doesn’t include all the supporting software I touched to get my job done. Keep in mind we are undergoing a system upgrade so our team is currently testing and migrating software, systems and applications to keep ahead of the innovation curve.  I love that I have my hands under the hood building, tweaking and troubleshooting these systems, it makes me feel valuable.

I don’t really make maps in my job, at least not ones I am proud to share. My job is more about systems and data: manipulation, storage, retrieval and building usable interfaces to access and use content. But maps and spatial data are central to operations at The Weather Network, I knew this to be true at my first interview, I walked into the head office and a map of the world is etched into the front lobby tile work!

GoGeomatics Canada:  You have a significant amount of experience working at ESRI?  Any career highlights, influential leaders or mentors? 

Fiona Hatfield: I look upon my 11 years at ESRI Canada as a time of maturing and character building; I learned so much about GIS, work ethic, soft skills, teamwork and fell in love with the constant change of technology. I met and worked with so many great people while at ESRI Canada that GIS networking and industry events are like old school reunions now.

I was fortunate to work at ESRI Canada during a huge growth period and several major overhauls in their technology. When I started I was teaching ArcView 3.2 and Avenue programming. Not long after I started, the 8.x platform was released and the ArcGIS system we are more familiar with today was born. With the release of version 9, huge improvements in usability, stability and system integration followed, and continue to improve with each service pack. I left shortly after the release of 10.0. I think the greatest thing I learned with each major release was how to get better at searching for answers. There are tutorials, videos, blogs, articles, samples, step by step instructions, and other resources too numerous to list. One thing for certain is technology will always change, but the GIS community is one of the most generous I have encountered; their contribution to forums and user communities are our most valuable resource.

GoGeomatics Canada: You have a solid career track in Geomatics.  Looking back, how do you think your first jobs in the industry helped you to get to where you are today? 

Fiona Hatfield: Anyone in this industry will agree that the Geomatics discipline is so vast and multifaceted it is difficult to see the forest for the trees. I think I needed the years of technical deep dive touching aspects of desktop, server, mobile, web and database to truly grasp what GIS can do. Additionally, I needed the years of working on my soft skills to improve key communication and influence skills to get me where I am today, in a career that I love, learning on the job every day, and working for a company that values my contribution.  I am thrilled to embark on a new path where I am applying GIS technologies to address real world problems, scaling to meet the demands of the Canadian public. It is mind boggling how many people use The Weather Network’s products and services every day; even my 6 year old daughter knows the brand.

GoGeomatics Canada: Has your gender played a positive role in your career? Have you had to overcome any gender-based obstacles?

Fiona Hatfield: This question reminded me of several projects where I was the only woman in a room full of older white men. I think in the past, I shied away from learning specific industry solutions, e.g. technologies geared toward electricity distribution or asset management, and I may have limited my opportunities to work on projects because of this. With experience comes confidence, and the realization that my gender should not limit my quest for more knowledge and skills. Based on my experience there are few women in technical GIS roles especially in industries like: energy distribution, public works, petroleum, mining and land management.  I have been fortunate to work in the GIS software and services industry and now the media and broadcasting industry, which both have a more balanced gender distribution than the Canadian Geomatics industry in general. I have had many strong technical female role models, managers and mentors, who manage and act in a very supportive manner, coaching the best out of people. This approach adopted by many women in leadership positions, results in a community that is very generous, supportive and focused on sharing best practices.  A positive role that my gender has played in my career, meant when I was on the road travelling for work, I rarely had to share a room with a snoring co-worker.

GoGeomatics Canada: As a woman in the industry, do you have any tips/suggestions for young women starting out?

Fiona Hatfield: I think I would tell new graduates to take advantage of their mobility. Get out, practice geomatics in the far reaches of the globe. While you are building your network, skill and career portfolio why not grab a few adventures along the way. Take that field job in the North West Territories or as a technician in a remote Northern Ontario community. I still remember moving across Ontario in a snow storm to start my first GIS job, I was able to fit all my possessions in the trunk of my dad’s car, and computers were a lot bigger back then.

GoGeomatics Canada: What about for women who are mid career and looking to transition from a technician-focused role into a consultant or more project focused position?

Fiona Hatfield: My tip would be to improve your soft skills. As a technical person, you can overlook the value of communication; continue to work on these skills through public speaking, writing technical documents, posting a tutorial on YouTube, diagramming your systems and workflows and getting out of the office to network at associations and industry events. I recently had a technical recruiter tell me that it was unusual to see a technical person with such strong soft skills, this is not by accident, I invest just as much time developing my soft skills as I do my technical skills.

GoGeomatics Canada: What would be the wackiest / strangest job or project where you’ve had to apply your GIS/geomatics skills?

Fiona Hatfield: This is not my story, but I always remember reading an article, in the book “Fun with GPS” by Donald Cooke, where someone attached a gps unit to their cat’s collar and created a map, now you can buy something similar at your local pet store. I don’t have any strange or wacky stories like this one to share but I have been involved with many creative implementations of GIS. I am currently building a lightning alerting process that monitors North America’s lightning detection network, runs through a variety of analytical models to determine where and how active lightning is, and triggers database updates, email notifications and file creation. This project has been so much fun to work on and I learned many new things about weather and technology in the process.

GoGeomatics Canada: GIS is a growing industry and still not utilized to its full potential. Can you envision areas where GIS could play a transformational role?  What would be your dream GIS job?

Fiona Hatfield: It wasn’t that long ago that I had to explain what GIS was to people when they asked me what I did for a living. Luckily Google Maps, target marketing and mainstream gps has taken some of the mystery away. I think with this increased awareness, many organizations are capturing, managing and storing spatial data. It also creates a problem, what to do with all the data, that is collected by the minute with sub meter accuracy and with more than 8 significant digits. Which brings us to today’s hot trend: GIS and Business Intelligence. I see these as very complementary technologies: turning data into information, either in a report, in a map, as the result of geospatial analysis or by combining all the above. Daily I read articles and blogs that have infographics, maps and spatial content. This is the tip of the iceberg where GIS is concerned; geospatial capabilities can be packaged up as apps or widgets or tools to include in a dashboard, on a website, or a smart phone, at the fingertips of executives and decision makers. I think this is where GIS will really shine, being included as a component of enterprise decision support systems, helping organizations gain greater insight from their data and create actionable information.

GoGeomatics Canada: Canada has been blessed with rich resources but it is sparsely populated. Based on our geography, can you comment on how GIS may help Canadians address any future issues? (for example an ageing population, immigration, climate change, water-use, or arctic resource exploration)

Fiona Hatfield: GIS is all about modeling the world and it’s systems on a digital platform. I think the scalability of today’s technology architecture can handle BIG data, including geographically BIG data. To accurately model the world we live in, the more data and detail the better, most systems (e.g. elevation, watershed, weather, transportation networks etc…) do not stop at international boundaries, so analysis shouldn’t either, if you exclude something outside of your geography of interest, you might overlook something critical. Understanding what the data is telling us is a different issue, and not my area of expertise. I can help you build systems, applications and workflows to get data in and out, what you do with the information… that is up to someone with a whole different skill set than mine.

GoGeomatics Canada:  Are you on Twitter or do you follow any map / geomatics related blogs? If so, are there any industry people you like to follow or blogs to read…besides GoGeomatics Canada of course?

Fiona Hatfield: Starting in 2006 & 2007, I was active on Twitter, kept up with blogs and kept current with social media trends. I think it had a lot to do with being on maternity leave for a year and missing the daily technical stimulation of a 9-5 job, plus web 2.0 was new and trendy. Today as a working mother, I have very limited spare time to maintain an active presence with social media. I have a few key blogs and resources I follow.  My favourites continue to be: Spatially Adjusted, All Points Blog, Blogs.esri.com, and of course GoGeomatics. I ‘liked’ esri on facebook; follow Geomatics and GIS trends on Pinterest; and comb through YouTube looking for visual GIS tutorials, walk throughs and coding samples. I think LinkedIn is where I choose to spend most of my social networking energy, building my professional network, profile and presence as a GIS and BI specialist. It continues to blow my mind the number of available FREE and open resources that are built by the GIS user community.

GoGeomatics Canada: Specifically, do you recommend any women GIS industry leaders our readers can follow through social media? 

Fiona Hatfield: A quick search through my contact list, through my bookmarks, a Google search, a search through esri’s websites, LinkedIn, professional associations URISA and GITA and very few results of women as GIS industry thought leaders appear. You can see women in the industry trying to find each other by creating special “Women in GIS” LinkedIn groups or meetups at popular conferences. But where are the female influencers? Unfortunately I do not have any recommendations to make. Very eye opening, perhaps it is time for me to get more involved. I will start by modeling my love of GIS and geography to my daughter and her friends, teaching her to read and fold a paper map, geocaching and perhaps planning some summer break fun involving maps, GPS and getting a little lost.

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

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