Urban planning community

+ Reply to thread
Results 1 to 23 of 23

Thread: How to get a job OR GIS does not a planner make

  1. #1

    Registered
    May 1997
    Location
    Williston, VT
    Posts
    1,371

    How to get a job OR GIS does not a planner make

    Back on a theme I have expounded on before:

    After getting the first dozen or so applications for the Environmental Planner job I recently announced (see the Kiosk), I had to go back and read what I wrote. I did indeed place the ability to make maps at the first of a long list of skills needed for this job. But if you read the cover letters/resumes, you would think that I had asked for a full-time GIS technician.

    I realize that part of the problem is the schools - it is easier to teach GIS analysis than to teach people skills. But I have to say this once again, for the benefit of the participants in this forum:

    GIS skills are basic - indeed they are now sort of like reading and writing. They will not distinguish you from the herd.

  2. #2
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
    Registered
    Apr 1996
    Location
    New Hampshire
    Posts
    7,568
    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    GIS skills are basic - indeed they are now sort of like reading and writing. They will not distinguish you from the herd.
    Amen. I had the same thing happen with applicants for my intern position....60% of the applicants focused so much on GIS, that they had no chance of getting the job (focused on developing a conservation subdivision ordinance and research for a TDR program).
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  3. #3
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
    Registered
    Mar 2004
    Location
    Where Valley Fever Lives
    Posts
    7,069

    Wisdom is a good thing.....

    So noted.....
    Skilled Adoxographer

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2001
    Location
    The Cheese State
    Posts
    9,920
    Lee, this is so very, very true. GIS is now taught by schools as the "hot thing" that is going to set them apart from everyone else. This might have been a bit truer ten years ago, but now it is an expectation of any graduate. I know that when I go out to hire my first employee I will have an interest in their GIS skills, but there are a half dozen other skills I will rank first. My biggest concern is that to fit in all of the GIS courses, colleges are allowing students to pass on taking additional courses in planning law, environmental science, economics, or other topics they should be studying.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian andreplanner's avatar
    Registered
    Apr 2005
    Location
    Edmonton via T-Dot & LA
    Posts
    121
    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    Back on a theme I have expounded on before:

    After getting the first dozen or so applications for the Environmental Planner job I recently announced (see the Kiosk), I had to go back and read what I wrote. I did indeed place the ability to make maps at the first of a long list of skills needed for this job. But if you read the cover letters/resumes, you would think that I had asked for a full-time GIS technician.

    I realize that part of the problem is the schools - it is easier to teach GIS analysis than to teach people skills. But I have to say this once again, for the benefit of the participants in this forum:

    GIS skills are basic - indeed they are now sort of like reading and writing. They will not distinguish you from the herd.
    If you master GIS or CAD, guaranteed your path is going to be as a lifetime technician. That's why I stayed away from learning those applications. Yes there's the argument of knowing the technical side of planning to understand what goes on but there are other ways to get around the scale. It all depends what your career goals are.

    Nevertheless planners should help the people skills process. I find they train them more so in the US jobs than the Canadian jobs. It's much harder here to break the market than it is in the US. But that's only my opinion.

    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    Lee, this is so very, very true. GIS is now taught by schools as the "hot thing" that is going to set them apart from everyone else. This might have been a bit truer ten years ago, but now it is an expectation of any graduate. I know that when I go out to hire my first employee I will have an interest in their GIS skills, but there are a half dozen other skills I will rank first. My biggest concern is that to fit in all of the GIS courses, colleges are allowing students to pass on taking additional courses in planning law, environmental science, economics, or other topics they should be studying.

    I agree. No one should focus on one thing. It should be diverse. That's why I have interest in more than one area of planning - transportation, housing and economic development. Some people are made for the technical side, others are the policy side, although one complements the other in some ways.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
    Registered
    Mar 2004
    Location
    Appleton, Wisconsin
    Posts
    4,166
    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    Lee, this is so very, very true. GIS is now taught by schools as the "hot thing" that is going to set them apart from everyone else. This might have been a bit truer ten years ago, but now it is an expectation of any graduate. I know that when I go out to hire my first employee I will have an interest in their GIS skills, but there are a half dozen other skills I will rank first. My biggest concern is that to fit in all of the GIS courses, colleges are allowing students to pass on taking additional courses in planning law, environmental science, economics, or other topics they should be studying.
    Howabout for those of us who can't make heads or tails out of ESRI software yet have an intense interest in the subject of actual planning?

    I have never been able to make friends with computers at the 'system' level, especially anything without a user-friendly GUI (and don't even THINK of having me use a 'command-line' interface) and just for that reason feel like I am now farther away from my goal of a career in the field than I was before I took my first university-level class. It seems like everyone is now wanting a proficiency, if not an outright expert-level knowledge of GIS software in their entry-level/intership postings. I'm a planner, not a computer geek.

    Mike

  7. #7
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
    Registered
    Sep 2001
    Location
    skating on thin ice
    Posts
    6,958
    After attending training this week, I only wish that the GIS developers and sales people had a clue about planning.

    My comment on this subject is that as a professional you should be able to communicate with your tech's but you do not necessarily need to know how to do it. Why should I know or care about projections? But I need to understand how databases are structured and can be used to cross reference one another.

    As for an interview question on this topic, if a peron spouts off about GIS, ask them if they need a computer for it? If they say yes, tell them thanks but no thanks, they don't undertand the relationship between spatial and aspatial data.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  8. #8
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
    Registered
    Apr 2004
    Location
    Colorado
    Posts
    9,009
    Blog entries
    2
    Whew, I got a planning internship and job with mainly GIS skills. Glad I slipped in under the radar to have experience in both.
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2001
    Location
    The Cheese State
    Posts
    9,920
    Quote Originally posted by mgk920
    Howabout for those of us who can't make heads or tails out of ESRI software yet have an intense interest in the subject of actual planning?

    I have never been able to make friends with computers at the 'system' level, especially anything without a user-friendly GUI (and don't even THINK of having me use a 'command-line' interface) and just for that reason feel like I am now farther away from my goal of a career in the field than I was before I took my first university-level class. It seems like everyone is now wanting a proficiency, if not an outright expert-level knowledge of GIS software in their entry-level/intership postings. I'm a planner, not a computer geek.

    Mike
    There are many, many planning specialties and skill s that are unrelated to GIS. Granted, it may be helpful to have a functional knowledge of GIS to perform as a planner, but it is rarely needed to write codes, facilitate a meeting, review a site plan, prepare an EIS, fill out a grant application, perform a fiscal analysis, etc.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  10. #10
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
    Registered
    Jun 2003
    Location
    at the neighboring pub
    Posts
    5,254
    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    There are many, many planning specialties and skill s that are unrelated to GIS. Granted, it may be helpful to have a functional knowledge of GIS to perform as a planner, but it is rarely needed to write codes, facilitate a meeting, review a site plan, prepare an EIS, fill out a grant application, perform a fiscal analysis, etc.
    Amen! I think it is important for planners to know what GIS is capable of and when it is appropriate, not necessarily how to make it happen. GIS for the sake of GIS is ludicrous. I wish somebody would communicate that to the universities.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  11. #11
    Cyburbian spunky2's avatar
    Registered
    Apr 2005
    Location
    Las Vegas, NV
    Posts
    65
    Quote Originally posted by andreplanner
    If you master GIS or CAD, guaranteed your path is going to be as a lifetime technician.
    I agree. And I've been guilty of this. If I get a staff member who knows GIS well, I'll put them in front of that computer, tell them to take frequent breaks so they don't get carpel-tunnel, and let them go to town. Even if they have a planning or biology background, they really have to be assertive and say, "I don't want to do this!" in order for me to give them something that isn't a "GIS monkey" job. And even then, they will still get asked to do the more complex GIS work as required.

    Most everyone does know a certain amount about GIS nowadays so it is difficult to separate yourself from the herd by just stating on a resume that you have GIS experience. But if you really know GIS well, once you get in the workforce you will either have to play dumb or be assertive to avoid being pigeon-holed as a GIS tech. Unless that's what you want...

  12. #12
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
    Registered
    Nov 2004
    Location
    Austin, TX
    Posts
    739
    I've been in GIS for nearly 8 years now. It's all a big lie and doesn't work half the time. ESRI is just good at marketing, not creating a truly useful product. I find it frightening that so many people put so much trust into GIS data and technology. They don't understand it so they just believe whatever someone tells them. You absolutely wouldn't believe some of the things I have the power to change.... just with the click of a mouse button.

    I'm going to head into planning as soon as I finish my degree and I'm going to tell them not to even say the word "GIS" around me

  13. #13
    Cyburbian geobandito's avatar
    Registered
    Feb 2005
    Location
    Toronto
    Posts
    509
    Quote Originally posted by spunky2
    ...they really have to be assertive and say, "I don't want to do this!" in order for me to give them something that isn't a "GIS monkey" job.
    We've had the opposite experience at our agency (fairly large). The planners have to convince the higher-ups (who usually don't know the first thing about GIS) that we should be allowed to do some GIS work, and at least have ArcView available to us. The powers that be have the mindset of "planners plan and technicians make maps," which doesn't at all recognize that there's more to GIS than just making pretty maps. I use GIS more for analysis than I do for producing a product. I think there are a lot of jobs out there, especially at smaller agencies, where knowing a little GIS is helpful and just makes you more productive and useful, and it doesn't mean being pigeonholed.

    Granted, I think some of the reason for this at our agency is that people want to keep up-to-date on GIS in the event of a job hunt.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2001
    Location
    South Milwaukee
    Posts
    8,935
    Off-topic:

    Quote Originally posted by jread
    I've been in GIS for nearly 8 years now. It's all a big lie and doesn't work half the time. ESRI is just good at marketing, not creating a truly useful product. I find it frightening that so many people put so much trust into GIS data and technology. They don't understand it so they just believe whatever someone tells them. You absolutely wouldn't believe some of the things I have the power to change.... just with the click of a mouse button.

    I'm going to head into planning as soon as I finish my degree and I'm going to tell them not to even say the word "GIS" around me
    Doesn't work half the time??!! That must be user error. Go ahead, stick your head in the sand. And then, please go work for my firm's competitors.

    We work with the product daily, from $2,000 jobs to six-figure projects. Our firm of over 200 people, most of whom have access to the product, NEVER have a single problem with the software unless it is a new install or we havent downloaded a patch. in the world of Microsoft, who isn't used to that?

    Problems typically come from the data source, the user's [lack of] proficiency, or vague project managment. Not from the software.


    That said, I agree with Lee and NHPlanner, and the rest. know it, don't live it. Then again, ESRI wasn't around when I was in college, and my bill rate is too expensive to sit me in front of ArcMap ad nauseum, so now I just get to bark "Make Me A Map!"

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
    Registered
    Jul 2003
    Location
    San Diego, CA
    Posts
    7,061
    Quote Originally posted by Chet
    Off-topic:
    Doesn't work half the time??!! That must be user error. Go ahead, stick your head in the sand. And then, please go work for my firm's competitors.

    We work with the product daily, from $2,000 jobs to six-figure projects. Our firm of over 200 people, most of whom have access to the product, NEVER have a single problem with the software unless it is a new install or we havent downloaded a patch. in the world of Microsoft, who isn't used to that?

    Problems typically come from the data source, the user's [lack of] proficiency, or vague project managment. Not from the software.


    That said, I agree with Lee and NHPlanner, and the rest. know it, don't live it. Then again, ESRI wasn't around when I was in college, and my bill rate is too expensive to sit me in front of ArcMap ad nauseum, so now I just get to bark "Make Me A Map!"
    GIS education is increasingly teaching the software like it is a utility (much to the disgust of the professors I had) -- kind of like saying if you can type, you can be a best-selling author. GIS is NOT just "software". GIS stands for "Geographic Information SYSTEM", not "Geographic Information SOFTWARE". The 5 components: software, hardware, data, procedures, and people. Data is the most expensive and people are the crucial difference in making it work.

    That said, I see it as a tool in the same way I see math as a tool: It is cool that I can ace math-heavy classes that teach hydrologic modeling (for example) or GPS theory but math is a means to an end, not an end in itself. GIS is a means to an end and if it isn't serving a larger goal, it is all flash and no substance. Nonetheless, you cannot teach the software alone like you might teach a word processing program.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2001
    Location
    The Cheese State
    Posts
    9,920
    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone
    GIS education is increasingly teaching the software like it is a utility (much to the disgust of the professors I had) -- kind of like saying if you can type, you can be a best-selling author. GIS is NOT just "software". GIS stands for "Geographic Information SYSTEM", not "Geographic Information SOFTWARE". The 5 components: software, hardware, data, procedures, and people. Data is the most expensive and people are the crucial difference in making it work.

    That said, I see it as a tool in the same way I see math as a tool: It is cool that I can ace math-heavy classes that teach hydrologic modeling (for example) or GPS theory but math is a means to an end, not an end in itself. GIS is a means to an end and if it isn't serving a larger goal, it is all flash and no substance. Nonetheless, you cannot teach the software alone like you might teach a word processing program.
    You bring up a good point, which reinforces what others have said. "People are the crucial difference in making it work." To me, this means that people must bring the fundemental knowledge and skills to the software to realize its full potential and to make the results meaningful. I can think back to 1992-3 when I was doing GIS in a quasi-governmental agency. I was the only person with a geography degree working with the GIS, and the rest of the techs were all computer science people. All they knew were the mechanics of the system. They could not frame a good query or produce a map that communicated the results.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  17. #17
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
    Registered
    Nov 2004
    Location
    Austin, TX
    Posts
    739
    By "doesn't work half the time" I meant that the combination of software robustness and competency of persons involved is a mixture that is rarely found, especially in local government where it seems that nobody wants to learn anything new.

    As for software flaws, they ARE there. Try digitizing in good ol' Arc/Info then switch over to ArcGIS and see which one does a better job? What about working with shapefiles in ArcView vs. working with mxd files in ArcGIS? Sometimes it's MUCH easier (and faster) to just do all the work in ArcView and then convert it over to ArcGIS (and just pretend you used ArcGIS the whole time). I'm sorry, but unless you use GIS a LOT you cannot see all of these little differences.

    Many times I think ESRI is more in the business of marketing and selling than creating a really useful product. The stuff sure as hell doesn't work in the "real world" with real data in the same fashion that it seamlessly works on their demo projects. I guess the good thing is that the software can be customized to suit your specific needs.

  18. #18
    Suspended Bad Email Address teshadoh's avatar
    Registered
    Mar 2004
    Location
    Boulder, CO
    Posts
    427
    I wish they would disable the editing features in ArcView 3x - their topological accuracy is horrible, ESPECIALLY for polygons. But in my view ArcGIS is a huge step in more accurate & more useful editing tools from ArcView 3x. Of course, in my mind ArcInfo will remain superior in terms of editing, but ArcGIS has significantly improved to at least be reasonably similar - they just need to incorporate tools to identify dangle nodes & other erroneous nodes.

    As for the topic - most of the planners in our agency use GIS software, all to varying degrees. But for land use, there is one employee that has reluctantly been pigeon holed as the GIS lead & performs technical tasks. This is partly due to the GIS department being a seperate department from planning - so often the planners handle GIS tasks on their own, except for some map production. But as for that land use planner, he realizes he was hired primarily because of his GIS background, but does feel like his planning skills are over looked due to his GIS skills.

    jread - just a little correction, ArcGIS mxd files are synomonous with ArcView 3x apr files. Shapefiles are still a native format to ArcGIS, but personal geodatabase & SDE geodatabases provide a higher level of multi-user editing environment.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian jread's avatar
    Registered
    Nov 2004
    Location
    Austin, TX
    Posts
    739
    Quote Originally posted by teshadoh
    jread - just a little correction, ArcGIS mxd files are synomonous with ArcView 3x apr files. Shapefiles are still a native format to ArcGIS, but personal geodatabase & SDE geodatabases provide a higher level of multi-user editing environment.
    You are right... I mixed up the terminology (all these acronymns eat away at the mind after awhile).

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
    Registered
    Jul 2003
    Location
    San Diego, CA
    Posts
    7,061
    Quote Originally posted by jread
    By "doesn't work half the time" I meant that the combination of software robustness and competency of persons involved is a mixture that is rarely found, especially in local government where it seems that nobody wants to learn anything new.

    <snip>

    Many times I think ESRI is more in the business of marketing and selling than creating a really useful product. The stuff sure as hell doesn't work in the "real world" with real data in the same fashion that it seamlessly works on their demo projects. I guess the good thing is that the software can be customized to suit your specific needs.
    ESRI is a privately held company that sets a very high standard. And they are trying to bring a very geeky product to "the masses" KNOWING that the high level of competence and complex understanding of multiple disciplines is too hard to achieve "popularly". Some of my professors taught in either 3.x or a mixture of 3.x and 8.x. One of them entered most info in 3.x in DOS. He had been around FOREVER. They had their criticisms of ESRI and of ESRI's products. Some of them felt that 8.x was an inherently inferior product to 3.x and I think from a certain perspective they are correct -- but you cannot teach 3.x to "the average person". The more intuitive "windows" environment of 8.x (and beyond) is much more user-friendly for a generation of folks who grew up with Microsoft products.

    I have seen similar criticisms of Yahoo and PayPal. My Geeky friends deride the fact that my websites are hosted on Yahoo servers and have endless criticism of the "clunky" user interface, etc. and there are legitimate criticisms of PayPal as well but both of them are popular because they are king of the hill in terms of being user-friendly for the NON-geeks. I think two classes of GIS practice are emerging: 1) the "average" user which does have value in that it makes very dense information available in a digestible format which does not overwhelm folks and it helps inform decision-making with a richer information base and 2) the real wizards who know how to make it sing. The fact that not everyone knows how make it sing does not mean we should throw the baby out with the bath water.

    GIS is a useful tool. It is so complex that many people can make a career of some PIECE of it. But, per Lee's original point, planners still have to keep it in perspective and not get sucked into GIS overly much just because it CAN take up all your time and attention if you Let It do so. Planning is about how people and place interact. GIS is a nifty tool which can help planners more effectively do their jobs. And ESRI is trying to make that tool as user-friendly as possible, knowing that anything which is "user friendly" is, by definition, something serious geeks will tend to snort at.

    And I am not trying to pick you. Honest. Maybe you can take it as a compliment that I find your comments make a good jumping off point for my thoughts?

  21. #21

    Registered
    May 1997
    Location
    Williston, VT
    Posts
    1,371
    I decided to revive this thread so that everyone would know what happened in this recruitment. Perhaps students who are reading this will gain some understanding.

    First, there were at least six applicants who could have done the job, possibly as many as 13-14. It appears to be very competitive at the entry-level right now.

    GIS skills were not a distinguishing factor among the applicants. 32-33 of the 35 applicants had adequate GIS skills.

    The top applicants had diverse backgrounds, mostly in environmentall studies, with graduate degrees in planning, environmental management, or political science. They shared one thing: good internships (paid and unpaid) and other hands-on experiences in working with people.

    The person who got the job has an undergraduate degree in biology and a grad degree in environmental resource management. She has adequate GIS skills and field experience working with landowners as a result of working for a conservation district. She is also familiar with stormwater, which is one of our current issues, with the impacts of development on wildlife, etc.. She has excellent writing skills and showed she could think on her feet at the interview.

  22. #22
    Member
    Registered
    Dec 2005
    Location
    The Buckeye Capital
    Posts
    1
    This thread has been very useful to me! Thank you for all of your comments.

    I'm currently in the middle of an AS in GIS at my local community college. I got into GIS as a way into the urban planning environment without having to spend a lot of money that I don't have. I like GIS a lot, but it's not where I want to end up, for me, it's just and ends to the means of getting into planning I plan on switching to a larger university after I get my degree here. The problem is that that university doesn't have a formal bachelor's in planning. They do have a degree in Geography that focuses on Urban and Regional Systems, which seems to have to do with analyzing how different factors behave in the urban environment.

    Is this a good enough start to get anyone's attention when I go to look for jobs? Should I go for a different bachelors? Am I wasting my time with the AS in GIS? Are there any other classes/seminars/internships that I could use to suppliment my degree?

    I just want to know if I'm on the right track.

    Thanx!

    SunSeven

  23. #23
    Quote Originally posted by SunSeven
    Is this a good enough start to get anyone's attention when I go to look for jobs? Should I go for a different bachelors? Am I wasting my time with the AS in GIS? Are there any other classes/seminars/internships that I could use to suppliment my degree?

    I just want to know if I'm on the right track.

    Thanx!

    SunSeven
    A major reason many folks go for an Associate's involves cash-on-hand. If that's the case, the path makes sense, but if you really want to make a career of planning, try to go to a fully-accredited bachelor's program. They'll offer all the GIS you would want, or you might work a deal with another department for class-switching. I'm just afraid you might spend too much time trying to make that jump, and who knows what could happen in the time between "GIS Technician" and "Assistant Planner".

    http://www.planning.org/careers/#6
    http://showcase.netins.net/web/pab_f...edPrograms.pdf

+ Reply to thread

More at Cyburbia

  1. Make Way for the Highway
    Friday Afternoon Club
    Replies: 14
    Last post: 13 Oct 2006, 3:26 PM
  2. Replies: 42
    Last post: 23 May 2005, 2:19 PM
  3. How about a make over
    Friday Afternoon Club
    Replies: 4
    Last post: 23 Oct 2002, 9:03 AM
  4. Things that make you go..
    Friday Afternoon Club
    Replies: 15
    Last post: 10 Oct 2002, 2:24 PM