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Thread: What computer skills and programs do you recommend?

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    What computer skills and programs do you recommend?

    Hi all,

    Wondering what computer skills and programs you would recommend for the planning profession, asides from the obvious trio of Word, Excel and Power Point. I understand that this can fluctuate with the role, but want to get a general sense of the more important programs and skills that any young planner should know.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SebringVandit View post
    Hi all,

    Wondering what computer skills and programs you would recommend for the planning profession, asides from the obvious trio of Word, Excel and Power Point. I understand that this can fluctuate with the role, but want to get a general sense of the more important programs and skills that any young planner should know.
    Minimum: Access. Adobe CSx. ArcGIS.
    Good to have: CAD. MS Office suite.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Not everyone needs to know Access or Adobe, since you may or may not use these depending on the kind of planning you do or where you work. GIS is pretty much a requirement, though. Databases, graphic design, statistical, and CAD programs may be required for some planning, and it never hurts to be proficient in them regardless.
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    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    Not everyone needs to know Access or Adobe, since you may or may not use these depending on the kind of planning you do or where you work...and it never hurts to be proficient in them regardless.
    In these new times, many skills may be needed. And when there is another slowdown and planning jobs go away, Access and Adobe products give you flexibility and a good resume bullet.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Minimum: Access. Adobe CSx. ArcGIS.
    Good to have: CAD. MS Office suite.
    Gonna have to disagree with this one. There are a lot of planning jobs where these are pointless. Take my recent position at a smaller municipality: When I had my interview they asked, "so how are your computer skills?" I replied, "oh they're great! I'm a wiz with Adobe CS." (Ok, so I misread that they were asking, but that's another matter). Their response: "Yeahhhhh, we can't afford that. How are you with Microsoft Paint?" And when it came to GIS at that job, they had three full-time GIS techs and one GIS student. I never touched the GIS work myself. It helped that I knew how ArcGIS worked and knew what was reasonable to ask of the techs, but it certainly wasn't required. CAD? Never even got close to the program in that position. In all honesty, the most important thing was Word.

    That's not to say that these programs aren't useful to know. Having them on your resume certainly opens you to a wider variety of potential jobs. But I would definitely say these things aren't bare minimums that you should be spending hundreds of hours or dollars on to learn. You'd be better off spending your time learning what makes a good map, or what makes a good image, or what makes good writing, and putting a portfolio together to show that you know those things. The programs are just tools and they'll vary from job to job.

    EDIT: I'll add on to this to sum it up. Learn how to present information. Period. An invaluable skill for planners is knowing who their audience is, what information they're trying to get across, and the most effective way to do that.

  6. #6
    GIS always comes up... you might not have to be heavily involved in it, depending on a company's or municipality's departmental setup, but try as I might, I always need to use it. In addition to that Adobe CS. That's pretty much it. I know SPSS and STATA, but no one in planning cares about that.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hipp5 View post
    Gonna have to disagree with this one. There are a lot of planning jobs where these are pointless. Take my recent position at a smaller municipality: When I had my interview they asked, "so how are your computer skills?" I replied, "oh they're great! I'm a wiz with Adobe CS." (Ok, so I misread that they were asking, but that's another matter). Their response: "Yeahhhhh, we can't afford that. How are you with Microsoft Paint?" And when it came to GIS at that job, they had three full-time GIS techs and one GIS student. I never touched the GIS work myself. It helped that I knew how ArcGIS worked and knew what was reasonable to ask of the techs, but it certainly wasn't required. CAD? Never even got close to the program in that position. In all honesty, the most important thing was Word.

    That's not to say that these programs aren't useful to know. Having them on your resume certainly opens you to a wider variety of potential jobs. But I would definitely say these things aren't bare minimums that you should be spending hundreds of hours or dollars on to learn. You'd be better off spending your time learning what makes a good map, or what makes a good image, or what makes good writing, and putting a portfolio together to show that you know those things. The programs are just tools and they'll vary from job to job.

    EDIT: I'll add on to this to sum it up. Learn how to present information. Period. An invaluable skill for planners is knowing who their audience is, what information they're trying to get across, and the most effective way to do that.
    Yes. In small towns you may not have the programs. In large cities they may have specialists. It tends to be "in the middle" where the skills are most handy. The same is true of consulting, although small shops will appreciate diverse skills. Maybe we have all been saying it in different ways, but the point is that while you can get by with the basic office suite, knowing more makes you more valuable and may open up other opportunities that would not be available without those skills.

    The point about presenting is an especially good one. Few people who know GIS know how to make a good map. Few people who know Word write very well. Few people who know how to speak can engage an audience. Learn this and you will go far.
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  8. #8
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    If you are still in school, make youself proficient in as many different programs as you can. Especially if you can use these programs for free. GIS is a cornerstone, but it is amazing how many different programs you will find yourself using year to year.

    My suggestions are pretty much the same Microsoft Office suite, Adobe Suite, and ArcGIS. None are extremely hard to learn (although some are more difficult like Adobe Flash...) and all can help you either make your job easier, or make your job more valuable. An understanding how how AutoCAD works is great as well.
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  9. #9
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    I work in the research side of things for an economic development department and use GIS quite a bit but because we are a relatively large department, if I need a really pretty map (and time is not as big of an issue) the actual GIS analysts in the planning side of the office and in IT usually take over that aspect of the task.

    I also use SPSS quite a bit and can use things like the Fiscal Impact Tool (FIT) from the Federal Reserve, IMPLAN (when we actually update our license or have access to somebody else's) and EMSI. If you don't have access to these tools knowing how to calculate basic multipliers and location quotients has proven useful as well.

    I also use Access to store nearly all of my data and produce forms that can be easily standardized and updated with minimal effort (these community profiles are actually each a Microsoft Access form that I developed and each section in the form is drawn from a specific table and query: Community Profiles - don't mind the outdated information in a few of the categories, I am waiting until the holidays to update these again when it's nice and quiet in the office).

    Lately, I've started using the Adobe suite of products a lot more (we were just upgraded to CS5) especially because it provides the ability to make reports with graphs and charts and illustrations that we previously made in Word or Excel look a bit more slick.

    In the end though, the one program I couldn't do my job without is Excel. It has very little learning curve yet still has some very good capabilities. The graphics suck but they are quick to produce and get your point across proficiently.

    No matter what computer programs or applications you know, my final word of advice is to present yourself accurately when you are describing your skills to potential employers. It's become a pet peeve of mine when we interview for our assistants or interns and they describe themselves as "proficient" (or something equally ambiguous) with a particular program and once they are on board the truth is quickly revealed. This has actually caused us to end paid internships early.
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  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    In school: ArcGIS, GPS, Adobe (Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, and Acrobat), SPSS. I would also recommend you have a good understanding of database design using Access and Excel, since alot of GIS relies heavily on this.

    Out of school: anyone's guess. If you are research/policy driven, you probably could get by with far less software skills but I would beef up your writing courses. If you're like me who does a mixture of design and non-design it could be anything: Microsoft Project, AutoCAD, non-ESRI GIS (MapInfo), Revit, Sketchup, Flash/Dreamweaver/Fireworks. Alot of the computer skills I picked up myself (except for AutoCAD and Photoshop which I learned from an LA) and are used for projects that have little/nothing to do with planning. Right now, I am learning Microstation to help with engineer projects: not because I am a planner but I because I have built a reputation with quickly learning new software
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  11. #11
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hipp5 View post
    Gonna have to disagree with this one....

    That's not to say that these programs aren't useful to know. Having them on your resume certainly opens you to a wider variety of potential jobs. But I would definitely say these things aren't bare minimums that you should be spending hundreds of hours or dollars on to learn. You'd be better off spending your time learning what makes a good map, or what makes a good image, or what makes good writing, and putting a portfolio together to show that you know those things. The programs are just tools and they'll vary from job to job.

    EDIT: I'll add on to this to sum it up. Learn how to present information. Period. An invaluable skill for planners is knowing who their audience is, what information they're trying to get across, and the most effective way to do that.
    Definitely agree that presenting information is important.

    My point is, however, that you need as many skillz as possible in the future to keep working. In any profession. What I named upthread will get you in the door.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hipp5 View post
    Take my recent position at a smaller municipality: When I had my interview they asked, "so how are your computer skills?" I replied, "oh they're great! I'm a wiz with Adobe CS." (Ok, so I misread that they were asking, but that's another matter). Their response: "Yeahhhhh, we can't afford that. How are you with Microsoft Paint?"
    Your response should have been, "that's ok, there is freeware out there that are built with similar platforms that provide the same result as the costly adobe suites and we can use these programs to better provide information on staff reports, long-range plans, etc."

    To be honest, the core computer programs (microsoft, GIS) is really all you need. Everything else from there is really dependent on your job. I have only touched CAD once, since joining the public sector. I was in CAD daily in the private sector. Adobe Creative Suite? We can't afford it, but Gimp (photoshop), Inkscape (illustrator) and Scribus (indesign) are all freeware and since I have mastered these programs, using the freeware is a little clunky, but i know what the heck I am doing to quickly present information that way it should be. It is good to have these programs under the belt, but unless you practice them consistently, especially CAD, the more likely you will forget in a few years time.
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  13. #13
    Cyburbian cng's avatar
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    Regardless of how many software programs you are proficient in, be careful not to pigeonhole yourself as the department's "tech guy" or you'll be spending your time preparing databases, graphics and presentations for other people. Our department's most computer savvy guy is the Planning Technician. For him to advance in our department, he'll have to progress in other ways, such as his ability to balance priorities and interests, make thoughtful findings for recommendations, etc... among a host of other critical skills for planners. However, like someone else said, do use technology to present your ideas in a clear and effective manner.

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    Cyburbian UrbaneSprawler's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    Your response should have been, "that's ok, there is freeware out there that are built with similar platforms that provide the same result as the costly adobe suites and we can use these programs to better provide information on staff reports, long-range plans, etc."
    Amen.

    In addition to mentioning GIMP and the other free/open source software, I've read that many jurisdictions are going to Open Office. I don't think it matters as much that you can solve a particular problem with a "canned" particular tool, but rather when a particular problem arises, you can find and adapt to a cost effective (or even better, free) tool to solve it.

    Back in the day, our organization used Word Perfect. When the organization went to MS Word, some legal staff as well as the clerk staff, went nuts. I think we'll someday move to Open Office and more folks will go nuts. Showing that you can adapt to change and not appear inflexible is probably the best skill you can have.

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    All,

    Thank you very much for the advice and feedback. Its all useful. As a graduate student, I have been using Open Office, in addition to a 60 day trial of Office 2010. In regards to Oracle/Sun's software, I'll borrow the old phrase "you get what you pay for". Open Office is good for the basics, but often difficult progressing beyond that. In addition, I have found some compatibility and formatting issues in switching between Open Office and Microsoft; documents formatted in the former often don't look as good on the latter's software. (Open Office is better than Microsoft Works though.)

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    Google SketchUp

    First post on these forums, so hello everyone.

    If we're going to mention Adobe CS, one free tool that is often overlooked is Google SketchUp. It's a 3D modeling software with a very small learning curve and the potential to do amazing 3D renditions of buildings, monuments, or entire communities.

    I recently did work with it on a veterans monument that is being built.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian The District's avatar
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    I did some pretty heavy AutoCAD work a couple years ago, but since then have been using MS Office (including Access), Dreamweaver, ArcGIS, Inkscape, GIMP, and Processing. I think this is probably a pretty uncommon set of tools for my situation, since I'm not even at a design firm, I just like to communicate with graphics and like them to look good, and it's catching on here.

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    Cyburbian Rygor's avatar
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    In my work, and my department in general which is a mid-sized municipal planning department, the most commonly used programs are Word, Excel, PowerPoint, GIS, and Access, in that order. There are some planners that use GIS more than others, but typically there is always one "expert" planner on staff who does most of the more complex mapping. I honestly do a lot of mapping and graphics with Word and MSPaint almost as much as I use the GIS, and it works fine.

    I suppose some experience with Adobe products can come in handy, and maybe Publisher if you are going to be making brochures or other nice printable materials. We mainly use Adobe Pagemaker for converting documents into .pdf files for reports or for downloadable content for the website.
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    Cyburbian
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    How useful is MS Project in planning? I may take a few classes to make my resume more attractive for non-planning jobs, but am wondering how it can be utilized in planning...

  20. #20
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Well.....

    EXPOSE YOURSELF like RJ by the pool, to as many computer programs as possible and focus on being proficient with GIS, spreadsheets and specialized software directly related to your emphasis in school.
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  21. #21
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SoCalPlanner3 View post
    How useful is MS Project in planning? I may take a few classes to make my resume more attractive for non-planning jobs, but am wondering how it can be utilized in planning...
    Really the best it can give you is a project update by task. So say you have a specific plan you are processing, you use project to track milestones, progress of tasks and deliverables, assign people tasks, on all this other stuff. It then spits out a fancy graph schedule.

    Really, all i ever used it for was to set up task milestones and the fancy graph schedule. Other than that, completely pointless imo for our industry, private sector aside.
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  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    You can make Gantt charts in Excel. It's pretty much the same thing, and Project just adds more unnecessary steps.
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