GIS Analyst, City of Bellevue
Kate Weber enrolled in the Master of GIS program at the University of Washington to prepare to break into the GIS field and is now a GIS analyst for a local city. The 2012 graduate describes here how the program prepared her for the ever-changing demands of the industry.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what led you to the UW Master of GIS program?
I received my undergraduate degree from The Ohio State University in environmental science, specializing in land management. After graduation I moved out to Washington state and started working in the legal department of a bank. After 10 years there, I started looking back at what I had done in school. I had taken several GIS classes that I really enjoyed, so I decided to make a career change into the GIS industry.
Was the sustainability management focus of the program important to you?
Absolutely. The sustainability management aspect was great and was the other part of the program that attracted me, because of my background in environmental science and because it's applicable across all GIS industries.
How did the online format of the program help you balance work, life and school?
I was working two jobs to support myself through school and being able to take an online class was beneficial to me because I could work on homework between jobs, even while I was on the bus. It helped that we used Adobe Connect — when we had conference calls each week we could call in via the computer to ask questions and receive real-time responses without needing to use a phone. I was also able to visit my family on the East Coast while still in school; I just took my laptop and my books with me and could work anywhere.
Can you talk about your capstone project – how important it was in the overall program experience and what you learned from it?
The capstone project was a lot about tackling a real-world situation and being able to apply the tools and information that I had learned from the entire two years of school to solve the problem. It also provided experience using a project methodology to manage the project. Learning the different project methodologies was extremely valuable because employers expect you to already know how to manage projects and the different stages of a project. Different companies also use different methodologies, depending on the industry, so it was advantageous to learn about several project methodologies.
The professor helped us learn how to manage the capstone project, including working with the client, gathering requirements and translating them so the client can understand it, keeping the project on time and under budget, and making the end result a measurable, repeatable and scalable deliverable with documentation.
What was your favorite aspect of the program?
I liked learning more about social-ecological system (SES) modeling, how that applies to the real world and how you take it from theory and turn it into a tool to analyze different ways to approach a problem and the ramifications of those decisions.
In terms of specific classes, I really enjoyed the geodatabase [GEOG 582: GIS Data Management] and Python [GEOG 565: GIS Programming] classes. The geodatabase class broke down how databases are set up, connected and networked. The Python class provided real-world examples of how to write code to automate geoprocessing and analyses, thus saving time and resources — very practical for the workplace.
How did the program prepare you for your current job?
After I was accepted into grad school, my next order of business was to obtain an internship. Most employers want you to have at least two years of GIS work experience, not just educational experience. I found an internship and after working there for two years as an intern and going to school full time, a staff position opened up. One of the requirements of the job was that they preferred a master's degree. I applied for the job and got it, so now I'm a GIS analyst working for the City of Bellevue.
Overall, is GIS a growing field?
Absolutely, it's a multibillion-dollar industry, and it's only getting bigger, especially with the shift to web-based and mobile mapping. Almost everyone has a phone or tablet giving them instant access to maps. GIS analysts need to be able to keep up with the demands of the industry, and getting this master's degree was a way for me to do just that.