How an interest in maps led to a career in GIS

By Chris Morris

My career in GIS grew out of a love of maps and a want for a new direction. In 2009, I was employed at a local printing company and contemplating a career change. One day I found myself studying a topographic map created for a textbook we were producing and thought “I should go to school for this!” Three years later I had my BA in Geography and Undergraduate Certificate in GIS from the University at Albany and am employed as a GIS Technician at CHA Consulting Inc. in Albany, NY. The internships I had while pursuing my degree played a key role in getting me where I am today.

Even before I began classes, I knew that I wanted to begin working in the GIS field as soon as possible. For me there is no substitute for hands-on learning. After two semesters and completion of my Intro to GIS course, I submitted my resume for a Student Assistant position with the New York State Office of Cyber Security (OCS) working on the New York State Broadband Mapping Project. I couldn’t have been happier when I got the news that I was selected for the position!

Working in the Office of Cyber Security was a great introduction into the world of GIS. The Broadband Mapping Project is responsible for data collection and analysis of high speed internet availability from providers across New York State. The team then converts that availability to spatial data which is published on the New York State Broadband Map, the National Broadband Map, and ultimately used to guide the deployment and adoption of broadband in New York.

At OCS I was tasked early on with writing metadata and managing the spatial data we were creating on the GIS clearinghouse. Soon after I was gaining experience by creating GIS data, performing spatial analysis, and creating maps. In addition to developing my software skills, OCS was a great environment to grow professionally as well. In the end, my position with the Broadband Mapping Team provided me with great insight into the benefits and challenges of utilizing GIS data at a state-wide level.

Shortly before completing my degree, I left my position with the Broadband Mapping Team and accepted another internship opportunity at CHA, a civil engineering firm in Albany, NY. GIS plays a valuable role in the engineering and consulting work done at CHA. The variety of projects I contributed to provided many opportunities to build my knowledge of GIS and improve my cartographic skills.  One memorable project I was involved with was the Capital Region Sustainability Plan. The plan required clear, concise map creation for many different demographic, economic, and environmental datasets. Later in the summer I also developed a series of 4 state-wide maps and 11 community level maps showing proposed customer gains and usage data for a utility provider’s network expansion.  These and other mapping projects provided valuable growth and ultimately helped prepare me for a permanent position at the firm.

I am grateful for the knowledge and guidance I received from my coworkers at the NYS Office of Cyber Security and CHA and am excited to be working full time in GIS. Taking advantage of internship opportunities that were available provided me tremendous knowledge beyond the classroom and played a valuable role in getting me where I am today.