Hello, Discipline, My Old Friend

It wasn’t that long ago that I was “always on” in terms of work. There is a certain ethos in the DC area that rewards that outlook and I was fairly good at it. This was compounded by the fact that I was a partner in my company and the buck always stops with the owners. Therefore, you always answered the phone/email/text/DM. A few years ago, I began to realize that this approach wasn’t serving me well over the long haul, especially in terms of my health.

What I needed to do was get reacquainted with discipline. Because I had fully bought into the idea that a business owner is never “off,” I had allowed discipline to atrophy. When all 24 hours of each day are available to accomplish tasks, then “close of business” means “before 11:59pm.” If you make your deliverable before the person you have committed to shows up for work in the morning, it counts.

There are obvious problems with this approach. First, work is always lingering in the background. Second, you are never fully engaged in any activity (including work). I coached soccer games, ran practices, and many other similar activities, but the block of code that I couldn’t quite finish before heading out to practice, or the proposal inputs due by midnight were never far away. Conversely the practice, or board meeting, or dinner party was always lingering in my mind when I should have been focusing on a proposal or my code.

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Evolution and Leadership

My first management position was at a restaurant. It was a chain steakhouse in a one-horse town in Maryland. A few months into that role, I was the sole manager on duty for a weekend night shift that was going poorly.

Feeling my frustration mounting, I did the most mature and leaderly thing my 19-year-old mind could think of – I tipped over the break table, causing everything on it to crash loudly to the floor.

I felt a momentary rush of power as people scurried away from my obvious anger, setting off to do whatever they could do to right the sinking ship that was this shift. Word apparently spread quickly throughout the staff because, before I had walked another ten feet through the kitchen, I was confronted by a member of the waitstaff.

Louvre Museum [Public domain]

I forget her exact words, but they boiled down to “You’re being an idiot. This is your shift. If you want it fixed, go fix it or find another job.” She was right, and jarringly so. I’m pretty sure I didn’t fix that shift, but I never flipped a break table again in my restaurant career. Thus began a lifelong interest in leadership and management.

I should also note that, several years later, the woman who confronted me agreed to marry me and we will celebrate 25 years of marriage next year.

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Miles to Go

This blog started as my lifeline. Fifteen years ago, I was working on a project that wasn’t particularly compelling in an environment that wasn’t conducive to collaboration. I wasn’t doing geospatial work and I was worried that it would slip away. This blog was the mechanism that motivated side projects that kept me in touch with geography.

It started out as a technical outlet, with the intent of being the kind of blog that I often found myself searching for. From there, it evolved over time, though I fought that evolution for a while. Motivated by the same fear of losing my technical edge that caused me to start it, I kept a technical focus here even as my daily work became less technical. Eventually, I let that struggle go.

Perhaps because I know what my own thoughts were as I blogged, I can see that evolution unfold. Inadvertently, I ended up documenting the arc of a career in the geospatial technology industry.

And then it just stops.

Read moreMiles to Go

Engagement

A few years ago, we sold our house and moved into a new one that we had built. The old house happened to be the one in which I had grown up. The process of disconnecting from that house got me back in touch with a lot of tasks that had become muscle memory. For example, mowing the lawn.

I had mowed that lawn roughly every week since middle school. By the time I was mowing it for what I realized was the last time, I could have done so blindfolded. I knew where every obstacle was and knew every contour in the ground. I had long since stopped paying attention to the task. There were many other things that I realized had become the same for me.

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Directions

The 10-year anniversary of this blog is rapidly approaching and it is not lost on me that it has been laying rather fallow of late. I know others with long-running geospatial blogs have experienced similar situations at around the decade mark, and that only seems natural. If you are living your life well, the motivations and interests that prompt you to start an online presence such as this evolve over the course of a decade.

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When I started this blog, it was simply to create the kind of resource that I had been looking for: code-heavy posts that showed how to accomplish tasks I was working. I did that in the hope that others would find it useful, but also to serve as my own personal archive. Now, such resources are abundant as companies and projects recognize the need to engage via blogs and social media.

Of course, all such outlets now seem to be some sort of “official” arm of a company or organization or project. It seems to be increasingly difficult to find a “sole-proprietorship” blog that’s being kept current. It’s not for me to say whether that is positive or negative. I speak from experience when I say it is difficult to maintain such a venture over time, and I certainly see where being part of a content team has advantages.

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A Week in the Life of a Geotech Omnivore

Earlier this week, I posted the above tweet. To explain the variety I referred to, here is a partial list, in no particular order, of the tools I’ve worked with in the past week.

  • Node
  • TileMill (Yes, I still use it)
  • ArcMap
  • QGIS
  • Python
  • ArcGIS Server
  • GeoServer
  • C#
  • WMS
  • SOAP (!)
  • Windows Communication Foundation
  • JavaScript
  • Python
  • PostGIS
  • Microsoft SQL Server
  • SQL (Spatial and non-spatial for the above platforms)
  • Leaflet
  • GeoJSON
  • X.509 certificates

Read moreA Week in the Life of a Geotech Omnivore

My Path to GIS

TL;DR: This post is long and there is no summary.

When you reach a certain stage in your career, you start fielding more and more inquiries from those younger than you about how you got started in your field. In my case, the field is GIS. The short answer, and not a particularly uncommon one, I’ve discovered, is “by accident.” I have previously documented that I landed my first job through one of my regulars at the bar I was tending at the time. I’ve also documented how I became interested in maps and programming at an early age. There are, however, a few more dots to connect.

annapolis_footprints_black2

My love of maps remained avocational and really went dormant as I got more into programming. During my middle school and high school years, I wrote BASIC code on my Commodore 64 to automate Dungeons and Dragons tasks. This was in a time before the internet was available in homes and, since we lived in a pretty rural area of Maryland, every call was long-distance. As a result, there was no way my parents would let me dial into bulletin boards. So I did it the old-fashioned way: checking out programming books from the public library. I had a few other friends who were into programming as well so we shared what we learned.

Read moreMy Path to GIS

Perspectives

Today marks the first day of classes for the spring semester at Salisbury (Maryland) University. This is significant for me because it also marks my first day as an instructor in the Masters of GIS Management program, teaching an online course called “Leadership in GIS Organizations.” This is my first foray back into academia in the 22 years since I finished my own degree.

Aveiro March 2012-18
By Alvesgaspar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This new venture doesn’t represent a career change for me so much as an enhancement. I have spent my entire career working as a consultant, primarily developing geospatial systems for government (mostly federal government) users. This means I live in the for-profit private sector and interact with government fairly regularly.

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