What Do You Do

July 26, 2015 - 9:04pm -- swingbug

So I'm back from outer space. Back in my home with my family and my cat. And now that I'm not in the midst of a long day at the airport, I can tell you about the conference and how cool it was.

In general, when I people ask what I do, I brace myself for a long conversation. If I say I'm a "geographic information systems analyst," I get blank stares. I don't blame anyone for that. If I generalize and go with "geographer" then I get, "Oh, my brother collects rocks." Usually I spit out, "I'm a geographer. I make maps for an archaeologist." Then I get, "Cool! Do you ever find any dinosaurs?" All the time

Of course, archaeologists don't deal with dinosaurs (nor to they act like Indiana Jones or Lara Croft incidentally) and actually making maps is only about 10% of what I do. Really I manage spatial databases, do some geospatial analytics, a fair bit of programming, and a chunk of web design to support it all, but when people ask you what you do, they're just being polite and it's not really nice to make their eyes glaze over like that.

So there's this annual user conference for the mapping software I use, held in San Diego every year. Kicking around a big conference center with 16,000 people that have roughly the same job description as me, no one asks what you do; they ask you how you use it. Their eyes actually light up when you talk about projection transformations or geodatabase structure.

Not that geographers do all that much talking at these things. The industry personality is quiet, tech-inclined, and fairly introverted. But I certainly talk more than I do in a normal week.

I also get more exercise than I do in an average week. In addition to walking to and from the conference center everyday, the center itself is quite large. I spend a good amount of everyday dashing from a session in the north west corner of the building, down the stairs, through the lobby, and across the expo floor to another session in south west corner of the demo theater, all the time dodging people like me going back the other direction.

My brain gets exercise too. I spent most the week in training sessions for javascript, and my breaks hassling the guys in the python section. By dinner each night, my conversation skills were reduced to mush and I couldn't make a statement that didn't end in a semi-colon.  I actually dreamt in javascript last night, I kid you not.

There's some fun stuff too. I went to a meetup at a brewery one night advertised through a dev group I attend back home. They had board games. I kicked ass at Jenga and stayed out until 8:30 that night. (Wild and crazy girl, right?) I had a friend from the office in town for the conference too, so I had someone to talk to who would understand when I learned something wicked cool about tiled map services, and I ran into a former coworker who had moved off to far away places sometime ago, so that was a nice and unexpected surprise. 

I took a couple of sessions just for fun too. I saw a lightening talk on employing the Fibonacci sequence in map design and I sat through a talk about projection epochs from a guy from the National Geodetic Survey that blew my mind. Thursday night was the big conference wrap up party. I toured a 150 year old sailing ship, ate fish and chips, and took a juggling lesson. I also watched this lady do a dance performance in a bubble on water with a cupcake on her head, which I did not understand but found rather entertaining nonetheless. There were bands performing all over, mostly covering pop from the 70s and 80s for large crowds. Not so much my deal, but I found this one guy playing blues on an acoustic guitar on the sidewalk next to the dessert table. I sat down on the cement and listened to his whole set. It sounded like home.

On the airplane ride home, I overheard someone a couple of rows ahead of me, talking to the lady sitting next to him. 

"So what brought you San Diego?"

"I was at a GIS conference."

"A what conference?"

"GIS? Geographic information systems. It's, um, mapping software for geographers that..."

I smiled. Back to the real world.




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