Nathan Zemp - Co-op Q & A

BA Human Geography, Econ Minor, GIS Cert 

Co-op Term: Spring and Summer 2020

1.    Where did you work (Department/Organization name and location)?

Vancouver Police Department – Crime Analytics Advisory and Development Unit

2.    What was your role (what type of work did you do)? What were some of your responsibilities?

I acted as a technical assistant to the GIS administrator, carrying out various tasks involving mapping, geoprocessing, and database management. Throughout the term I edited spatial data files, created static and web-based maps, wrote data processing scripts and models, and designed two web apps.

3.    How did the skills/knowledge developed in the classroom apply to your job? What did you learn?

Having lots of practice using ArcMap prepared me well for this co-op. The ability to keep your data organized and clean is essential when you're working with enormous datasets, or creating many backup versions. We used ArcGIS Online in the latter half of the co-op, which was new to me, but I'm already finding that experience paying off in my classes since then.

4.    Can you share a challenge you faced in your Co-op and how you overcame it?

Working from home was a challenge. I was lucky enough to have a job I could continue by connecting in remotely, but I had to be very strict with myself and plan out my tasks to stay motivated. When technical challenges arose I worked on side projects to practice my skills, before returning to the central issue with a fresh outlook.

5.    What was your most memorable Co-op experience?

The best experience as a GIS data analyst is creating a model or script and running the whole thing successfully for the first time. I went from having no prior programming experience to creating a program that could instantly generate a custom map on the fly, tailored to users' needs.

6.    What have you learned through your Co-op experience?

I've learned how much growing opportunity there is for GIS students in a variety of sectors, and how foundational those skills are for working in a geography field. I also learned about the contrasting expectations between a workplace and an academic environment. The most vital takeaway from the experience has been the wealth of skills my supervisors imparted upon me.

7.    What advice do you have for future Co-op students?

For getting hired: Start early (2nd year isn't too soon!). Apply to every position you're remotely interested in. Triple-check every cover letter for mistakes before you send it off. Look outside the Lower Mainland if you can, and apply for fall or spring co-ops if you can; your first co-op term is always the hardest to get and local summer co-ops have the stiffest competition.

For the long-term: Learn a programming language. SFU's GIS certificate places more emphasis on software use than back end work, but programming skills are essential to have once you get into the workplace. The good thing is that once you learn one programming language, it's super easy to learn others. The W.A.C. Bennett Library puts on excellent workshops every semester or so in R or Python; those languages are a good place to start. Online tutorials and forums are also indispensable resources.

Also, seek out friendships with your co-workers! It makes the whole experience much more enjoyable to have people to chat with on your breaks.