Q&A with Heather Nicholson, Solutions Engineer

I was initially attracted to the job because of GEO Jobe’s variety of projects and dedication to making sure clients receive work that goes above and beyond, as well as the company’s commitment to invest back into employees and the local community.

Heather Nicholson

GEO Jobe has been serving our clients and partners since 1999, and the key to our success is the people behind our growing company. Here is a brief Q&A with Heather Nicholson from the Products and Services division, who joined GEO Jobe in Q1 2023.

Q: What is your job at GEO Jobe and what does it entail? 

I am a Solutions Engineer, so my job entails helping clients configure various Esri products to help meet their GIS needs. I have worked on a wide variety of projects, ranging from helping them set up ArcGIS Online Accounts, building Field Maps, configuring Web Apps, and building models and script tools in ArcGIS Pro. 

Q: What has your career path at GEO Jobe looked like and what attracted you to join the team? 

I started in the GIS field over 10 years ago with my first GIS class on the USM Gulf Park campus. David Hansen, our now CEO, came to talk to my GIS class about his work at GEO Jobe, the field of GIS, and how to set ourselves up for success if we were going to go into the GIS field soon. At the time, I decided to get my Masters, and then eventually my Ph.D. from out of state. I kept up with David and GEO Jobe through LinkedIn but otherwise was focused on my dissertation work.

Though it had been a few years, when I came back to Mississippi right around graduation, I was able to plug back into the local GIS community. I had an environmental consulting job after my Ph.D. graduation, but I wound up having to look elsewhere. I reached out to David to see if he was aware of opportunities anywhere. GEO Jobe happened to be looking for a Solutions Engineer, where my problem-solving, writing, research skills, and GIS analysis knowledge were a good fit.

I was initially attracted to the job because of GEO Jobe’s variety of projects and dedication to making sure clients receive work that goes above and beyond, as well as the company’s commitment to invest back into employees and the local community. Once I started, I also really came to appreciate how supportive my coworkers are and their willingness to help when I have any questions. I have not been at GEO Jobe very long, but I am learning something new every day and can’t wait to see where I am in a year!

Me with my Dad, Mom, and Ph.D. Advisor after receiving my Doctoral degree

Q: What jobs and experiences have led you to your current position?

I could write an entire blog post just on this question alone! Like many people at this company, I have not taken the most traditional path to get here. As mentioned in the previous question, I have a doctorate in Geoscience, so I spent a lot of time in academia and research mindset while working on my education.

During my undergraduate degree, I was a participant in a program called NASA DEVELOP, which is a NASA capacity-building program. DEVELOP uses earth observation data to help project partners with local community concerns worldwide. My time at DEVELOP really helped establish my interest in using GIS/remote sensing for environmental studies, so I continued on in this field for my masters and Ph.D., where my work focused on using imagery to study coastal wetlands.

The focus of my research led to me getting a job at an environmental consulting company where I utilized a combination of my GIS skills and environmental knowledge. All of my experiences, whether in the classroom or in a work setting, have expanded my GIS and remote sensing skillset.

They have also allowed me to be a better problem-solver, communicator, writer, teacher, and collaborator. These are all important skills in working with a client to develop and deliver a solution and make sure they are set up for success when they use it.

Q: What particular skills or talents are most essential to be effective in your job?

One of the skills that is most essential in my job is the ability to problem-solve quickly. I can have a great workflow set up, but if something in the workflow does not work as intended or a bug appears, the ability to quickly think through the issue and come up with a workaround is important. Another important skill is having a solid understanding of GIS principles and keeping up with updates and new technology. Keeping up with updates is especially necessary with the programs you use daily, which for me would be things such as Esri’s updates for AGOL or ArcGIS Pro. It is also extremely important to be able to communicate clearly with both your client and coworkers, which is a skill I am still getting better at myself!

Taking a moment to take in the sights and smells while going around the world in EPCOT at Disney

Q: Any advice for recent graduates entering into the job market and aspiring to a similar role?

The first thing is to network, which can be difficult for those starting out in the field, whether they are coming from college or a different career path. Join a state or national GIS organization and attend in-person meetings when you can. Connect with people on LinkedIn or other social networks and get to know them. Networking allows for more opportunities and knowledge gain.

Another piece of advice is to always keep learning. GIS is a technology that is changing at a fast pace and new things are always being developed and created. It is important to be aware of these changes and how they can help you in your daily work.

And lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help, either with your GIS network, your instructors, or coworkers. As mentioned, GIS is a broad field that has many different domains and it is impossible to know everything, but someone out there knows something you don’t, and vice versa. And asking for help extends beyond GIS.

You can ask for help – from applying for jobs to helping move from one place to another. I have found I go farther and learn more when appropriately asking for help than when I try to do things on my own, though I’m still getting comfortable with asking. 

Q: What technologies and strategies do you use in your day-to-day work that are key to success? 

One of the big things I do at the start of every day is write down a list of tasks that need to be done, even if the task is as simple as sending emails. This allows me to better prioritize tasks and visualize what I need to do and what I have accomplished. If I can’t mark all the tasks off, I can move what is not done to the next day, and it does not get lost.

I also like taking extensive notes and documentation of my workflow, including steps I have taken. The documentation may take longer on the front end, but I always have something to refer back to if I have questions or need to set up a similar workflow. I have recently been working on implementing all of these strategies into Notion so I can have everything in one place.

Outside of work, I always make sure I can find a time of day when I do nothing but listen to music (Taylor Swift is my jam!!!) or sit outside and relax for about 10 minutes. This brain break is really important and allows me to come back to work or any other task with a new perspective and vigor. 

Pretending to be Spider-Man after watching Far From Home in theaters

Q: What would you like to learn more about or incorporate into your daily work? 

More Python-based scripting for tool development and data analysis. I have done scripting before in my dissertation and with some projects I have worked on. However, I would love to learn more about the syntax and logic to have better-organized scripts and also to be able to create more in-depth code. I have been taking free online MOOCs and implementing scripts in projects where it makes sense to expand upon my skills in this area.

Q: On a more personal side, do you have a favorite newspaper, magazine, blog, or sources of inspiration? 

I do not have any specific newspapers, etc., that I keep up with. However, I do browse LinkedIn and similar feeds and will read blogs and stories there. What I read ranges from GIS and Python tutorials, to career advice, and general life advice. Even if something is not directly applicable to what I am doing or what I was searching for, I can always find a snippet to learn from.

Q: What kind of technology do you prefer and why? (Mac or PC, iOS or Android, and other cool tech)

I am currently a Windows person for all of my computer needs, mainly because most of the programs I use both for work and hobbies require Windows. I tried using a MacBook for a while but always found myself gravitating back towards my Windows PC because of my work with desktop Esri products and video gaming.

However, for everything else, I love Apple Products/iOS. My iPad with the pencil has been one of my best investments. I used it extensively for note-taking during my dissertation research and writing, and still use it for the occasional notes and casual web browsing. I also really love my Kindle. Nothing beats physically turning pages, but having an e-reader [e-ink to reduce eye strain] has allowed me to read more independent authors and keep things more organized when I inevitably buy too many books!

My dog Jemma on the left and my cat Deke on the right. They both bring lots of joy and laughter into my life and make sure I never have a dull moment!

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of the office?

I enjoy a variety of things when I am not working. I have a dog, Jemma, and a cat, Deke, that I adore. I spend a lot of time caring for and playing with them both. I love binge-watching television/movies such as stuff in the MCU, but I’m currently watching the 9-1-1-verse dramas on Hulu.

I also love reading, and my current two favorite series are the Paws & Claws series by Krista Davis and The Eventing Series by Natalie Keller Reinert. I also play both video and board games with friends. I typically enjoy puzzle-based or co-op-type games the best. And over the past year, I have been taking horseback riding lessons. It has been awesome to learn to communicate with my current lesson horse Montana and to build a relationship with her over time.

Plus how can you beat the view between these ears?

Me riding Montana along a trail along an old quarry near Grand Bay, AL.

Learn more about Heather by connecting with her on LinkedIn. Interested in joining the GEO Jobe team? Keep an eye on our Careers page for future opportunities!

To learn about our variety of GIS products and services and how we could benefit your organization, email GEO Jobe at connect@geo-jobe.com.

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From our GEOPowered Cloud to custom solutions, GEO Jobe is committed to showing clients how geospatial thinking can guide them to save time, money, and make better business decisions. The power of GIS, Simplified!