It's been a great time for job advice in the geospatial community. Many of the recent posts at GeoHipster focus on career care and feeding. One interviewee, Thierry Gregorius, went so far as to offer even more details about the GIS career path. James Fee tells techies what languages are hot. Nathan Heazlewood explains how to Plan your GIS Career on LinkedIn. And, over on Reddit/GIS there are career and education questions patiently answered nearly every day. I've written and podcasted about job skills and job hunting over the years (1, 2).
What we tend to talk about less is being happy with the jobs we ultimately select. The luckiest among us are happy during most of our working lives. I consider myself one of those people. I wish I could say that was by design, but it's not. It's a bit of luck and bit of learning along the way.
Over the holidays a friend sent on this article from Vox: The social science guide to picking a career you'll love. I'd just left a longterm gig and this article detailed, far better than I can, exactly why. The article details not how to get a job, but what about a job makes ones happy holding it.
I encourage students and those pondering a job change to read the entire article, but I want to comment on a few of its points with regard to the the geospatial industry.
1) Don’t worry too much about the salary
Yes, when you are starting out or growing your family getting enough money for rent and daycare are key. But at some point quality of life take precedence. High paying jobs can indeed make you miserable while those that barely cover transportation to and from the job can be incredibly rewarding. This is easy to say in retrospect, but hard to imagine when the two kinds of offers come in.
2) Don’t follow your interests
I like geography and GIS and ended up involved in both. But I don't do them so much as I research and write about them. I ended up studying geography and GIS and later, writing about them, by chance. My plan before and during college was to be a chemist. So, while I'd not go so far as to avoiding following your interests, I'd simply say: do follow your interests, but so with the most open mind possible. Many of the jobs I enjoyed so much did not exist when I was in school! As Dad put it, "keep all your options open!"
8) Have control over what exactly you do
Having freedom to determine the "what when and how" of what you do is key to one's quality of life. I know some companies require even the most diligent works to punch in and out and eschew working from home. I know I couldn't be happy at those organizations. I have, and encourage everyone to prove your diligence and thus earn the trust that leads to that kind of day to day freedom. After being at my very first real job for about a year and a half, I convinced my boss that I could teach a course at a university 35 miles away twice a week and still do my 40 hours of required lab work. I"m sure it was my track record to that point that led him to even consider the option. It was tough and awesome and I was lucky to be at a company that made it possible.
11) Finally, don’t assume finding the perfect job is going to be easy
Finding a good job, let along the perfect one, is hard work. And, to make it harder, once you start the job, many aspects of it change! In fact, the aspects that change are almost all on the Vox article's list: your salary, your interests, the difficulty of the job, the significance of the job (to you and the world), the variety of tasks, the feedback, your tasks and goals, your control of the "what when and how" of the job, the status of the people you like (they leave sometimes…), what you're good at…
The Bottom Line
Finding the perfect job, or crafting the one you have to be closer to perfect, takes a long term commitment. It means learning from each job you have.