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Trying On A New Hat: My Experience As ArcNorth News Editor... So Far

We all wear different hats at work. My new hat at Esri Canada, ArcNorth News editor, has been one of the most challenging to wear in my career. With the Spring 2014 ArcNorth News hot off the press, I'm taking a look back at my experience pulling together my first edition.

Many of us wear different hats at work with varying degrees of comfort. You have hats that you can’t wait to put on every morning—the ones that fit just right and that you might show off to your family and friends (if you’re a keener who’s really into your job that is). You have what I like to call your ‘meh hats’—the ones you’re indifferent about that you could take or leave. And of course you have those hats you’re almost forced to wear that you’re just dying to get rid of (“No, really take it. Here, it’s yours. PLEASE!!!")

One of the hats I wear at Esri Canada is editor of our bi-annual magazine, ArcNorth News. It’s a fairly new hat for me that I’m pretty proud to wear, especially when you consider the long history of the publication (17 years, 34 issues and counting) and the size of the readership (more than 11,000 subscribers), many of whom I understand eagerly anticipate the release of each issue.

From left to right, ArcNorth News covers through the years. The bi-annual publication highlighting GIS success stories in Canada has enjoyed a 17-year run.

However, I must admit donning the ArcNorth News editor cap was a little intimidating at first. I joined Esri Canada last December and, while huffing and puffing my way through a steep learning curve, I found myself eyeing this editor’s hat nervously. Probably the same way you might have looked up at that high diving board at the public pool when you were a kid and you thought to yourself, “(Gulp) There’s no way I’ll be able to climb that thing and jump off!” You see, at university I analyzed techniques in novel writing, not map making, and while I do have some experience working in the GIS field, I was still not 100% comfortable picking up the phone and talking about, say, a forestry management geospatial database with a senior GIS consultant (“Sorry, can you run that by me again… did you say you union coverages to do intersects, or you intersect unions to do coverages?”)

But, I managed to hang in there and I’m proud to say we just published the Spring 2014 edition of ArcNorth News. The experience of wearing this editor’s hat over the past few months is one that I will probably never forget. As it turned out, my first issue just happened to be a special 30th anniversary edition with several articles that explore the history of the company and the evolution of GIS technology. The timing couldn’t have been more ideal because my three-month crash course in GIS aligned, almost magically, with research, interviews and writing that traced the roots of the company and the industry on the whole. In some ways, it was almost like an on-the-job 101 course in GIS (I bet my reductive questions probably made interviewees feel as though they were talking to a student, too). It gave me the opportunity to speak with, and write about, the people who helped cast the molds that still shape the GIS solutions of today. At times, it was a whirlwind.

Case in point, when I interviewed our President, Alex Miller, about our feature story on the history of the company, he spoke at length about one of his first big project wins with the County of Oxford. He thought speaking with Elizabeth Ottaway, the Deputy Planner with whom he worked closely on the project, would be a great idea. I readily agreed, but Ms. Ottaway is now retired and we didn't have her contact information. So I did some digging, found some phone listings in the Oxford County region where we believed she was still living and I started ringing them up. On my third call I hit pay dirt. Ms. Ottaway answered and generously gave up 45 minutes of her time right on the spot. I quickly learned to check my worries at the door each time I put on my editor's cap on and to stay focused on thinking of questions to keep people talking.

Now that this first issue is out I guess you could say this ArcNorth News editor’s hat is beginning to feel much more comfortable. In truth, it's nowhere near a ‘meh hat’ nor a hat I’m dying to give away. I'll even go so far as to admit it’s actually one I will show off now and again to people outside of work.