From the Trenches: Theory to Practical

Posted on Posted in Uncategorized

Hello, my name is James McNutt and I am the newest board member of We Think. My background is in digital mapping, coding, and some web development. Where the other members here have a wealth of experience in project management and public policy, I will be providing technical support and insight for the organization. I look forward to applying my skills and expertise to enrich We Think.

Having recently graduated and officially started my career, a concept on my mind lately is theory vs practical. Theory emulates the practical as closely as possible, so that you can prepare and plan for a situation. Since high school, I have spent a lot of time in university and college learning, and much less time applying those lessons in the “real world”. Here is my experience transitioning from academia to my first job in the geomatics industry as a new graduate, and how that experience relates to We Think.

In April, I graduated from the Geographic Sciences program with a concentration in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at the NSCC Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS) in Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia. It’s a mouthful. Essentially, I studied data management, data analysis, and how to represent that data on a map.

At COGS, my coursework was particularly grueling. I arrived between 7:30 and 8:30 am most days, hoping and striving to complete enough work by the 10:00 pm closing buzzer that I could go to bed when I got home, instead of having to reopen my laptop to continue working until 1:00 or 2:00 am. Another few hours were spent on Saturdays and Sundays to get a head-start on the next week. Priorities continually shifted as new assignments came in or ongoing ones took longer than expected. It was exhausting.

Someone close to me once said that the training in the Canadian Armed Forces was designed to be harder than what soldiers would typically experience in the field. It prepared them for the conditions that awaited them during deployment. Whether this is true or not, it stuck with me. I am not a soldier, and am not comparing myself to one. But, I really liked that concept of ‘tough training and conditioning leads to professionals capable of handling tough situations’. “When I get through this, I’ll be ready for anything” was a warm thought that gave me comfort late at night when I wanted to give up.

Upon graduating, I felt I could handle whatever the geomatics industry could throw at me, because I had trained under intense conditions. With a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, I found an opportunity in my field. Surely, this would be a breeze compared to my schooling. The work started out easy. As I rose to each challenge, I quickly gained more responsibilities. A senior coworker left the group, and I was entrusted with their ongoing projects. Suddenly, I was liaising with stakeholders across the province and reporting to managers several positions above me. It was exciting and exhilarating. All this experience and exposure so quickly after graduation was priceless.

My studies could only prepare me for so much. I am proud of my accomplishments and that I am trusted with important responsibilities. However, with these responsibilities came stress. Stakes are higher now and I set high expectations for myself. Unlike in academia, I only have 35 hours each week to accomplish everything. Managing multiple projects, I am back to reprioritizing tasks each day to accommodate new requests that come in. It’s exhausting.

I love my job; it brings me a great sense of purpose, satisfaction, and pride. I just thought it would be easier with all the training I had done. Hubris, really. The theory had made it possible to do the practical.

One of my projects earlier this year was to find a client that needed a mapping product, and design/build them one. It was one of the course’s deeper applications of the mapping and project management theory I had been learning. I knew Aubrie always had a repertoire of projects either in progress or percolating, so I reached out to her. She introduced me to We Think, and I began creating a prototype of a web map for them. It was a stand-alone product. Now, I am working on rebuilding that prototype into our site. Working as part of We Think has been a great experience for me. There are no supervisors to report to here; members take on what they can manage. As in school and at the office, there’s always more that can be done. Come learn a little with We Think.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *