A Day in the Life of an SCA GIS Intern


What’s it like to be a conservationist working in Geospatial Information Systems? SCA’s Rachelle Hedges describes a typical day.

Well, I really left you hanging last time, didn’t I? I got you all excited about GIS and the amazing things it can do, but I never told you what you would do if you worked in GIS. So, what does a day in the life of a GIS Manager, Specialist or Technician look like? Well, I don’t know.

I don’t know because the tasks you can do with GIS on a day-to-day basis are incredibly varied, and always growing, just like the technology itself. What I do know, however, and what I can tell you, is what a day in the life of this GIS Intern looks like.

So let’s talk about what I did today at work (because I know, you’ve been dying to hear)…

I’m working on a lot of projects right now (and always) – all of them are awesome and all of them are very different. Some days I’ll dedicate my efforts solely to one project, and others (like today) I’ll spread my efforts around.

I started my morning with a cup of coffee and some work on one of my long-term projects: creating an updated map of all San Mateo County Parks’ properties by cross-referencing a county-wide parcels map and an updated county property database with our existing park boundaries map. While not the most glamorous project, it is a very important one. In the last year alone, the county has acquired hundreds of new acres of property that aren’t shown on any of our maps right now. Knowing where our new boundaries lie allow us to better manage for threatened and endangered species in these areas, to care for newly obtained trails, and to understand how our parks work together on a landscape level.

This spring, Rachelle will teach GIS skills to a crew of local high school students by working with them to collect data on this redwood grove.

Later, I headed into the field to pick up a GPS unit from a ranger at one of our newly acquired properties. The GPS files he gathered will be integrated into our countywide trails map for an upcoming project with an SCA community crew. While in the field, I was also lucky enough to scout our project location – a beautiful streamside trail within a redwood grove.

Rachelle worked with Rumika and John to design a tablet User Interface that her crew of high school students will use to collect GIS data. 

Upon arriving back to the office, I continued work on this same project, although in a very different way. I worked with our county GIS Lead, Rumika, and our Open Data Community Liaison, John, to create an interface that will allow the SCA community crew students to quickly collect & upload trails data using a tablet device. The information these students collect will help to populate a database about all of our trails – their locations, maintenance needs and more – which will eventually help Parks staff and rangers manage trails and plan maintenance as efficiently as possible.

Before I head home for the day there is one last map that needs my attention, a map of a proposed trail extension that will bridge a gap on one of the longest trails on our property. This project has me working with Cecily, our Financial Services Manager, who is putting together a grant application for the project. Should Parks be awarded the grant, we will receive funding to actually build the trail, funding that otherwise does not exist.

And just like that the day’s end is here. I feel tired (in a good way), I feel accomplished, and I feel like there is a lot of work to do tomorrow, although I don’t always know what tomorrow will entail. I could end up putting my efforts towards much of the same work as today, spend some time on some of my other projects, or get a request for a quick-turnaround map that ends up consuming my entire day. And while I don’t know what the day will bring, I do know that thanks to all of the amazing people I work with, all of the conservation-focused projects I work on, and all of the beautiful places I get to go, I am going to like it.

Below: Rachelle and Rumika test the GIS User Interface they designed for high school students to upload field data from 4G tablets.