Women In GIS: Stephanie Routh

By Directions Staff

What is your position at the City of Phoenix?

I am currently employed by the Information Technology Department at the City of Phoenix as a Lead Applications Analyst/Programmer, Project Leader in charge of GIS Desktop applications (wheeew, long title).

Stephanie Routh
I have been with the City of Phoenix for 4 years.I was actually forced into being a project leader because of the high attrition rate in the GIS Division at the City.If you stay long enough, you get to move up the ladder because you are the only one who knows what is going on and what systems are where. Seriously, the Information Technology Department restructured how they wanted to deliver GIS applications.With my interest in software design and engineering principles, I was a good candidate for heading up the group that would deliver GIS applications to city employees' desktops.

Before this, I worked for a private company that made GIS software for the electrical utility industry.Before that I was an intern for the Ohio EPA, Division of Surface Water, Water Quality.

The Ohio EPA was where I first learned about the use of GIS for business operations.I liked it so much, they let me stay on as an intern for 2 years getting my fingers into everything from data conversion and documentation, functional requirements studies, and GIS analysis.Of course they got cheap labor out of it, and I think I locked up their GIS systems, deleted files, left run away processes, and generally destroyed their GIS databases quite a few times before actually figuring out what I was doing.Hey, what's a good intern for anyway?

What is your background?

MA Geography - the Ohio State University
BA Geology - the Ohio State University
BA Anthropology - the Ohio State University

I have also completed the core introductory GIS courses from the NCGIA at the University of California at Santa Barbara, CA.

In order to keep current in the field of GIS, I take training courses from ESRI for their product line, read trade magazines, participate in on-line discussion lists, attend conferences, and network with other GIS professionals to find out what they are doing in the industry.

I actually am a second generation GIS analyst.My father also does Geography and GIS.

Would you recommend GIS to other women?

Absolutely.Where I currently work, there are 12 GIS professionals, 8 of us are women.But this is local government.My experience in the private sector is that women in GIS still seem to be in the minority, especially in programming and analysis areas.

Government still seems to be the most friendly to hiring women as most employees are hired at the same pay levels for a specific job title.For me, I have found that a good education goes in my favor whether it is accredited GIS courses or continuing education from GIS vendors. Employers respect a desire to learn and keep abreast of current technology no matter what the gender of the person applying for a position.

What is the accomplishment of which you are most proud.

I manage a software application for the City of Phoenix that several hundred people use in their business activities. New users go through a training session and learn to use GIS in about 2 hours.We manage this product like a regular application in the software industry with periodic releases, patches, FAQ's, and release letters and notes. After a particularly dramatic version of the release of the software I went to quietly sit in the back of the training room to watch the first group of new users being trained on the new version of the application.I can't tell you how thrilling it was to hear these new customers say what features they liked or where they thought something was really cool or how much better and quicker they will be able to do their job because this product is available.That experience really made my day We had t-shirts made up for our development team showing how proud we were of our software product (plus we have a really nice looking logo).

What does your typical day or week look like?

I like to spend 40% of my time programming, 30% of my time researching and managing projects, 25% of my time on customer service and ad hoc mapping, and 5% of my time networking with my peers and customers and doing additional overhead, administrative work.

I also run a software focus group and ESRI product user group meetings for the City and I am always available for demonstrations of GIS software and to chat with other city departments about how they can use GIS in their business practices.

Why is GIS an exciting industry in which to participate?

GIS is still such a new technology to some areas of the business community that when companies consider implementing it, their business processes begin to change.As a GIS professional, I am a catalyst for change.The work I do does make a difference in my workplace.Also as GIS is a new technology, many companies are starting from scratch. It's exciting to be there at the beginning of major projects and implementations to do things correctly from the start.

What is the most important "next thing" that will happen in GIS?

You know, people talk about the Internet as the next big realm for GIS as a way to disseminate it out to the masses.Most of the people I meet, however, just hope their computer monitors won't mutate their DNA. They want hard copy, not new technology.

So what has to happen is for GIS to become so integrated into the way people do business that they don't even think about it as a new technology they need to use.Instead it becomes like the telephone, something they use all the time when they need to do a specific task and the interface is self explanatory.And, like the telephone, GIS would need to be available everywhere without anything special needed to access its information.

Before you came to GIS, what did you think your career would be in?

I thought computers were a waste of time.I didn't even use a computer until I was a junior in college. I had my trusty typewriter, why did I need one of those awful computer things.I was going to be an archaeologist and dig out in the middle of nowhere with little dental picks and toothbrushes.Archaeologists don't need technology.

Then my mind changed.I became interested in the technical aspects of archaeology and decided to pick up geology at the same time.GIS was just beginning to be used more widely in the field of archaeology and I really liked the way GIS analysis worked in helping to uncover trends or patterns in archaeological sites and material.Then, I was sure I was going to use GIS in archaeology forever.

Then my mind changed again.I attended the NCGIS introductory GIS courses and realized that GIS was a technological tool in itself.In becoming a specialist in GIS I could use it for any field of work, not just archaeology.By understanding GIS as a tool, I could work in any discipline because GIS projects have a common component, spatial analysis.So then I changed to have GIS as my major focus rather than a discipline that only used GIS as a tool for the occasional analytical task.

My mind didn't change again, but instead refocused on wanting to understand better ways to apply the technology. As GIS was computer software, it made sense to focus on software engineering and design as a gateway to improving the quality of GIS tools and how they are integrated into business practices and business systems.

That's how you end up as a Lead Programmer Analyst in an Information Technology Department instead of an archaeologist.

Email: Stephanie Routh

More Women in GIS.

Published Tuesday, January 11th, 2000

Written by Directions Staff

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