Connect with Erica on LinkedIn here.
In this Q&A, Erica Corbett of Esri Canada discusses where her interest in geomatics stems from, how it got her to where she is today, and the challenges and rewards that she experienced along her way:
Q: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
A: My name is Erica Corbett and I’m an instructor at Esri Canada. My career path in GIS all started back in my days at uni, in one of my favourite places on this earth: Newfoundland. I took Geography as a Science at Memorial University (MUN). In between having fun on George Street, I was lucky to take various field courses that allowed me to travel around the province and study the beautiful physical and cultural geography of Newfoundland. Rocky coastlines, fjords, glaciers, and mountains in the west, and rolling hills, icebergs, Irish pubs and whale-spotting in the East. I even got to walk along the Earth’s mantle while hiking the Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park.
It was in one of these Physical Geography classes that I was introduced to the world of GIS. To be honest, I didn’t really like it at first. But once I learned what the software (ArcMap at the time) could do with the data I collected out in the field, I was intrigued.
Fast-forward to graduating from MUN, I moved to South Korea to give teaching a go. I taught English and traveled Asia for almost 4 years, and while I was enjoying this career path, I knew I wanted to use my degree and get back into my field. I also knew I loved to teach. So I thought, why don’t I combine the two? While sitting in my little studio apartment in Seoul (metro population: 50 mil), I signed up for the Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS) in Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia (population: 600). It was perfect, as it’s just a 2 hour drive from where I grew up, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The following summer of 2017, I packed my bags and came back to Canada. I did not realize what was in store for me as I walked in the door at COGS on my first day, where I learned I was enrolled in nine courses in my first semester. This 9 month program is called the Advanced GIS diploma program, and you need a degree in order to register for it. I made lifelong friends, became well-acquainted with the Royal Canadian Legion and the game of Broomball, and learned an incredible amount about GIS in those nine months. The courses were extremely technical and prepared me for the job I have today at Esri Canada.
Before graduating from COGS, I got a job offer for an Associate GIS Analyst position in Esri Canada’s Vancouver office. During my interview, I was asked what my career goals were and I replied that I wanted to be able to combine my passions for teaching and GIS. I started in July 2018, learned a ton as an Associate, and became an ArcGIS Instructor in November 2019.
Q: What made you choose a career in the geomatics sector?
A: Being able to combine my interest for Science with Geography led me to working in Geomatics. I also learned how much GIS is applied as an aid to many different spatial issues around the world, making it a very rewarding sector to be involved in. I enjoy working with the many different people in Canada who are users of Esri software and helping clients apply different solutions to their workflows with Esri technology.
Q: As a woman, did you recognize the barriers you faced in getting your career started? How would you describe them?
To be honest, while getting prepared for a career in geomatics at COGS, more than half of my classmates were women. As well, Esri Canada hires roughly 3-5 Associates every year, right out of school. In my year, they hired four women (including myself) and one male. So my experience of getting my career going in the Geomatics sector was actually that it seemed like a female-dominated industry.
Q: How did you manage to overcome the major challenges in your career and end up where you are today?
The major challenges in my career mainly involve keeping up with the constant change in technology. The only way to do this is to continuously keep learning. I am constantly in communication with my colleagues and am always finding out about new software that Esri is developing that I need to know the ins and outs of. Not only do I learn from my coworkers, but also from my clients, many of whom are long-time GIS users. I enjoy building good relationships with customers all around Canada and taking the opportunity to teach each other something.
Q: Do you think the geomatics sector needs to change to be more inclusive? How?
Although I started off my career in Geomatics surrounded by bad-ass women, as I get deeper in my career, and get to know more and more clients, I realized that this sector wasn’t always so female-dominant. In fact, it was the opposite. I’m now on a team of mostly men and a lot of the clients I work with are males as well. It wasn’t hard to notice that there is little to no female representation in higher positions within the GIS industry after working with so many different organizations. With that being said, I think that my experience alone shows that it’s changing.
Q: What advice would you give to women and girls who are facing gender barriers in their careers?
A: Be humble. Never stop learning. Ask questions. Speak your mind. Most importantly, be yourself.
Q: What advice would you give to anyone facing challenges in their geospatial occupation, or entering the geospatial sector?
A: If you are just entering the geospatial sector: recognize that you have barely scratched the surface of what you can do with the technology (like me). Even if you aren’t new, there are so many people in the GIS industry that you can learn from. Take every opportunity you get to soak in knowledge. And read. Read documentation, blogs, articles and books. Play around in the software until you understand how something works.
As for anyone facing non-technical challenges regarding their careers: be vocal. Make it clear to your managers (and yourself) what your goals are and how you plan on getting there.
Q: In your experience, what can you say about the progress that has been made in the geomatics sector, and where it will go in the future?
A: Judging from my own experience at COGS, and my recent visit to COGS to recruit new Associates, more women than men will be joining the industry. I have no doubt that many of these talented females will make it far, into upper-management roles. I spoke to quite a few women at COGS while conducting interviews who expressed interest in leadership positions. This comes as no surprise to me. While I’m still new to the industry, I’m excited to see where all these new faces will take us, whether male or female. It’s all about ideas and a willingness to learn.