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Letters from the Field

Applying GIS
Ian Michel (B.S., Social Sciences, 2013)

Ian Michel

Against all odds, I started working as a GIS field technician for Southern California Edison in June 2014. It’s a fantastic job that has taken me all over Southern California. It really seems to be the ultimate social sciences career because I am outside 40 hours a week hiking, surveying and mapping electric power lines and poles. I am really happy and proud to be applying my degree to a practical profession.

Recently, I have been stationed in Porterville and have been surveying lots of power poles that are in citrus groves. I noticed the wind turbines that a lot of the growers have to prevent their crops from freezing. Since I am by myself all day and have nothing better to think about, I tried to explain to myself why they were able to save crops from freezing temperatures. I was a little embarrassed because I couldn't fully explain the concepts to myself, but when I got home I tore open my notebooks and poured over the notes from GEO 325; I immediately refreshed myself on the topics of temperature inversions, the impact of irrigated lands, and ultimately the relationship between climate and humanity.

Since I have successfully scratched the itch that was plaguing my brain, I wanted to thank you [Professor William Preston] for all your knowledge, support and guidance you provided me with during my time at Cal Poly. I could not be where I am today without you. 

Applied Anthropology and Geography at Google
Sara Hannigan (B.S., Anthropology and Geography, 2014)

Sara Hannigan

I currently work at Google as a member of the operations team on the Self Driving Car project. Basically, my job is to drive the self-driving car (this is also my favorite joke to tell at parties). I heard about the job through a friend who was working on the project. She knew that I enjoyed driving and working with computers and maps, so she referred me for the position. The self-driving car system uses several different sensors that are also utilized in remote sensing, and my familiarity with these sensors, experience of working with people from different backgrounds (yay, anthropology), and my mapping skills were factors that allowed me to get the position.

Every day of this job is different. Some days I’m driving, some days I’m updating training materials, and other days I’m testing new software for safety before the rest of the fleet drives on it. I also teach other people how to drive the car and am part of a team that manages the feedback system, which is how we let the developers know how the car is doing. The variety of my day-to-day tasks, the diversity of the people on the project and the great goals of the project itself are all reasons that I truly love my job. It is challenging and not something I would have expected to be doing. But every day I go into work knowing that I will see something new, meet amazing people, try something I’ve never done before, and grow and change — all while getting paid for the privilege. For that reason I'm very glad to have this job!

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