Winning the Job Lottery

In the early 19990s I won the job lottery. I became a part of the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) employed through the National Park Service. I learned how to use an auger, annihilate acacia, roll ice plant, and harvest native seeds. It was the best  first job I could have imagined. It led me to get my dream job as a Park Ranger (for a different agency) just a few summers later. My career has taken me places I could have never imagined after that.

In the Youth Conservation Corps high school students submit an application and names are randomly drawn (typically 50% male and 50% female). Getting my first job was pure chance- a lottery. My first summer job started me on a career through  3 different federal agencies (and a couple of other side adventures). It has been a great ride that all started with that one application. I spent three more seasons with the YCC in the National Park Service before I became a Park Ranger.

I hope some other youth this summer take the advantage of this amazing program to jump-start their careers. The Youth Conservation Corps application season is open right now. If you know any youth aged 15-18 in the Bay Area of San Francisco, wanting to live in Yellowstone or Yosemite, or in any other area listed on this website

Apply by April 15th 2014 (some have earlier deadlines… contacts are on the website) the application information is at:

May this be the start of many new careers…. good luck in the most amazing lottery ever.

Standing at the Entrance Sign

Winning the Lottery


Mapping a Disaster

One of the roles of government is to lead during a time of disaster. One of the key elements to success in that role is appropriate and successful crisis communication.

Communication during the response phase of a disaster requires a sense of place.

Where is the incident occurring? Where do I go? My grandmother’s cabin is on Puppy Ridge- Is she okay?

Now this is the moment so many of my friends say…

  • I have 9 years experience using ArcGIS and a masters in XYZ.
  • Are you developing in HTML5 or Silverlight?
  • I’m a GIS Professional and I’m here to help!

My reply over the last couple of years with the amazing staff I’ve had the privilege to work with has been…

Let those that own the information OWN the map. 

I  found the most successful implementation for me was when the folks who are professional data crunchers and creators support the information owners. Geeks do this by posting the complicated stuff up, but are otherwise free to process the data coming in on GPS units, query the parcel databases from the county, and create complicated maps for the people conducting the firefighting.

The information most important to the public is often different that what is needed by the responders:

  • Evacuation Areas
  • Shelter locations
  • Community Meeting locations
  • Disaster Response Centers
  • News Media Briefing sites
  • Road Closures/Blocks (okay that one is very important to both)

To support the Public Information Officers (PIOs) I did what I thought was right…

I made them the simple map they needed– then I stepped back and became coach / cheerleader.

What does that mean in implementation……..

  1. An individual creates an “incident” map typically locating the shelter, the general incident location, if there are road closures and where the media should meet the agency folks.
  2. The individual then shares the editing capabilities with their trusted circle of 2-5 people (typically an interagency group). This is closed. If an agency is putting their logo on top they should know what they are presenting. BUT- it should be able to be mashed up or used in other applications as others like the state or put it together at a higher level.
  3. The team embeds the map into the blog, tweet it, put it on the website and share it with all of their media friends. If we’re lucky then put it into their news stories, websites, show it on TV, and broadcast your message for you. Other agencies will mash it up with other maps or data streams.
  4. As the incident evolves points (shelters), lines (closed roads), and areas (fire perimeters) are added to the map. The uncomplicated ones are drawn directly onto the map and the complicated ones are uploaded via KML… why? Because these professionals have Google Earth on their computers and learned how to draw that in 30 minutes.
  5. As the incident gets much more complicated the GIS Specialist (GISS) on the incident processes complicated data and uploads it to the map. Uploads are done on a daily up to hourly basis depending on the ever changing situation.
    <NOTICE> This is the first real instance of the specialized map geek helping out on the map!!!!!! </ALERT>

Other things to keep in mind-

  • Clear, colorful pictograph symbols are very important
  • Mobile usability is vital
  • Driving directions to points such as shelters are highly desired
  • Data should be able to be downloaded or consumed in other applications
  • A map that tracks hits and where traffic is being directed from is highly valuable to calculate return on investment

So the goal is better service for the affected and interested public but that means no programming and no separation of the map from the crisis communicators. This platform is intended to distribute vital information and simultaneously update all instances that are distributed through various mediums.

Now some may say this is hearsay, some may cite book and chapter of the incident command system at me, and some may say- who are you to try and change the old school ways? To which I answer- the word of the year for 2013 is disruption.

This is a partnership not a rivalry

it’s not about who does what as much as how do we serve better.
I have been involved in incident response, emergency management, or public safety in one form or another for over a decade. I am a Geospatial Geek. I have made incident maps seen by millions of people (instead of my old normal 50-2,500). Best of all… I have shown up on an incident where the map is created, embedded in the blog, on the DenverPost, and I just had to check out the online map to sit down and start cranking something out for the operations side.

I am looking for new tools for the 2014 season and I am hoping over the winter/spring to test and explore the workflows. If there are solutions found I’ll  share them here.

Volunteering, What Makes it Work?

Getting involved in a volunteer effort is more than just finding an awesome group you believe in. I’ve discovered that the talents that define some of my desirable traits as an employee happen to be the things people want from me as a volunteer. After being pursued for normal day tasks I’ve finally reached a couple of conclusions:

I’ve come to realize that I don’t want my volunteer hours to mimic my work hours. I don’t want to spend my time stuck doing data entry, creating standard operating procedures for some data set, or sitting by myself in front of a computer. When I  volunteer I want to be participating in areas I enjoy but don’t get to explore in my current job. I want to be sitting talking things through with one or five people. I want to be active, engaged, and creating.

I am opting out of the physical labor efforts. I have picked up my fair share of trash and jumped in many a dumpster. I’ve helped move old rusty culverts from the river beds. I have removed the invasive species and gathered the native seeds.  I now reserve my time with shovels and plants to my gardens at the house. It’s not a general aversion to physical labor it’s just I’m no longer 18 with tons of expendable energy and living in an apartment. I have land to invest my energy into that produces both beauty and sustenance.

In my world, my volunteer hours are different from my work hours… that’s the secret to engaging as a volunteer for me.

Staying is Not Loyalty

The agency does not love you back. It does not matter how much you love your job, your boss, your colleagues, or the mission- your agency does not love you back. And that’s okay. The agency, while accommodating as an organization, is not a human entity capable of emotion. Let’s stop acting like the agency has feelings to hurt.

Recently, I heard a number of people equating an individual’s willingness to stay in a position or within an organization as “loyalty” to the agency. Leaving a position is not an affront to the agency. It is simply saying that the position, the duties, the life circumstances are not congruent with my personal direction at this time. Subsequently, my definition of loyalty no longer includes the duration in a position or agency.

Here is my new definition of loyaltyas long as I am employed by any agency or company I will give 100+% of myself, strive to increase my knowledge, explore paths that will add value to my position, and will invest in the organization wholly. 

I left my permanent career GS-comfortable job when I was 28 after 10 calendar years of federal service. It was a defining moment. Most of the federal family reaction altered between  I was a fool or I was disloyal. In my professional life, I had just completed a huge national policy/standards win with an amazing team. It was a 4+ year investment with hundreds of thousands of donated hours to get to the win. The project was “for the good of the order” and needed to be done for the field. I gave them me. The organization appreciatively took everything I gave.

My personal life  changed, and I needed to take care of my world. My many creative solutions to stay with the agency were met with by gentle but firm “No” from the agency. No, we don’t want another remote employee. No, we don’t know of any other opportunities. No, we don’t think there is a way to meet your hopes. I acknowledge and understand that they were under no obligation to accommodate me. I knew the job I signed up for when I signed on. Conversely, I was under no obligation to remain. So, I took a job in the private sector and moved across the state.

I recognize and respect the many people in the public and private sectors who have chosen to make their jobs their life- I’ve been there. Many of us, regardless of generation but typically under the age of 40,  are starting to opt for another path. Our choosing something different is okay. It’s okay to prioritize a marriage, children, caring for extended family members, pursuing education, or investing in your community.

I have returned to federal service twice now. While I miss the security of a permanent job, I do not regret for a moment the eclectic path I have taken. I revel in the diversity of my experiences. Everything I learned in the private sector and each agency has made me into a better employee for my current employer. I still love all the agencies I have worked for and remain loyal to the missions everytime I step on public land, sort out the recyclables, or talk to someone about crisis communication.  I do not know who will be signing my paycheck five years from now, though I know whoever it is I will be giving them my all.

The unintentional raise

A new job, office culture, team (with 2 staff changes already), and an ever-evolving position had me a little apprehensive about my job review this time. It really didn’t help that I wrote up my accomplishments and had them immediately handed back for revision due to totally missing the mark (how many pages? wow.). I mean when you fail at writing your accomplishments for your review isn’t that a bad sign? Apparently, No.

The review went well, I’m on track, and she likes where we are going building the program. SCORE! I mean seriously, it’s 6 months in and there was a pretty huge culture shock (in a good way) so reading this group isn’t easy for me yet. The thing that got me though was the paragraph summaries of my work. The paragraph format of a “Gold Star” lasts a very long time for keeping me emotionally invested.

Words are my currency and when people customize something specific for me it makes all the difference in the world.

If you are brave enough… ask for recommendation letter. They are awesome as a snapshot in time. I still have some from high school even. My favorite though is from my last position, I asked the boss for a letter for a new project I was applying to. Her letter and her insights into my skills really opened my eyes to change my perspective. Skills I dismissed as “meh” she highlighted with respect. She had me pegged better than I could have described myself.

To me a personalized letter or evaluation with prose translates to more investment in my position than a coffee cup, lunch out, or a myriad of other things. But it’s not just words that matter, it’s a balance of what is most important to me- time off to spend with my loved ones and training.

Time off is self-explanatory but how is training a raise? Training allows me to expand my knowledge, to get to spend time with colleagues interested in similar skills, and honestly to get out of my cubicle. My varied interests are typically considered non-traditional for my position. Allowing me to explore new paths that intrigue me is something I truly appreciate. I understand the value of five work days.  I know the opportunity cost. When a boss trusts me and allows that diversion from the software giant’s checklist of push button courses… that is a raise.

So today was a win- I received the bonus that means the most to me: thoughtfully written words and openness to my eclectic training plan for the year. It’s why I live the gov life.

Leadership- It makes me want to Invest #govlife

Today I had the pleasure of listening to the director of our agency. He is a career government employee – so he gets being a GS-low# since he started as a seasonal (just about the time I was born). He recently dealt with being on the hot seat dealing with a lot of political focus. To many he represents not the elite of the management but the regular Joe/Jane reporting to work and serving the public.

Today he stood in front of a room of people looking to him for answers. One of the questions was simply stated as, “what is the future of civil service.” The stuffed room held people at different points of their careers. There are a large number deciding if and when to retire. There are the mid-career professionals deciding if they are going to hunker down or look around. There are the re-treads (like me) who have tried a few things and are on the inside but not yet in that steady “career” job. And there are those bright-eyed young graduate and undergraduate students hoping to turn their internship into something.

The first statement and last statement were predictable in that I’ve heard them a lot in the last 6 months…. “These are challenging times… we have been through worse and we will persevere while we take care of each other.” It’s the middle that got to me. It’s the moment that I thought- this, THIS is why there are hundreds of applications for civil service jobs. Here is the gist of it poorly paraphrased and entirely mangled by my very biased need for inspiration:

To be inspired and renewed we must go to the field. Locked in the offices and walking the hallways we do not always get to see the look on the public’s face as they experience the great wonder that is our public lands and heritage. We need to reconnect to our roots to keep inspired and moving forward. We need to remember the core of our mission for that is what will give us strength to get through these lean and divisive times.


Words such as these need to be uttered in every  government building. We need to go back to the mission statements, the moment when you were a teenager and “knew” what you wanted to do, the wide-eyed college optimism where you could never fathom the actual career you’ve had. We need as a general civil service to forget the “do more with less” silliness and focus on our core reasons and essential tasks. Let’s keep our chins up.

Stability… How’s that Working for Me?

I changed my job about 6 months ago. It was a needed switch-up in order to pursue some personal goals. One of the main reasons was I was aiming for a stable environment with time to dedicate to  adventures outside the office. I  re-joined the federal government as the sequester hit and experienced the first government shutdown in seventeen years. How’s that working for me?

I accepted my job during the last couple of days before the sequestration hiring freeze. I snuck in as one of the last ones hired before the great pause. I was onboarded during a hiring freeze. I did a double take as the agency adjusted, the belts were tightened (yet again), and the new normal took over. Sequestration was just part of my new reality.

For those who don’t know me well-  I’m a serial government employee. I’ve worked for the government directly for over 13 years and the years I worked in the private sector my clients were primarily government. Heck, when I’m in the government many times my customers are other government agencies or employees.

I settled into the new job, got to know my new colleagues, re-engaged with old colleagues, joined committees, and started feeling like things were coming together. Projects started getting handed to me and things started into a groove. <sigh> I should have known better.

Up to the Friday before the government shutdown of 2013 I was being reassured by many people with very lengthy careers that it wasn’t going to happen. The day before the furlough the tone changed and people started talking about taking plants home.

Now, please don’t get me wrong….While stressful and disorienting, the furlough  does not make my top 5 most challenging events I’ve encountered in my career. I’m not sure it even would make the top 20.  We had a strong community of federal employees who supported each other and informed each other during this event. 

Through all of its challenges, it’s good to be back in my federal family. I have an amazing job. I am enjoying this opportunity immensely. On a daily basis, I am among wonderful professionals supporting the field. With this said, it is noticeable that these times are different. The atmosphere with the sequestration and shutdown is unlike  what I’d seen from the seasons of 1993-1997, the years from 1998-2006, or 2009-2010 in the federal government.

2013 has been different. It wasn’t what I expected as I searched for stability. Luckily, I am where I need to be. It’s working out just fine.