Small Business Year in Review: Volunteering

Dec 21, 2011 | Crowdsourcing, GIS, Giscorps, Open Street Map, Tennessee

So this one is going to be interesting. I was going to do a twitter one but decided to jump over just a bit into some forbidden territory.

So one of the things I like…nay…love..maybe that was too strong a word…Greatly in Like with…is GIS. This year has been a bit of a re-awakening of that fling. When you start a business as I did with a handicap (no one knew who I was 5 years ago – like anyone knows who I am now – HA) you do all sorts of crazy things. One of those was tracking down a group(s) and just asking them if I could make maps. It’s led to some interesting moments this year. Volunteer work is my canary in the mine-shaft so to speak. If I hate my volunteer jobs it’s time to move beyond what I am doing. Some of the best work I have done has been volunteer oriented and not just from a standpoint of non-profit organizations. If the work has some sort of merit I don’t care about your status. I will work for lunch. I don’t use it as a tax writeoff. Actually now that I think about it I’ve never written any volunteer project off for tax purposes. I just do them. Maybe I should.

So it led to several weird and wild things this year: Working with a High School (again), working with GISCorp,and working with who(m)ever…. I was busy this year and it showed. Things that typically weren’t a problem doing became a problem. I had a hard time communicating to clients and my volunteer jobs. I learned a lot this year on how to approach people and what I was capable of because of the volunteer work. The canaries started squealing….or squeaking…or chirping….

Caribbean Sea: The big push for this group this year was to get their website…eh – weblife moved into their hands. They had a domain they didn’t own. A website they couldn’t fix. Email that was blinking off randomly. If you go to the website it’s now wordpress (and as you can tell they have been working on it), the email is now a gmail backend, and things more or less work. At least they own the domain now – that was 120 days of ICANN rules and craziness  as we went from Mambo to WordPress. It wasn’t as smooth as I wanted….but it transitioned. Their email was down longer than it needed to be…the transition was not as smooth as I wanted….but at least they are in more control for better or worse.

Red Bank High School: My most problematic volunteer effort this year. Right in the middle of the biggest job I had landed as a business they popped up. ESRI donated an ArcGIS lab for the school. We ended up using it on a NASA Project. Something I thought would take a week at most took a month as I built models to compile data and churned out numbers as the kids/teacher estimated ages of craters on the moon. It taught me to be a bit more realistic as to planning and more truthful with the teacher. It was stressful. It showed. I enjoyed working with the kids Typically we do OSM. That’s easy. ArcGIS added unforeseen complications. I learned. their final project for this year centered around water quality. They digitized buildings and concrete. They took water samples. They related water quality to development in the watershed. For the finale they tested the schools water fountains and found ecoli. That was worth the effort to watch the principal sit with her mouth hanging open at the work, the effort, and the fact that all water fountains near the bathrooms weren’t clean enough.

Red Bank High School

GISCorp: I like GISCorp. If you’re a GIS person and slightly “bored” you have no excuse – volunteer. I was working on one project this spring and like I said above my life was getting tight. So I had to drop out of the project. I hated it. It annoyed me to no end. Luckily as things settled down I got involved again this winter. I am leading a small team of people digitizing in OpenStreetMap for HOT.

So when I started this company my fist thought was “I’m nuts”. The second thought  “it’s not all about the money”. It is…it isn’t. I can’t throw large amounts of cash at a problem. I have no Randy Hale Foundation….but I do have North River Geographic Systems, Inc. I can do some things I want to do.

How long will I keep volunteering? It could be said if the company fails…if this whole thing becomes un-doable….. I might find something else to do…. A plan B if you will….but I can keep volunteering as a GIS Person and at least keep my foot in the industry.

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