Help me be more productive in my downtime at work.
September 19, 2008 1:40 PM   Subscribe

What should I do with my downtime at work that could further my career or be useful in some other way?

My workload is really light right now and I have tons of time during the day. The enforcement of the Internet policy is evidently quite lax because I've never been called on my usage (which mostly consists of refreshing MetaFilter and some news sites). In any case, I'm moving on from this job as soon as I can.

What can I do at work that will further my skills or build new ones? I don't want to be too obvious about searching for another job. Besides, I know I need to develop some additional skills in order to be competitive.

I enjoy anything to do with geography, cartography, GIS, statistics, data analysis, and database development. I'd also like to learn programming (would have to start at an extremely basic level). I have an interest in graphic design and web development, but I have Adobe software at home for that.

What are some websites and tutorials you recommend on these topics? My end goal is to get a job as a GIS specialist, public policy analyst, or urban planner. (Preference in that order. I already have a Master's in urban planning.) My current job has nothing to do with any of these, and there's nowhere I want to go in this company.

Caveats: I can't download/install much of anything to the work PC. I do have a 6 GB flash drive. I'm on Windows XP, here and at home. The software I would use professionally (ArcGIS) only runs on Windows anyway, so might as well stick to Windows-based technology. The only thing installed on the work PC is Microsoft Office 2007. I don't want to do anything that would draw a lot of visual attention.
posted by desjardins to Work & Money (7 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Mefites have recommended to me for their great video tutorials before and I think you would find them beneficial as well for the programming aspect.
posted by misha at 1:56 PM on September 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think video would fall under "draws a lot of visual attention." My cube is in a visible area so I don't want something with video or a lot of animation.
posted by desjardins at 2:04 PM on September 19, 2008

Not sure if this is up your alley - but could you either take an online course on some preferred subject or actually take classes (when you're not at work) and do the homework while at work (and obviously during your down time)? You say you already have your Master's - could you work toward your PhD?

I know this doesn't answer your "What are some websites and tutorials you recommend on these topics." So, sorry 'bout that.
posted by Sassyfras at 2:17 PM on September 19, 2008

Learn Python. I started (from being a programming neophyte) ~six months ago and I've already been able to do a lot of very useful things (to me anyway).
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 4:00 PM on September 19, 2008

The other thing you can do is make sure you're ready for the next job by updating your linkedin profile, and joining/volunteering to help with admin tasks for your professional association. Building the network as well as the skills is key for the next gig.
posted by mozhet at 5:25 PM on September 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Consider starting a blog in one of the fields your interested in (I don't know what geography/cartography/db dev blog would look like but I would guess there are those out there doing it), network with the leaders of your field, and get noticed that way. You may not be looking for a job but it will help build exposure for yourself until you do.
posted by wangarific at 8:16 PM on September 19, 2008

Not knowing what looks "normal" on your screen on a day-to-day basis, it's hard to know what activity will look too far beyond those parameters. However, you can do lots to build your portfolio of GIS and policy analysis examples even without running that on your work computer. Ask interesting questions about what's going on, start downloading publicly-available data that helps to answer those questions, and then work on the (non-trivial!) tasks of getting that data in shape to analyze and map later on your non-work time. Nothing says "I can do this!" to potential employers like being able to say "Look - I did this! And on my own time because I'm Just. That. Passionate. About. It." And yep, start a blog and post what you come up with (I for one will read it!). My email is in my profile if you need help coming up with fun questions and corresponding data sources.

Seconding that Python may be a valuable skill (can help you with some data preprocessing tasks and I believe that there are connections between Python and ArcGIS) as well as database management - get really good at storing data sanely and querying it back out in various ways. The latest version of ArcGIS allows PostgreSQL as a spatially-enabled database backend, but comfort with SQL would be primary to learning a specific database. I'm also an incredibly huge fan of R for all kinds of statistics and for making highly complex data management/transformation tasks easy-as-pie (once you get over the pie-making learning curve). I'm not sure if you can run it off of a thumb drive, but it might be worth a try.
posted by shelbaroo at 7:44 AM on September 21, 2008

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