The Most Interesting Technical Field You've Never Heard Of: Talking GIS and Geointelligence with NGA's MaryAnne Tong
If I asked you what GIS—geographic information systems—is, would you know where to begin?
MaryAnne Tong does: Google Maps.
When MaryAnne, who is a Geoint Analyst Cartographer for the Maritime Safety Office at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), finds herself needing to explain her role and the technology she uses to fulfill it—which is something she does on a fairly regular basis—she starts with the popular navigation app.
"Google Maps, Google Earth, that's all GIS. When you use navigational tools to get you from point A to point B, that's GIS," says MaryAnne. "GIS is the ability to represent all your data spatially. It can graphically show where you are on the earth; it touches everybody's life in one way, shape, or form."
MaryAnne would know; she has worked in GIS for her entire career, which has involved working with small engineering firms, city and Tribal governments, Native American land management, and more. As of 2018, MaryAnne has been employed with NGA, a major intelligence agency that provides geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) to the U.S. government and works with mission partners around the world.
We sat down with MaryAnne to learn more about her journey throughout her career, including what her day-to-day work with GIS looks like, the technical skills GIS is built on, and how she has learned to advocate for her own advancement in a male-dominated, highly technical field.
Finding her way to GIS
MaryAnne didn't always know she wanted to work in GIS. In fact, when she started at the University of Toronto in 1996, she didn't even know what GIS was. She went to college to study business administration, but "absolutely hated it." Instead, she followed her passion for the environment and conservation to receive an environmental science and geography degree. One of her professors suggested she look into GIS as a career prospect and MaryAnne was intrigued. She enrolled in a post-graduate diploma program that specialized in the subject at Fleming College, which was then the best GIS school in Ontario Canada. But, she found herself a bit out of her depth.
"That was probably the hardest thing I ever had to do," she remembers. "Back then, I was looking at DOS-based software, I had to use ArcInfo and AutoCAD. Now, you have ArcGIS pro and web interfaces that are a little easier to navigate." But MaryAnne learned programming, wrote a lot of scripts, and finished the program with her Geographic Information Systems – Application Specialist diploma. Shortly afterwards, she got a job offer in the States for the planning division at a local city government; she left her native Canada with, "two suitcases and no friends."
While in the United States, MaryAnne's first GIS job involving the strict use of ESRI products didn't pay very well. She remembers eating "oranges and cereal" for dinner and washing her laundry a friendly neighbor's house to save money. "It actually grounded me quite a bit," she says of the experience. "It made me realize what's important and what isn't, and it made me want to fight even harder to make sure that I kept advancing."
And advance she did. A few years later, MaryAnne received her Geographic Information Systems Professional License (GISP). This is an important certification license that MaryAnne must maintain, and she does so by keeping up-to-date with current GIS applications, and by volunteering her GIS knowledge with organizations like the National Tribal Geographic Information Support Center (NTGISC)—also known as Tribal GIS. On par with her volunteer work, MaryAnne soon found herself employed with the Seminole Tribe of Florida on a small GIS team that did a little bit of everything. Her team had to maintain all the tribe's GIS information for their seven non-contiguous reservations. "I would look at the parcel fabric, at assigning addresses for georeferencing, and I was working with different counties to try to establish a standardized way for reporting emergencies. I worked on utility networks and we did emergency management planning," she explains. One of her very important responsibilities was to keep both digital and physical versions of up-to-date maps in advance of Florida's hurricane season to ensure the national disaster response teams could get to people on the reservation who needed help.
That job eventually led her to NGA, where she began working with maritime GIS for the first time. In contrast to previous jobs where she was a 'Jill of all trades,' MaryAnne ended up establishing a specific set of responsibilities at NGA: Continuously reviewing GIS data on a 28-day production cycle to confirm that the agency is providing accurate information to its customers, including the Navy and the Department of Defense.
"We get information from different sources, including different countries, and need to guarantee accuracy so no mariner crashes into something—like an iceberg—that might cause their vessel to sink or run a ground, like a naval ships hitting docks or rocks," explains MaryAnne.
What a suite of responsibilities looks like at NGA, technical and otherwise
MaryAnne says that the most important factor to succeed in a role like hers is having a familiarity of data; you don't have to be an expert in the field. For instance, while MaryAnne was well-versed in GIS when she arrived at NGA, she didn't have any geospatial intelligence or maritime experience. However, she emphasizes that you have to be comfortable looking at the data, analyzing information, and speaking up when you have questions.
These are just some of the factors needed to execute the role. But to enjoy it? MaryAnne stresses another important characteristic: Curiosity.
"What's great about working at NGA is that it is basically up to you how you want to shape your career," says MaryAnne. She determined that she wanted to learn more and develop her career in three specific areas: how geospatial intelligence relates to world politics; what collaboration and leadership look like across organizations; and how to support diversity initiatives.
With this goal in mind, MaryAnne raised her hand, asked for additional duties, and outlined why she was the most qualified person for the roles she was interested in. Her managers at NGA agreed and helped her to make it happen.
As a result, MaryAnne expanded her cartography responsibilities one of which is working as the Regional Data Manager Under Instruction for a region in the Asia Pacific that includes China, Japan, North and South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Russia, Vietnam, and Macau.
"This region is significant for commerce and world politics," explains MaryAnne, "and the uncertainty with specific Asian countries makes the region extremely active and important." MaryAnne's responsibilities in this region also include ensuring that NGA's regional data is aligned to meet all mission requirements of the agreements the agency has with its partners. To enhance her skillsets for the role, MaryAnne has taken NGA classes on the politics and culture of the region. While she has yet to take any additional language classes, she says NGA offers those too.
In addition, to learn more about what international and cross-agency collaboration looks like, MaryAnne took on the NGA's Maritime International Officer Assistant role as one of her extra collaborative duties. In this capacity, she engages with NGA's international partners to build new relationships with foreign countries and collaborates with her peers in other NGA offices, the Department of Defense, and several foreign counterparts.
Aside from these duties, MaryAnne is also exploring her interest in how agencies can create more diverse workplaces. Upon joining NGA, she became the primary Recruiting Ambassador for the American Indian council; she also works with NGA's Human Development team on diversity recruitment as a whole. "My exposure with tribal government, as well as my volunteer work with Tribal GIS, is why I chose the American Indian Council as for my Special Emphasis Program council," says MaryAnne. "The ways in which tribal government operates is so unique to each tribe and different from what the majority of Americans have been exposed to."
It may sound like MaryAnne does a lot (and she does), but all of it is done with the backing and assistance of her team and NGA as a whole. "They're very supportive, and that's one thing that I absolutely love about where I work," she says. "NGA is actually an agency that really cares about their employees."
Her advice for other women considering a career at NGA
"NGA is a great place to further your career, or even to start it. The agency's opportunities are so above and beyond those of any other place I've worked before. The way NGA invests in you as a person, and encourages its employees to grow, is worth more than any dollar amount that you could put on paper," she says.
From furthering education for PhD programs to encouraging its employees to be the architects of their own career, NGA's opportunities have made MaryAnne happy to have landed there at this point in her GIS career.
For women thinking about following in her footsteps, whether at NGA or in another technical role somewhere else, MaryAnne has three pieces of advice:
- Don't be afraid to speak up, even if that means asking questions when you don't know something. "You should never be embarrassed. No one knows everything," says MaryAnne.
- Foster your relationships, which means giving and receiving help. "It's a give and take. Find a mentor that can guide you when you have those difficult questions, and be open to having people ask questions of you as well."
- Advocate for yourself. "Statistically, men are more confident in putting themselves up for promotions; women need to take on that same attitude and be bold too. We're just as qualified, if not better, and there is no reason for us not to strive and conquer great things in our futures."
MaryAnne is looking forward to her future at NGA, along with the future of GIS in general. "GIS is really only limited to your imagination. You can apply it to almost anything you want—everything from tracking COVID-19 to whale migration patterns!" she says.
If you're interested in working with MaryAnne at NGA, check out their open roles here.
Approved for Public Release, 21-001
Chainalysis’s Ashley Vaughan on Why She Finds Cybersecurity So Meaningful, and How More Women Can Find Their Niche in the Industry
How much money do criminals control today, and where is it?
These are some of the many questions that Ashley Vaughn, Senior Solutions Architect at blockchain data platform Chainalysis, spends her days working to answer.
“You learn more about a situation or problem by following the money than from any other resource or piece of information,” she explains. “Money doesn't lie. People can lie in text messages or other means, but the path of the money leads you to what you're trying to accomplish.”
Though Ashley always knew she wanted to work with computers, she found her way into roles in cybersecurity, and then specifically blockchain security, through networking and exposure — not by setting out to do so.
We sat down to talk about her career journey, as well as what advice she has for other women looking to make their mark in these burgeoning fields.
Resilience and Curiosity
Ashley doesn’t often give up, and credits some of that attitude to an obsession with soccer as a kid.
“Playing sports makes you a more resilient person, I think. You learn failure and risk, which are very applicable to my job and my career path,” she says.
That resiliency was a good thing, notes Ashley, because as a young girl, she wasn’t always encouraged to pursue what she was most interested in: math and science. A teacher early on had told her that she wasn’t good at math, and Ashley believed that narrative until high school.
“We really shouldn’t put those ideas in children’s minds, because it affects them for much longer than you might think,” she says of the experience. “But I’m the kind of person that when someone tells me I can’t do something, it makes me want to do it even more, and do it better.”
Finding out in advanced high school math classes that she actually was good at math turned into choosing a computer engineering major when she got to college.
Graduating during a recession in 2010 meant Ashley didn’t have the job market of her dreams, but after working in IT, she networked her way into a role in the cybersecurity department of a prominent DC law firm.
“They were getting hit left and right from social engineering and phishing attempts,” says Ashley. “Due to the sensitive nature of the work they dealt with, I was exposed to the darker realities of the digital era, and I began to see a new side to the world—one of real significance to national security.”
Specializing in Cybersecurity — and Finding a Home in the Private Sector
Inspired by what she was working on at the law firm, Ashley pursued a master’s in cybersecurity with a focus on counterterrorism.
“I wanted to help protect our country,” she explains. “I have a lot of family members who are former military, so that was a natural step for me.”
That led to her taking a contract role specializing in offensive security at a government agency that frequently worked with Chainalysis. After working with Chainalysis folks onsite, she was sold and started pursuing a position with the company.
“I wanted to help make sense of blockchain data for a bigger purpose, like assisting in the continued threat of ransomware activity against American interests,” she explains.
Although she credits her public sector work with providing a solid foundation in blockchain security, the private sector turned out to be a better fit for her.
“What I love about Chainalysis is that my colleagues are really happy people, and I’ve always felt welcome and not scared to ask questions,” says Ashley. “In past jobs, where I was one of five women in a group of 150, I felt a lot of pressure. I didn’t ever want to make a mistake. I felt as if I had to be a chameleon to match the social environment of my male counterparts.”
Blockchains are all about democratizing data, and Ashley likes working with a team of people of all backgrounds to help support that mission. At Chainalysis, Ashley works with internal product and engineering to show customers how Chainalysis data can help them use complex blockchain solutions to solve data problems — and catch bad guys.
“Sometimes we’re following a bad actor who’s tied to child sex trafficking. Being part of a coordinated operation to put a stop to things like that is really fulfilling,” she says.
3 Tips for Women Who Want to Find Their Place in Cybersecurity
For a long time, reflects Ashley, she just wanted to come into work, do her job, and feel supported, without feeling like she didn’t fit in or was representing her entire gender. Fortunately, she found what she wanted — and she hopes other women will find that, too. They can start their search by:
- Knowing they’re not alone in having tough experiences. “Everyone has different definitions for how you’re supposed to act or supposed to handle your emotions as a woman at work, and it’s exhausting. It’s like, ‘This is just me.’ I can’t repeat enough how tiring that is,” she says.
- Prioritizing self-directed learning. Although Ashley completed a master’s in cybersecurity, she emphasizes that there are many other routes into the industry, including self-study. Whether you get involved in programs like Girls Who Code or do self-paced learning through platforms like Udemy or Coursera, the important thing is that you pursue independent learning about topics that interest you, she says.
- Creating and maintaining relationships. “Really talking to people is almost a lost art,” says Ashley. “Getting together with someone who has the same sort of mindset and leveraging their knowledge, and making sure you keep in touch with people who help further your career, is a good move. Most of the places I got to professionally were based on my human connections.”
Nowadays at Chainalysis, Ashley is no longer one of five women in the office, and is excited to start paying it forward so that more people with backgrounds like hers can pursue their own professional success.
“We tend to feel more comfortable talking to people who might have our same gender or educational background, and being open and vulnerable with them,” she says. “Being a visible role model is really important to me.”
Check out Chainalysis’ open roles here!
We all have our favorite websites– the ones we frequent, bookmark, and recommend to others. You might even enjoy some website features so much that you’ve found yourself wondering why they aren’t more popular. Or maybe you’ve experienced times where you were frustrated with a website and wished you could add features or even design your own!
If you’ve ever found yourself intrigued at the prospect of designing and developing your own websites, then a career as a web developer might be just for you!
As a web developer you would be responsible for coding, designing, optimizing, and maintaining websites. Today, there are over 1.7 billion websites in the world and, in turn, the demand for web developers is on the rise. In order to figure out what kind of web development work best suits you let’s start with an introduction to the three main roles in web development that you can choose from.
The Three Types of Web Development Jobs
Front-End Web Development: The Creative Side
In addition to programming skills, front-end developers need to be detail oriented, creative, willing to keep up with the latest trends in web development, cyber security conscious, and geared toward user-friendly designs. The median salary for a front-end developer can reach well into the $90,000 to $100,000 range.
Back-End Web Development: The Logical Counterpart
While a house can be beautifully decorated, it’s incomplete without a solid foundation and efficient infrastructure. Similarly, a well-designed website depends on logical and functional code to power the features of that website. Back-end web development is code-heavy and focused on the specifics of how a website works. If you enjoy the analytical challenge of creating the behind-the-scenes code that powers a website, then back-end development is for you.
Full-Stack Web Development: A Little Bit of Everything
A full-stack developer is essentially the Jack (or Jill)-of-all-trades in web development. Full-stack developers need to be knowledgeable about both front-end and back-end roles. This does not necessarily imply that you would need to be an expert in both roles, but you should fully understand the different applications and synergies they each imply. In order to work in this position, you will need to know the programming languages used by front-end and back-end developers. In addition to these languages, full-stack developers also specialize in databases, storage, HTTP, REST, and web architecture.
Full-stack developers are often required to act as liaisons between front-end and back-end developers. Full-stack developers need to be both problem solvers and great communicators. The end goal for a full-stack developer is to ensure that the user’s experience is seamless, both on the front-end and on the back-end. In return, you can expect to earn a median salary of $100,000 – $115,000 a year for this role.
Taking the Next Step
Web development is both in-demand and lucrative! All three roles described above contribute to specific aspects of web development and the scope of each one can be customized to the industries and positions you feel best suit you. Regardless of which role you choose, all of them need a foundation in programming.
To gain the programming skills needed in each role, you can enroll in courses or learn independently. Coding bootcamps are a great way to boost your skillset quickly and efficiently.
Click here for some of our highly rated programming bootcamp options! Make sure to check out the discounts available to PowerToFly members.
💎 “What are you passionate about?” In an interview, you may have to answer this and other personal questions. Watch the video to the end to succeed in your job interview at Ribbon.
📼If asked “what are you passionate about?” in an interview you need to show how your passion can make you a good candidate for a job position. Ryan Key, Talent Partner at Ribbon, shares some tips and tricks for you to stand out!
📼Answering what are you passionate about in an interview is not the only thing you need to know how to do to succeed. You should try to make sure that you express your experience in a way that shows your interest in Ribbon’s mission. Also, prove that you did your research and demonstrate to the recruiter that you understand exactly how your role affects Ribbon’s purposes. Don’t forget to share some ideas on how you intend to fulfill the company’s mission!
📼 You are asked what are you passionate about in an interview, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t ask as well. You should feel empowered to ask any question you want during your interview process. It may be helpful to save certain questions for certain people. If you're in an interview with your potential manager, you should take that time to ask about their assessment metrics for the role and their management style. If you're speaking with a potential peer, this would be a great time to ask about their experience during training and to learn a little more about the team and culture.
What Are You Passionate About? Show In Your Interview That You Are Aligned With Ribbon's Values
The mission at Ribbon is to make homeownership achievable for everyone, especially communities traditionally left out of the homeownership story. One way Ribbon addresses diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace is through its support of employee resource groups. Remember to show that your passion is aligned with these core values!
🧑💼 Are you interested in joining Ribbon? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Ryan Key
If you are interested in a career at Ribbon, you can connect with Ryan Key on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Ribbon
Ribbon is a first-of-its-kind real estate technology company transforming the real estate transaction by delivering certainty, transparency, and joy to the home buying process. Consumers and realtors deserve a better experience, and they have designed an open platform that welcomes everyone in the ecosystem to participate.
💎 Partnerships in remote environments is one of the most important aspects to construct in a company. Watch the video to the end to get good tips on how to do it successfully.
📼Wondering how to create partnerships in remote environments? Play this video to get three top tips that will help you to achieve it. You'll hear from Olga Shvets, HR Business Partner, and Viktoriia Litvinchuk, People Team Operations at Unstoppable Domains, who will explain the essentials of this process.
📼How to build partnerships in remote environments? Tip #1: Communicate Effectively. Communication is the key to enabling your remote team to be successful. Choose the channel that works best. For this, chat with your employees and see what they use to communicate, that's how you find the best solution. Also, make sure your team is on board with your internal tools and they know what, how, and where they need to use them.
📼A requisite for building partnerships in remote environments is Tip #2: Show appreciation. Appreciation is shown through your actions. Let your employees know that you value everything they do for the company. Create a special gratitude channel where everyone can share their appreciation for their colleagues for some contribution. Celebrate some wins, promotions, and everything that is important for the company. If you appreciate the employees, employees do the same for the company.
Create Partnerships In Remote Environments Using Trust - Tip #3: Give Honest Feedback
Use engagement surveys! They are a quick and effective way to receive honest feedback from your team and you can see what's working well and what needs to be improved. Your main priority is to create spaces where managers and employees can share honest, relevant feedback.
📨 Are you interested in joining Unstoppable Domains? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Olga Shvets
If you are interested in a career at Unstoppable Domains, you can connect with Olga on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Unstoppable Domains
Unstoppable Domains is bringing user-controlled identity to 3 billion+ internet users by issuing domain names on the blockchain. These domains allow users to replace cryptocurrency addresses with human-readable names, host decentralized websites, and much more.
By selling these domains direct to consumers for a one-time fee, the company is making a product that will change cryptocurrency and shape the future of the decentralized web by providing users control over their identity and data.