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Alexander Schmidt

Current Job: 
Technical Project Coordinator at the Ecological Sequestration Trust, London (UK) for the development of Resilience.io.
Note that every next step I took required a reference from the previous step; leaving good relationships is very important.

Previous job(s):

Landscape Architect for Boedeker partners, Riyadh (Saudi Arabia).

How I obtained my current position:

My current work was obtained through the combination of practical and theoretical design skills attained during my Master of Landscape Architecture degree at UCT which I complemented with internationally-based work experience in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where I was involved in project design and implementation work. I supplemented these practical skills with an additional specialisation at the Bartlett School of Planning, University College London, a position I would not have been able to get into had it not been for my degree from UCT. From this point, a combination of focus on my chosen niche (low carbon resilient cities) in all my work, enhancing my technical computer based skills and connecting and networking with peers and relevant people in the industry, led me to my current position. Note that an important component to every step of the journey required references from past academic supervisors or employees and proof of capability, in my case through a portfolio.

How my qualifications relate to my work:

My current work requires an understanding of what steps are required to achieve a transition toward resilient pathways within cities and the hinterland they rely on and coordination of this to technical modelling teams. This is directly related to the collective knowledge I have gained through my tertiary education. Broad scale understanding of earth systems, practical application through my MLA, and strategic level thinking and relation thereof to planning and governance through my MSc. My MLA was particularly influential in my learning to apply theoretical knowledge to practical solutions to identified urban problems and pushed me to really focus on solutions-based outputs to urban sustainability issues, a fundamental skill that I use in my daily work.

Skills that have contributed to my success:

I would put it down to four overarching skills: the development of technical skills required by industry; keeping up with contemporary discourse within the industry; developing interesting and relevant dissertation topics during postgraduate studies; and developing relationships with peers and within industry. The technical understanding has allowed me to sell myself as profitable to firms straight out of university through an understanding of the technical tools of the industry. Combined with a strong knowledge of contemporary discourse assisted with the development of relationships, this ultimately got me work. These components where complemented with focus on topics that I was really interested in during my dissertation work. The hook of interesting and relevant dissertation topics helps one at least get in the door. Note that every next step I took required a reference from the previous step; leaving good relationships is very important.

Day-to-day activities:

The resilience.io platform development is currently in its prototype development phase. This means that there is a combination of three main components I tackle during my day-to-day work. The first is research into technical components required for the development of the integrated city systems model. Part of this involves communicating what we require to the modelling teams, understanding what the modellers are proposing we do and ensuring these match up. Second is business development through funding bid application development. This involves development of practical projects we can apply the model to to prove its capability through. I am currently working on three funding bid projects: smart city integrated systems, integrating building information management systems into city scale models, and increasing the value of space and earth observation data through city region scale modelling. Developing practical implementable projects around these topics is very interesting. The third aspect is finding and meeting with specialists to consult where gaps in our understanding exist to involve them in the project.

Best & most challenging parts of my job:

In my case the best and most challenging part is the same thing. Given that the domain of integrated city region modelling is to test social, environmental and economic benefits of projects and policy has not been done before, there is a lot of learning as the overall project develops which is very exciting but at times also very stressful.

How I used the Careers Service:

The Careers Service was a particularly useful tool for me to help with preparing my CV. This requires a significant amount of time to be done properly and a CV should be customized to each position you are applying for. Using the Careers Services as a tool to help create a strong base for my CV was very helpful.

Gaining a competitive edge while at UCT: 

Students within the field of Landscape Architecture and sustainable city planning students should focus on what the cutting edge of their particular interest is and pursue it. Work hard at seeking out a niche. Secondly, network: be sure to go to all relevant events and lectures, speak to attendees and soak up as much from them as possible. This component, if possible, might also include internships during studies. Professional work experience is priceless in the graduate market and does help you sell yourself in job applications and interviews. Thirdly, develop a strong portfolio and get input on it from your lecturers.

About approaching your own career development journeys:

Career development starts with selecting a degree. If you don't know what you want, try a few things out in the beginning and don't worry about wasting a year or two, just keep your marks up so you can change around as you please. When selecting a degree, ensure you do something that interests you, but also, if one of your motivations is to be employed based on your degree, put research into the job market, both current and the market for your desired field during economic down turns.

Advice for graduates entering the world of work:

When looking for work, be creative in your search – don't confine yourself to a silo – there are a lot of very exciting things happening in the world. With this said, in my experience I don't know many people who loved their job straight out of varsity but with patience they were able to work their way closer to where they wanted to be. Always keep in mind where you want to get to and keep chipping away at that longer-term goal.