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Informational Interviews: My Thoughts

I have interviewed five people for my Internship Workshop assignment at San Francisco State University, in which all of them were transportation planners: two of which deal with regional bus services, one with San Francisco, one with an upcoming regional train, and one for Marin County. At first, I was quite nervous at what they will answer, but, interestingly enough, I have learned a lot from them that I would like to share here.

My professor, at first, described the assignment as a “eye-opening” experience where students are expected to interview people who they believe would help them understand what it takes to get into the job they want to pursue, and sure enough, it was life-changing for me to interview real transportation planners in both Marin County and San Francisco. I eventually phoned several transportation and long-term capital planners working at different transit agencies, and sure enough, one by one, they allowed me to interview them. In one week even, I ended up interviewing three people back to back to back, allowing my mind to stay fresh and write down their comments and my thoughts about these interviews, and in the end, I felt amazed at how much pressure I lost from knowing what it takes to become a full-time transportation planner, and instead of just following my parents, I have developed my own ideas and methods on how to get to where they are right now. Of course taking a masters degree would cost thousands of dollars again, but, my coworkers at Berkeley assured me that it would only take about two semesters–equivalent to one year–to finish a masters, yet the competition to get in is tough, which attests to my teacher’s thoughts about graduate school.
The five people I have interviewed come from various backgrounds, each of them having a wonderful experience about the jobs they have right now, and these include:

  • Ron Downing, planning director, Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District
  • Barbara Vincent, senior planner, Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District
  • Anne Fritzler, long-term capital planner, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
  • John Nemeth, planning manager, Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit
  • Robert Betts, senior transportation planner, Marin Transit
My overall experience with these interviews has been uplifting and positive–even though a relatively small number of people pursue city and regional planning (and its derivatives) in universities around the country–in that they allowed me to dig deeper into the career that I really want to pursue and what it takes to get there. I understood that the job requires great presentation, analytic, and writing skills, but what really brought me home were two things: take more internships and diversify yourself. As I mentioned in my previous article, I have been really busy on my internship at UC Berkeley, in which I have been very happy to work with Bob, Offer, and Jill because they allow me to develop analytic skills in dealing with crossing counts, professional skills in dealing with office etiquette, and writing skills in dealing with analyzing the work that I’ve done. Although I don’t keep a journal for the job I have (it is required, though, for my internship seminar course), I let the numbers and my analysis do the talking because those indicate the times I was there (not including breaks), and those allow me to reflect on the challenges I face and will face when I have a full-time job doing transportation planning. Given the fact, however, that planning is the most desirable job I want, I take the stresses of it aside and look at the interesting trends of the crossings I survey for two hours at a time, as well as making reasonable judgments as to how to improve such crossings to make it more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, and visualize the future of such crossings if I were to plan them.
The most important thing I have ever learned from those interviews, however, is to be myself and show that I can be competent in the transportation planning field. Today’s job market has become extremely competitive, in which one of those I interviewed told me that having a college diploma is not enough anymore. And understanding the demands of transportation planning allows me to be prepared for more obstacles ahead, as well as more courses I’ll need to take to get into graduate school (and eventually do double majors), and looking at the prospect that I may need to work for the public sector instead of the private sector for a while to set my footing into the industry I would love to go into. I understand that only a few people find interest in city and regional planning, yet it is a paradox to see millions of people moving into cities and suburbs every year, and it is indeed the reason why I am pursuing this course, especially dealing with transportation. I have found my support system to work on transportation through the people I interviewed, and I want to thank each one of them for the opportunity for me to interview them and understand what it takes to be a transportation planner. I know it is quite a tough road because not many people want to do it, but with my determination to know transport down to the nitty gritty, understand land planning, and doing well in my internships, I can really put myself into the spotlight soon and make myself a transportation planner of the future.

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