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Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Can I play SimCity as a job?"

Did you know that SimCity first came out in 1989? Yes, I know, it is hard to believe that computers were capable of advanced environmental simulation back then (26 years ago!!!).  While the computers of the 80s might be less powerful than your smartphone today, they were still up to the task of offering kids and adults alike the chance to play with being city planning gods.

It seems that the game has lost little of it's popularity over the years and iterations of it keep popping up.  Most recently, I caught my 14 year old playing on his iPhone (when he was supposed to be doing his homework!). After showing a suitable amount of outrage at his lack of focus and poor attitude about school I asked him to show me what he was doing on the game. I won't go into the gameplay here as you can find out all you need to know on wikipedia. What struck me was the level of detail in the game and the intensity of concentration my son seemed to be dedicating to it.  Kids love games you say? Why should I be surprised? Well, sure it is a game but there are no explosions, guns, semi-nudity, racing, or monsters... basically nothing fun. Why the interest and more importantly, is there a career for our kids hidden in there somewhere?

SimCity is about city planning so I started there. Apparently there is an organization in the US called the American Planning Association (APA). The APA is all about community planning and fortunately they also have a job site on their webpage.  Most of the employers were city governments.  Positions were all planning related (obviously) but covered a variety of disciplines like: transportation planning, wastewater planning, housing. Besides the government jobs there were also related positions with consulting firms (fiscal/economic analyst) and architectural firms (urban designer).

Looking at the requirements listed on pretty much every job on the APA site, applicants must have a "Bachelor's or Master's Degree in Regional/Urban Planning". MIT and UCLA seem to be at the top for graduate degrees in urban planning but there are fewer options at the undergrad level.  Cornell offers a Bachelor of Science in Urban and Regional Studies so let's look at that one and what is necessary for our kids to get in. They state on their admissions page for this degree:
...successful applicants to the urban and regional studies program demonstrate intellectual potential and commitment, and a combination of ability, achievement, motivation, diligence, and use of educational and social opportunities. Above all, the department seeks students with a high level of enthusiasm and depth of interest in the study of urban and regional issues.
To me, the words commitment, enthusiasm, and depth of interest stand out. Intellectual potential and the rest seem like they would be required for any major at a school like Cornell. How do 17 year old kids show that they are committed, enthusiastic and deeply interested in urban planning? While SimCity is a good start, I believe that colleges are looking for some growth and maturity beyond just the game. Internships or volunteer work connected with city development would be good, especially if our kids have more than one summer of it. Consistent interest is usually a good indicator of commitment. Maybe something like volunteering to dig holes for a new playground? Looking at the sample requirements at the bottom of this article, a graphic program seems to be one of the tools of the trade so having early knowledge, use and ideally a portfolio to share will impress.

Is it all worth it? Should I be encouraging my son to focus on a field that might be irrelevant by the time he enters the real world (2023)? Not likely. Based on my extensive research (one website), demand for Urban Planners will increase 16% by 2020. That is good enough for me. More SimCity anyone?


SAMPLE REQUIREMENTS for URBAN DESIGNER

  • Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree in Regional/Urban Planning, Architecture, Landscape Architecture, or a closely related field
  • Five to 10 years of experience in a planning capacity
  • Well organized, detail oriented, and highly motivated
  • Strong writing skills
  • Comfortable with public speaking
  • Has knowledge of computer programs (GIS, Adobe Creative Suite, and Microsoft Office programs) and the ability to produce attractive maps, graphics, and documents

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