Before emigrating from Siberia, Alexander Polansky had never touched a computer. Now, that’s all he does. “I’m like a child who gets a new toy. When I touch my computer, I forget about everything,” he says.
A Geographic Information Systems (GIS) analyst for the City of Georgetown, Alexander is one of the folks behind the maps that tell you which City Council district you live in, where to find parks and trails, what new developments are coming to Georgetown, even where to spot Georgetown’s signature red poppies. The GIS Department plays an integral role in analyzing and conveying information to City staff as well as citizens, he says.
Before mapping Georgetown, Alexander had his own geographic adventure—crossing continents to start a new life in Texas. Born and raised in a small town in Siberia, Russia, Alexander endured poverty, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and his wife’s death before embarking on his journey to the United States. A meeting in 1998 with an Austinite visiting Russia on business led to a whirlwind courtship, and after tying the knot just one week later, they flew to Austin to start their new life together.
Coming from a place where a frown was more common than a smile, Alexander was surprised by how friendly and kind everyone was, especially when it came to his language barrier. He also couldn’t get over all the “wide, free roads. In Siberia, there are no roads at all,” he says.
But the most impactful culture shock turned out to be technology. “I had never touched a computer in Russia. As a civil engineer I used pencils, rulers, and erasers to make plans. I was excited,” he says. He took ESL, computer, and software classes at Austin Community College, and even built his own computer from scratch.
A City of Georgetown job posting for tech professionals caught his eye and he applied for the position, but “I thought with my poor English, I wouldn’t get the job.” Not only did he get the job, Alexander has been working for the City for the past 17 years. “This is my second family,” he says.
Any time the City Planning Department needs a map for annexation or building permit requests, Alexander is the one to call. Since the early 2000s, his workload has grown in parallel with the city. “When I first came here, the South Inner Loop was not even shown on a Google map. [Georgetown] is so rapidly growing,” he says.
Alexander takes pride in helping people with his maps, such as residents who need to find their water lines after their water meters break (he had many such requests during February’s winter storm). “I’m so proud to be one link in the chain,” he says.