GIS Careers

Typical Job Titles

GIS Analyst / Specialist: This is the most common GIS job. Entry, maintenance and visualization of geospatial data and databases. Usually in a cubicle.

Data Analyst / Specialist: This is a more general position than GIS Analyst, involving the analysis of both geospatial and non-geospatial data. Strong quantitative skills essential, including programming.

Transit Data Analyst: Transit agencies hire analysts to maintain operational data and communicate analysis of that data. In addition to GIS skills, the ability to use and maintain specialized transit data software will also be needed.

GIS Developer: Developing software with a geospatial component, usually involving web sites and/or mobile devices. Requires strong programming skills and experience.

Field Technician: Captures geospatial data in the field or performs tedious data entry. Bachelors degree helpful but not essential. Often involves outdoor work with lots of travel and low pay.

GIS Director / Coordinator / Manager: Mid-career management job. Different positions have different combinations of technical consulting, outreach, sales, and management of subordinates. Usually mid-career positions.

Support Analyst / Engineer: GIS consulting firms and software companies like ESRI hire people to provide technical support to existing customers and help both existing and prospective customers more effectively use (and buy) the company's software offerings. Requires good people skills (sales) as well as a strong, practical, high-level understanding of the company's products.

Urban Planner: Urban planners commonly use GIS to provide analysis and visualization during the planning process. Although geography and urban planning often have a significant overlap in what they cover, urban planning careers usually require a professional urban planning degree from an urban planning department.

Instructor / Professor: Full-time college and university jobs are difficult to get, although opportunities are a bit better for people with quantitative GIS skills. Part-time and adjunct positions are often available for people active in the private or public sectors who can bring a real-world perspective to the classroom. Most full-time positions require a PhD, which requires an additional 4-6 years of education beyond the Masters and an extensive life commitment to performing research and seeking grant funding. Do not get a PhD unless there is nothing else you can do that would give you fulfillment.

Technologies and Tasks

ArcGIS

ArcGIS is the name of a suite of software produced by ESRI. ESRI largely pioneered the world of desktop GIS and they now effectively have a monopoly on enterprise GIS. Their software is the industry standard used in the public sector, private sector and in academia. Pretty much anyone using GIS professionally will be using ESRI's ArcGIS suite of software, especially the ArcMap desktop mapping program.

GIS jobs also often require working with and administering GIS data stored in databases on servers. Notable server software includes:

  1. ArcGIS Server (GIS database software)
  2. ArcSDE (for storing GIS data using general-purpose database systems)
  3. Microsoft SQL Server (General-purpose database system)
  4. Oracle (General-purpose database system)

Microsoft Office

All professional workers need to be familiar with Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel. Excel skills (notably functions) are especially useful for processing and analyzing geospatial data in spreadsheets.

Soft Skills

All GIS jobs involve working with and communicating with groups of people. Accordingly, "soft" skills are essential for productively functioning in a professional work environment:

Programming Languages

Programming skills are becoming increasingly important for GIS workers. These skills take significant time and experience to develop, and if you are considering a GIS career, you should make the development of programming skills a priority.

Python is a very common programming language used with ArcMap to automate tedious data processing tasks and build geospatial models. The visual programming language Model Builder in ArcMap is also commonly used.

Mobile App developers need to have experience using:

Research programmers need familiarity with at least one statistical programming language, such as:

Web Development

Making GIS data available on the web (usually via maps) requires web development skills. Web developers need to have experience with the common web languages and frameworks:

A wide variety of frameworks and APIs are available for online map creation:

Computer-Assisted Design

GIS people working with engineering firms will also often need to have some familiarity with AutoCAD and/or Microstation engineering design software.

Classes

The Department of Geography and the Environment offers numerous courses to help you develop GIS skills that you can use in your career.

GIS Fundamentals

These are the core courses you should plan on taking if you are preparing for a career using GIS:

Remote Sensing

These courses are valuable for people planning careers that involve analysis of the environment or natural resources.

Spatial Analysis

These courses cover the usage of quantitative statistical techniques for analyzing geospatial data.

Applications of GIS

These courses cover specialized applications of GIS. These courses are offered sporadically, depending on demand and instructor availability.

Finding GIS Jobs

Internships are essential preparation for entry-level jobs taken upon graduation. Aside from providing professional experience and offering insight into whether you really want to pursue GIS as a career, interns are commonly hired upon graduation by the companies they interned with. Even if the company you interned with is not your dream job, three to five years in an entry-level job will allow you to build your skill-set and professional connections (networking) so your next job can be closer to your aspirations.

That being said, internet Job Websites are still a useful source of possible leads, as well as information (albeit unreliable) on what kinds of jobs are available. Some suggested job sites: