Is GIS a good career choice for you?
In order to answer this question we need to what does it mean to have a career in GIS?
We can break up a career in GIS into different categories
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GIS as a tool
Let’s imagine that you are an environmental scientist. GIS is one of the tools you use on a regular basis but your focus is not GIS as such you are simply using it to further your ability to do your work as an environmental scientist. In this situation, GIS is part of your job but not the job itself. In this role, you are the end user of GIS.
So if the question is “Is GIS a valuable skill” the answer is yes! Everything happens somewhere and at some time! So if you are working with data of any kind it’s likely that the spatial-temporal aspect of that data will require some level of GIS knowledge in order to extract value from it.
But understanding how to use GIS within your given domain doesn’t mean that GIS has to be the primary focus! It may simply be a tool that you use.
GIS as a job
If your job title specifically mentions GIS you are probably doing GIS as a job. But how is this different for it simply being a tool that you use? Well, here the focus is the tools, you are likely to be working in a role that is primarily focused on enabling others to use GIS. This might mean maintaining and developing GIS systems, processes, and data. This is a technical role, that probably doesn’t focus on any one particular domain of expertise and the goal here is to enable end users to integrate GIS into their workflows.
Is GIS a good career choice?
Now that we have established what a career in GIS might look like, let’s consider if it’s a good career choice. All good career choices lead to a career with a future!
Does GIS have a future?
Yes, the need to capture, store, analysis, and visualize geographic information data is only going to increase with time!
Instead of asking does GIS has a future the better question would be what does the future look like and do I want to be part of it?
You might have heard a lot of people talking about the democratization of GIS, making it easier to make maps, analyze data, and build geospatial capacities into existing non-traditional GIS software like EXCEL. This might make you think that investing time and energy into learning GIS skills is a waste because soon everyone will be able to do it.
And let’s be honest if your own GIS skill is about to “put some data on a map” then yeah, the democratization of GIS is coming for your job!
But it’s never that simple, it’s never just dragging and dropping!
Data cleaning, processing, and formatting require expertise that is difficult to democratize. Once the data is cleaned and in the right format it will be possible for non-spatial experts to easily apply simple GIS techniques but will they know which one to use? Or how to interpret the result? How will these non-experts deal with multiple data sets in different formats, projections, and resolutions?
In the old days, you were a photographer because you had a camera, now that everyone has a camera you need to be an artist!
The democratization of GIS has raised the floor but it’s hard to imagine it replacing a skilled GIS professional for anything but the simplest of tasks. If anything, it will help people understand what’s possible and act as a gateway for more sophisticated GIS techniques that will require skilled GIS professionals.
Now let’s consider what your career path might look like
What is the career path of a GIS specialist?
|Career Stage||Role||Description||Required Skills|
|1||GIS Technician||The entry-level role focused on data collection, input, and manipulation||Technical skills in GIS software, Knowledge of cartography and data management, Attention to detail, Ability to work in a team|
|2||GIS Analyst||Intermediate role with responsibilities in spatial data analysis, map creation, and project management||Advanced technical skills in GIS software and spatial analysis, Ability to use data to solve problems, Project management skills, Communication and presentation skills|
|3||GIS Specialist||Advanced role with a focus on complex problem-solving, advanced analysis, and leading projects||Expertise in advanced GIS techniques and problem-solving, Ability to lead complex projects, Strong project management skills, Excellent communication and interpersonal skills|
|4||GIS Manager||Management role with responsibilities for leading a team of GIS professionals, developing strategies, and overseeing large-scale projects||Strong leadership and management skills, Strategic thinking, Excellent communication and interpersonal skills, Knowledge of industry trends and emerging technologies|
|5||GIS Director||Senior leadership role with responsibility for overseeing the entire GIS program within an organization, providing vision, and ensuring alignment with overall business goals||Strong strategic vision and leadership, Alignment of GIS initiatives with overall business goals, Excellent communication and interpersonal skills, Deep technical knowledge of GIS and industry trends|
Note: These are general requirements and may vary depending on the specific role and organization.
Here are some resources that will help you build a successful career in GIS
Advice for GIS / geospatial job seekers
Resources for established GIS professionals
GIS Career FAQs
Do you need to be good at math for GIS?
No, will it help yes!
Is GIS a male-dominated field?
Yes, much like the larger tech world GIS is still a male-dominated field
Can GIS be self-taught?