Think you want a career in GIS? Maybe you need to read this first.
A GIS Analyst uses mapping software to analyze spatial data and design maps. GIS Analysts generally collect, store, and analyze spatial information to guide decision-making processes in their targeted industry.
There’s been a lot of talk about how the demand for GIS skills is booming, and jobs are aplenty, leading many people to consider a career in GIS. Proceed with caution, as plentiful job opportunities do not mean a career in GIS is for everyone.
Today’s GIS roles revolve around analysis, cartography, data management, and programming. Programming is considered the fastest-growing needed skillset.
If you don’t love numbers, statistics, and computer programming you may begin to feel down and unmotivated after some time in the role.
If you’re not the kind of person that has a constant drive to learn new things, then you’ll struggle to keep a GIS career on track.
In order to be prepared for a career in GIS, you have to be ready for continued investment in learning and upskilling, or you may be left behind in this rapidly growing field.
GIS roles are varied, and the industries they inhabit diverse. One GIS job is not equal to another, and perhaps you just need to seek out the right role for you. Read on to find out why you may, or may not, want a career in GIS.
GIS Skills Are Becoming More Common
Everyone is talking about how the industry is booming but from the other side of the fence.
A graduate with GIS skills isn’t so rare anymore, and the software is becoming far more user-friendly.
GIS is not necessarily the specialized, high-value skill set it once was. In the current job market, you need to be willing to keep learning, while branching further into the computer science and programming sphere, and adequately showcasing those skills. Essentially, the competition is fierce and it’s no longer a hidden gem of a skillset where a degree is enough to set you apart.
Day-to-day GIS Tasks
Exact specifics on expected routine will vary from job to job. In some places, you’ll have a mixture of field and office work. In other companies, you’ll be highly desk-based, with the field data collection contracted out. You’ll be inputting data, managing it, dealing with data quality assurance quality control (QA/QC) workflows, and manipulating and displaying geospatial data for internal and external communication purposes- likely through maps or dashboards.
Broadly speaking, you’ll be wrangling data most of the time.
There’s always spatial analysis, and exploring the relationship between the data, where a large amount of problem-solving will always be at play. Of course, there’s also the cartography element, and a chance to get creative.
GIS is not just about the spatial analysis aspect, but also communicating your findings and developing maps that don’t lose the message in translation.
Get ready to explain to management again and again what GIS is, and what its capabilities are. It’s highly likely you’ll be managed by someone with little to no experience in GIS, and they will either underutilize you, or demand more than what is possible.
You’ll certainly have to learn some tact for dealing with management, or even directly with clients. This may give you some freedom, however, to build your own path.
Why You DON’T Want a Traditional GIS Role
Many people are prepared to work in the field of GIS, but they’re worried about the boredom factor- setting into mundane, monotonous tasks. If boring, repetitive tasks are a deal-breaker, a traditional GIS role is probably not for you.
Traditional GIS roles are the kinds of jobs you often find within the public sector. Think, utilities, telecommunications, transportation, and urban planning, or asset management roles.
The breadth of exposure to new and exciting tasks is probably going to be limited, and the likelihood of mundane simple mapping tasks is much higher.
The public sector rarely moves fast and is not well known for being an early adopter of new software or technology. Not to mention the notoriously difficult bureaucracy you will surely have to navigate (without a map).
The salary won’t be as good in a traditional GIS role in the public sector as you may see in the private sector.
Public sector jobs are more likely to offer a high degree of job stability, but not the same pay range you’d expect from the private sector for a similar GIS position, although government jobs are famous for good benefits packages. You most certainly won’t receive bonuses either, and raises are generally small, and follow a set pay scale or schedule.
There’s a reason people often joke that the only way up in the public sector is to wait for someone to die.
Due to the stability and permanency of a role in the public sector, people tend to stay put until retirement, or at the very least a significant chunk of that time. If you are ambitious, and seeking to develop your career quickly, then a traditional GIS role in the public sector may provide you with limited room to move and grow.
Startups and Private Sector GIS Might Be More Appealing
If you’ve come this far, and you still want to seek out a career in GIS, but know that a traditional role in the public sector is definitely not for you, then maybe working in private industry or innovative new startup or consultancy is a better fit.
Working in GIS within the private sector, or at an innovative startup will give you the benefits of higher salary, and greater learning and growth opportunities.
You’ll have a wider diversity of work and clients. The work will be fast paced. You’ll most likely be involved with emerging technologies, and there may be flexible working arrangements.
If you want to work on the forefront of innovation and emerging technologies in GIS, then private, not public sector is the way to go.
The downsides to private industry start with the loss of work life balance, due to increased pressure and drive from the company. There is also less job security. If the project falls through, or the company decides to take another approach and downsize, your role could be on the chopping block.
Congratulations! You now have the knowledge to make an educated decision on whether you want to go down the GIS career path.
What You Should Take Away
You definitely DON’T want a career in GIS if:
Frequent change and upskilling don’t interest you
You are not tech-savvy
You’re not a curious person
You don’t like data or computer science
You want a job where you can switch off and just collect a pay check
Monotonous tasks easily bore you
The decision to pursue a career in GIS is entirely up to you. The job demand is still there, the salary is decent, and the work has the potential to be quite innovative.
Remember, GIS professionals frequently complain about dead-end jobs and mundane tasks. You’ll need to be quite adaptable and tech-savvy, not to mention willing to push yourself and continue to learn more if you want to keep up and stay on top of industry potential. It’s not all bad news, you just have to be realistic about what GIS role is best suited to you, or if GIS is for you at all.