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How to Become a GIS Specialist

If you are analytical, have an interest in geography, and great technical skills, you should consider becoming a GIS specialist. In this role, you will have the opportunity to combine your skills in data analysis, programming, and cartography. 

GIS specialists analyze geospatial data using mapping software to design digital geographic maps. They look for patterns and trends, while using mapping applications and tools. GIS specialists should be technically sound individuals who are proficient in database programming languages, such as SQL or Python. They need great written communication skills to write reports and excellent communication skills to present their findings to clients. They are also responsible for explaining technical information to non-technical people. 

Expertise in front-end design languages, including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript is required. Working knowledge of mapping tools, like QGIS and Carto, is also necessary. GIS specialists should have exceptional problem-solving skills and impressive attention to detail. If you want to put your technical skills and geographical knowledge to work, a career as a GIS specialist would be a great option for you.

Sample job description

[Your Company Name] needs a new GIS specialist to join our team. As a GIS specialist, you will work to store and interpret geospatial and geographic data. You will be responsible for performing the daily tasks and remedial work required for this position, as well as researching and learning new technology relating to the GIS field. The ideal candidate will have experience navigating computer systems, geographic software, and data. Previous experience in the GIS field is not required but preferred. Please consider applying to this position if you would like the opportunity to work with our company and further your career as a GIS specialist.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Design, develop and implement systems and databases for geospatial data
  • Standardize geographic data
  • Research and conduct tests on new tools
  • Perform geospatial modeling and spatial analysis
  • Review GIS data for accuracy
  • Build, update, and maintain database, GIS software, and hardware
  • Administer and troubleshoot applications and GIS solutions

Education and experience

  • Bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology, or a related field required

Required skills and qualifications

  • Proficiency with GIS desktop software and data management
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Ability to effectively configure data
  • Experience with various technology methodologies and applications
  • Detail oriented and analytical thinker
  • Knowledge of multiple programming languages
  • Ability to process and analyze data

Preferred qualifications

  • Strong team player
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Outstanding critical thinking skills
  • Detail oriented

Typical work environment

A GIS specialist or geographic information systems specialist will spend the majority of their work days in an office setting. They may spend time in the field, as they gather and verify data in the area. Thy are responsible for developing and implementing systems to store and manage geographic and geospatial data. The GIS specialist will be required to manage and parse data with mapping software and similar instruments. As a GIS specialist, your job will be to design, develop, and implement these systems. You will also be required to convert and standardize geographic and geospatial data, research and conduct tests on new tools and technology, and complete other required tasks for the GIS specialist position. Proficiency or expertise with GIS-related software and tools is often a requirement or major benefit.

Typical hours

Typical hours for this position are from 9 AM to 5 PM, Monday through Friday, in an office setting.

Available certifications

As a GIS specialist, having certifications in relevant software use, as well as geographic data parsing, can be beneficial. These certifications will remain largely the same due to the specialized nature of this field. Some of the ideal certifications for a GIS specialist may include the following:

  • Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP) – A GISP, or Geographic Information Systems Professional, will gain real experience as well as education on geographic information systems. Although this certification requires 2 or more years of work experience, it is extremely beneficial to any GIS specialist who is looking to prove their ability through relevant certifications and training.
  • Geographic Information Services (GIS) Professional – Offered by the GIS Certification Institute, the Geographic Information Services Professional certification provides proof of expertise and establishes confidence in a GIS specialist. This certification is one of the most recognized for geographic information systems specialists.

Career path

This position requires a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field. GIS specialists have the opportunity to advance to positions such as GIS supervisor or GIS coordinator.

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 19-3092

2020 Employment1,600
Projected Employment in 20301,700
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 1% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift100 increase

The field of information technology is continually growing as businesses become more innovative. Organizations across all sectors are becoming more reliant on information technology, meaning GIS specialists will continue to be vital to their success.

According to the industry website Computer Science Online, mobile technology, data security, and big data will be core components for most organizations’ infrastructure, products, and services. The growth of these factors will increase the number of mobile and web-based applications. GIS specialists will be needed to make this information more accessible and usable for people who are not experts. Also, the management of resources, among other causes, will drive the need for GIS specialists in many organizations.