Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"How do I get a GIS job?"

I got this question from a recent grad and I'm not sure if I gave a good answer. Or, for that matter, if there is much advice that would help someone graduating into this job market. One theory going around is that timing like that can hurt forever.

This was my response:

What kind of GIS job do you want? I see the GIS field as roughly divided into administrative, technical, and special domain-specific knowledge areas. You can specialize and in some cases earn more, or diversify and be able to potentially apply for a larger number of positions. Everyone falls a little into all of these categories. Decide to what extent you wish to specialize, and in what area.

  1. Administrative
  2. Your project managers, leaders, and communicators. Even the nerdiest technical expert needs to be able to properly gather objectives and communicate requirements. The deeper you go into this, the more likely you will be delegating the actual GIS work.

    You get better at this by getting better at written and verbal communication in general. I don't feel exceptionally qualified to talk about leadership, though increasingly I have been thrust into project management work.

  3. Technical
  4. GIS is a technical field. If you lack technical skills in a technical field you should fully expect to be mocked. This area can actually be further subdivided into the people leaning toward system admin/computer janitor work and dedicated developers.

    I can recommend some fantastic books if you were interested in development - starting with The Pragmatic Programmer, CODE, Code Complete, and Programming Pearls. Just reading isn't enough, I would look into contributing to open source projects.

    For the GIS admin/analyst types, I'd recommend working through the entirety of the book GIS for Web Developers. You can go from nothing to managing an entire open source GIS stack (which is fairly similar to ESRI's in terms of architecture).

  5. Domain knowledge
  6. Geographic information systems are usually serving some greater business need such as the mandates of public agencies or the profit center of a private corporation. Specialized knowledge of those needs are a career in themselves, and the more you specialize in this the more that career becomes yours. People that fall closer to this area exist on the fuzzy line between actual GIS professional and being a professional in something else.

I'm not going to claim I am the best authority on this particular topic, but I've had success with this particular mindset. A good discussion on what skills you need for each can be found on the new GIS -StakeExchange website here:

Posted via email from The Pragmatic Geographer