GIS Technology Expert Discusses Industry, Career Fields and Future Job Market

As the editor of popular GIS technology news site, (also a great resource for GIS degree seeking students) GISLounge.com, Caitlin Dempsey is one of the industry’s most-important analysts. She frequently assesses the GIS job market and understands this growing field’s future.

GISLounge.com editor Caitlin Dempsey

How much has GIS grown since you’ve entered the field?

GIS has grown and changed immensely. When I first started learning GIS, it was with AtlasGIS and my maps were printed using a pen plotter; the UNIX box that was a requirement for running ARC/INFO has now been left in the dust, and many mapping services are now web-based or mobile. More and more governmental agencies and commercial companies are embracing geospatial technology as part of their way of doing business.

What does the future GIS job market look like?

Most of the advanced GIS job openings are aimed towards those with programming skills and experience. The in-demand GIS professional will need to be well versed in GIS software and programming languages. Most GIS shops within an organization are small which means most GIS persons hired need to be capable in cartography, database management, programming, and project/client management.

How valuable is a GIS degree?

[event tag=gis] Simply understanding how to make a map in a GIS software program isn’t enough;  spatial statistics, geographic concepts, cartography, database management, GIS software training, and project management are all critical components of a well-rounded GIS education.  Most employers are looking for GIS hires to be able to walk into a situation, know how to understand the client needs, and deliver on the geospatial products.

There are so many industries and governments using GIS. Should a student think about specializing in an industry or staying general?

It’s important to focus on developing the skills listed above that will make one adaptable to any industry.  Spatial concepts can be applied across many areas. Personally, I have found that staying general and developing a solid underlying base in geographic concepts applicable to any situation is extremely valuable. That said, it’s also important to appreciate the subject area being served in order to understand how best to utilize spatial analysis and mapping techniques. If the student has a particular passion for implementing GIS in a specific industry, then taking the appropriate courses is highly recommended; for example, one should take urban planning courses to work in local government or environmental studies for a GIS career in conservation biology.

How can students enrolled in a GIS degree program enhance their resume while in school?

Get out there and start applying those skills. I liken aptitude in GIS to a language – you can spend years learning a language as part of your education, but if you don’t get out there and practice it every day, you will never be able to function well in that language. After taking the basic GIS courses, working for at least a year in an internship position is a must. A well-chosen internship is a great opportunity to develop GIS experience while being mentored by GIS professionals. Interning is also a great way to network and potentially find a job after graduation.

Also, develop a portfolio showcasing GIS work. This is an excellent marketing tool that can be used during interviews, especially as a way to answer that last ubiquitous question of “Do you have anything else you’d like to add?” The portfolio should have samples of complex projects done in school and examples of work done during the internship.

How important is GIS to the future of our society?

GIS is everywhere and the benefits of geospatial technology increasingly affect us all on a daily basis. Most everyone accesses geospatial technology in some way, whether to get driving directions, find out the location of an election polling place, or “check-in” a location with a social media group. Beyond that, GIS is affecting us in ways we may not be aware of, from where the local box chain decides to locate its newest store, to how local land use codes are changed.  Any aspect of our lives that involves geography is influenced by the application GIS. The best part is that as the tools of GIS are developed to become more accessible to everyone, active participation in shaping our geography is being opened up.

We know about Google Maps and Esri. Tell us about a software package that a lot of people might not be familiar with and why it’s important to GIS.

It’s not a software package, but I think the crowd-sourcing efforts out there are helping to push the field of GIS forward by making participation in geospatial technologies more inclusive. For example, anybody can now help update geographic data via the OpenStreetMap project or contribute to traffic data with Waze. The volunteer driven effort Quantum GIS (aka QGIS – http://www.qgis.org/) is a software package I’ve been hearing good things about that I’d like to explore in the future.

Anything you’d like to add?

Like any professional field, you have to have to be passionate about GIS to succeed and be adaptable, the field of GIS is very different than it was even 10-15 years ago.

 

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