Wisconsin Geospatial News

So you want a GIS job?

On May 3rd, 2005, the State Cartographer’s Office, the UW-Madison Dept. of Geography, and the UW-Madison Spatial Information and Analysis Consortium sponsored a career seminar designed to help students understand the skills needed to find employment in the GIS industry. We invited five panelists representing a cross-section of private industry, state, federal, and county employers to share their ideas with the audience. We had a great turnout, and I thought the results of the seminar should be shared with Bulletin readers.

Although the primary audience was students in search of entry level positions, some common themes emerged for all of us to consider:

  • The GIS industry is fundamentally about communicating information in order to make better-informed decisions. As such, well-developed writing and presentation skills are very important for your long term success.
  • Similarly, depending on the career path you choose, project management fundamentals are another important skill for the long haul.
  • Don’t forget about GIS fundamentals such as coordinate systems, projections, scale issues, and data modeling. Knowing what buttons to push in a particular software package must be backed up with why you are pushing those buttons.
  • For anyone starting out, real-world project experience through internships is critical. Class projects don’t count.
  • Data management skills, especially geodatabase design and metadata development, continue to grow in importance.
  • Cartographic and graphic design skills are important areas that are often overlooked as technology makes it (too?) easy to crank out automated maps.
  • Because GIS professionals often find themselves pulling double-duty, it’s important to have strong IT skills, e.g., installing software, basic system administration, and an ability to perform at least simple programming.
  • With an increasing emphasis on web-enabled applications, a good understanding of web development concepts is critical.

Some interesting domain-specific themes emerged from the discussion. For example, in the National Park Service, having an “-ologist” background (biologist, ecologist, etc.) is often the first step in the door, and having GIS skills makes you all the more attractive as a candidate. In the private industry, there is a distinct need to be adaptable, and become a “jack-of-all-trades” that can quickly master technology as client projects arrive.

The topic of GIS certification also came up in our discussions. At least one of the panelists does not place any value on the GIS Certification Institute’s Certified GIS Professional (GISP) program primarily due to its lack of a rigorous testing process to become “certified.” Clearly there continues to be disagreement regarding the GISP designation, so the debate continues!

Special thanks go out to the panelists who participated in our seminar:

Anita Temple, Systems Analyst, GeoAnalytics, Inc.
Adam Derringer, GIS Specialist, Mapping Specialists, Ltd
Peter Budde, GIS Coordinator, National Park Service, Midwest GIS Technical Support Center
Ken Parsons, Section Chief, WDNR, GIS Analysis and Mapping Services Section
Diann Danielsen, LIO/Manager, Dane County Land Info Office

We are hoping to offer the seminar again later this year in conjunction with GIS day in November. Karen Tuerk (UW-Madison GIS Certificate Program Manager) and I will be coordinating the event. We welcome any volunteers willing to serve on the panel for future seminars.

Finally, if you are looking for a GIS-related job, be sure to check out the SCO jobs page.

For more information, contact me at lacy@wisc.edu, or (608) 262-6850.