Spatial Career Guide
March 28, 2012
In a recent post I argued that Spatial is Indeed Special but that GIS software skills will soon be obsolete. Recent graduates trying to establish “GIS careers” (perhaps we should start calling them Geospatial Careers?) have begun complaining because the opportunities they were promised haven’t materialized. I recently tried to provide some guidance for those attempting to launch a GIS career. But, if you are a current undergraduate studying GIS within a geography department what should you do to prepare for one of these spatial careers? Should you continue taking ArcGIS classes or should you spend more time on other skills?
As I was thinking about this blog post I thought perhaps I should call on the AAG and Geography Departments to create a more unified and consistent curriculum across the discipline. This would serve to improve the standing of geography in the private sector (because employers would have a better idea what to expect from geography grads) and grads would have better opportunities. But then I realized that the divisions within geography are too wide and the wheels of academia too slow moving for any sort of useful compromise and near-term change. I also realized that no one in academics is likely to listen to what I have to say, perhaps for good reason. Instead, I’m better off focusing on communicating directly with current undergrads who can take control of their own education and career. This may require creating your own curriculum and going outside your home department so you’ll have to be a bit entrepreneurial but you’ll need that in your career either way.
So, in a series of blog posts to follow I will make suggestions to undergrads who are interested in one of the spatial career paths that I mentioned in the Spatial is Indeed Special post and a few others.
Here are the 4 different paths that I mentioned and I’m adding two more: spatial statistician and geospatial database administrator.
- GIS software developer
- geospatial analyst
- cartography/visualization specialist
- geographic information scientist
- geospatial database administrator
- spatial statistician
I will cover each of these 6 career paths and how to prepare while you’re still in college in a series of posts to follow over the next week or so. I understand some of these career trajectories better than others so I welcome input on any or all of these. Also, please let me know if another career path should be added to this list (or if you feel like 2 or more should be consolidated).
Stay tuned for more!
[…] To learn more, read my new post entitled: Spatial Career Guide for Undergrads Currently Studying GIS – Curriculum Suggestions for 6 Geos… […]
[…] is my first post in a series on Spatial Careers. If you’re currently a student in a geography department and you want to become a GIS […]
This should be a fun set of posts! Four thoughts:
1) Work is underway on a core curriculum for 2-year post-secondary schools at the GeoTech Center
2) You mention the divisions in (academic) geography being too wide and the wheels turning too slow. This is true, but for good reason. Major institutions like Universities shouldn’t be blowing in the wind…they should be a lot like turning a battleship – slow and deliberate. Having said that, I would suggest that getting agreement from geospatial professionals in business about what is critical and what is not from a degree program is just as difficult.
3) A university education should not be focused on job training. As a student, if you are spending your time in college focused on what job you want when you’re done, you’re doing it wrong. Having said that, I firmly believe that Universities do a disservice to their students if they ignore market and technology trends in curriculum and methods. But it’s a fine line that must be re-examined all the time.
4) One more career track – GIS Manager
Thanks for putting the post together and I look forward to reading the responses and the follow-ups.
Thanks, Michael! Hope you saw the first one on GIS Software Developer: http://www.justinholman.com/2012/03/29/spatial-career-guide-5-key-skills-for-future-gis-software-developers/
(1) I saw David DiBiase’s piece on the GTCM yesterday. Interesting. I may do a separate post on the topic.
(2) I agree to a point. Shouldn’t blow in the wind, shouldn’t stay the same for 200+ years. Battleship is the right pace but I would argue that most Universities move significantly slower.
(3) I agree that there should be a balance between using college as an opportunity to prepare for a career and to acquire knowledge that may not lead to a career. The problem is that Universities promise to prepare you for high-paying careers but don’t actually follow through, as you mentioned. This is dishonest.
(4) GIS Manager is an interesting suggestion – I think for GIS Manager you still need to identify what spatial path you want to pursue. But, I’ll spend some more time thinking about it.
Thanks again! Hope to hear more comments from you along the way.
is there way in a research level to for a person with a Dbms background to merge with Geo spatial ( i am new in geo spatial ) ????
I would say that, yes, in general someone with a database background can find a place in the geospatial world. Can you provide a bit more info on your background and where in particular you might want to go within geospatial? Thanks, Justin.
[…] should help you become a successful GIS Software Developer as part of my series of blog posts on Spatial Careers. In this post I’m writing about the Geospatial Analyst career track. This one is more […]
This is really interesting post for me. Thanks Justin for your insights and Michael for your constructive criticism. I would like to add few more abstractions I have been analyzing since i start my graduate study last year. Its all about this technology and how instructional paradigm, and industries are thriving to achieve the common goals but in vagueness and disparities.
First all let me illustrate my findings.
1. GIScience is predominantly taught in the academic environment as a course in Geography after the inception of the word by Dr. Goodchild in 90’s. Although GIScience itself is growing and geospatial technologies promotes these technologies to solve multidisciplinary problems, GI Science is still evolving and developing. Most european countries and very few American schools use the word geo-informatics that addresses the problem domain far better than most universities.
2. As Justin said, Geography is vague..seamlessly vague, typically they teach GI Science courses like Remote Sensing,GIS,Cartography,Visualization etc, Water resources courses like Hydrology,Policy etc., Climatology courses, Organic Food, Human Geography, Natural Hazards,Sustainable Development etc. ..that makes the Geography and its inherently interdisciplinary. This is the strength and weakness for GI Science. Everything occurs in Geography.
3.The students who are in Geography department and who likes to take courses in GIS have two different objectives, one who just needs an application of GIS technology for the spatial analysis of their problem domain; literally every academic department enjoys the spatial analysis and geostatistics and others who loves to explores advances of GI science and are looking forward to be Geo-spatial professionals.
4.Although the Applied Geography and Spatial Analysis have been in the academia since early 50’s, there has not been substantial development in this academic discipline because most geographers have little computing knowledge. With the advent of computing and availability of computer resources, Geographers are in the dilemma of opportunities and challenges that existed in the edges of swords.
5. Interestingly , Spatial data is considered as one of the largest data sets that needs thorough understanding of high power computing knowledge and analysis. Geographic problems are computationally intensive. This emphasize the geographers to cross the boundaries and move towards the computation.
6. Undergrad and grad students in geography realize the bottleneck of the technologies they are pursuing in the department when they are about to graduate, most jobs expects the students to have programming knowledge. Although , they are using one of the most sophisticated software like ArcDesktop or ERDAS IMAGINE but they lack the basic programming ,design and database skills.
7.Although ESRI and ERDAS products are defacto standards in the teaching paradigm at US universities in Geography department, with the rapid deployment of the new versions of these software, instructors and students are finding difficult to cope with challenges underlying with the advances in the computer science and industries.
8.Interestingly, although the employers knows that they cant get the peoples with both of these backgrounds (GI Science and Computer Science), I doubt how these vacancies are filled up!! and not surprisingly if anyone has both of these skills, he would love to go for generic IT service providers rather that geospatial industry. Even ,if we see the hiring salary, IT easily surpasses geospatial industry.
Now with the change in computing paradigm and development in Geo-spatial industries, I think we need to add following career Tracks.
ofcourse GIS Manager
Geovisualization and Analytics
GIS cloud Engineer
GIS System Administrator
Well, with the changes in the computing paradigm in the recent years, its very likely that the geospatial industry will move towards cloud computing environment. if that’s the case, what would be the impact ? Hopefully the funda’s and conceptual aspect of GI science will remain unchanged.
And lastly, no-matter how things are moving in academic, Geo-spatial industry would continue to grown in the coming years with the advent of location based services, GPS , and satellite imageries, the prospects of GI professions looks better than ever.
However, being a graduate student double majoring in GI science and Computer Science, I can peep problems through both of my eyes yet i feel like programming would not only be the basic tools for GI science people but for every academic discipline and obviously, the Geography department should be focusing more on computational courses and students should take the courses in computer science departments.
Ravi – thank you for taking time to share your thoughts. You raise a lot of interesting issues and I can’t address them all here. I would agree with one point – programming has become a prerequisite skill and all serious GIS folks should acquire at least a basic understanding.
Thanks again! -Justin
[…] is my third post in the Spatial Career series. I’ve covered GIS Software Developer and Geospatial Analyst and in this post I will […]
[…] is my fourth post in the Spatial Career series. In previous posts I’ve written about how to prepare for a career as a GIS […]
[…] is my fifth post in the Spatial Career series. In previous posts I’ve written about how to prepare for a career as a GIS […]
[…] is my sixth post in the Spatial Career series. In previous posts I’ve written about how to prepare for a career as a GIS Software Developer, […]
[…] college students or recent graduates who are reading my blog posts on Spatial Careers and trying to figure out how to use their summer months productively, I would recommend reading […]
It has been so helpful to read through some of your blog posts/discussions, so thanks for taking the time to write them! I am at a turning point in my life, in that I am seeking to change careers, or rather return to GIS after quite some time away and very little experience in it to begin with. I graduated with a BA in Geography back in 2006 & immediately started working as a GIS Technical Aide for a year at a city. For the most part, I was assigned to storm drain & wastewater maintenance & updates as a result of the city’s acquisition of county land. I also completed short-term projects with the utility, planning, & public safety departments. I loved the job (it has been my favorite as of yet because of the work climate & work/life balance), but I didn’t feel like the technology/computer science aspect of it came naturally to me which was discouraging & led me to pursue other passions a year later. Since leaving the field, I traveled extensively and have worked in education (preschool, TEFL, or Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and most recently, special education). While I love teaching, the specialties I have experience in do not offer the best work/life balance amongst other issues, which is why I have decided to change careers. Since leaving the GIS field, I am completely out of the loop. Yesterday, I registered for the free trial version of ArcMap Pro and I had no clue what I was doing; it was embarrassing! I am somewhat familiar & remember some of the terms being thrown around, but not nearly enough to make myself useful in the application of GIS today. I have thought about enrolling in computer programming & GIS classes to test the waters again. My thoughts were to take Python, SQL, Adobe, & Intro. to GIS since it’s been so long that I last took that Intro. class back in 2005! I am apprehensive about taking a programming course because I feel as though I am not as computer savvy as others. I am good with language though, and can speak a second language; crossing my fingers & toes that that would serve me well to learn a programming “language”. I would love to utilize GIS in a position similar to the one I was previously in with the city (utilities & public safety), while eventually taking on more responsibility and challenging, meaningful work. I recently did some research on job openings, using different titles besides GIS, since that is just a supplementary skill for many positions. It seems there are very few openings across the nation, compared to when I was looking back in 2006. Also, it appears that most of the positions require extensive experience. Has there been a decline in jobs requiring the use of GIS? Is there a saturation of GIS-trained professionals? What would you suggest to someone considering re-entering the GIS field after quite some time away? I would appreciate any insight you have to offer. Thanks so much!
Yes, the GIS world has changed a lot in the past 13 years. Private sector GIS work has mostly been subsumed within departments called Data Science, Analytics, IT or similar. Local governments still have GIS positions but they’re constantly under budget pressure so not many openings and often they’re combined with IT-like responsibility. If you don’t feel particularly computer savvy you’ll have a very long and difficult road ahead of you to catch up and you’ll always need to be learning to stay current. If that doesn’t sound fun I would recommend against it. You don’t need to be a GIS expert to do meaningful work. Instead, consider finding a job with an organization doing important stuff and find a way to contribute and grow. Maybe just a regular administrative job in a local planning or government office? Or maybe a teaching credential in geography and/or a foreign language? I don’t mean to turn you away from GIS but if you don’t think of yourself as computer savvy it may take a few years before you have developed a sufficient skill set to get a good job. And if you don’t enjoy the work you won’t be successful. Hope this helps.
[…] for other medical paths. Same for legal careers, teaching, etc. And the same goes for geospatial careers. Looking beyond 5 years is a waste of time because there are too many contingencies that are […]
I think this set of posts has promise to be very interesting and useful. I would like to provide one other thought regarding potential career paths in geo-spatial. Geo-spatial consulting is a very important career path with the ever changing use of technology in this field. Not to mention the willingness to use geo-spatial technologies in sectors that previously wouldn’t have considered this approach. Granted consulting is typically a path taken after some experience is attained, however, it is good for those considering a career in geo-spatial to be aware of this potential path.
Anyway, just my 2 cents. I look forward to reading the upcoming posts.
Hi Gerry – thanks for the comment. I agree that it’s good for young people to be aware of opportunities in consulting. I don’t think a separate blog post is warranted though in that the first step, as you acknowledge, would most likely be to develop expertise within one of these six paths. Thanks again! Best, Justin
hello am very intereristng to this course of gis I wish to get scholarship for master am from Africa tanzania
[…] came across a couple of informative GIS career articles this year. One is the Spatial Career Guide for Undergrads by Justin Holman. Despite the title, I think it can apply to current professionals as well. The […]
[…] Some may be interested in the six paths for finding spatial employment laid out by Justin Holman at http://www.justinholman.com/2012/03/28/spatial-career-guide-for-undergrads-currently-studying-gis/ […]
[…] Spatial Career Series. My series of posts on spatial careers generated plenty of interest. I heard from a number of […]
[…] you’ve read my Spatial Career Series you know that I like to divide the GIS world into a few different areas and the […]
[…] Some may be interested in the six paths for finding spatial employment laid out by Justin Holman athttp://www.justinholman.com/2012/03/28/spatial-career-guide-for-undergrads-currently-studying-gis/ […]
[…] I started blogging about careers in GIS and graduate programs in geography I’ve received many emails and comments from people who […]
[…] It was a lot of fun. Beautiful campus, great people. Hopefully the students enjoyed my talk about GIS Careers. The morning of my talk I walked to the bookstore and bought a small University lapel pin. I […]
[…] level. Even GIS/Geo pros could get quite a bit out of this book and I would recommend it along with Justin Holmans Spatial Career Guide series of blog posts. The book also has forewords from both Scott Hanselman and Robert Martin. I […]
[…] is an important 21st Century skill. If you aspire to a career in GIS you should at least be familiar with basic programming concepts and ideally you would know how to […]