How to Become a GIS Specialist: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a geographic information systems specialist. Research the education and training requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in geographic information systems.

Should I Become a GIS Specialist?

Individuals who use geographic information system (GIS) technology to compile and display digital data are known as GIS specialists. These mapping specialists use computer programs to create detailed maps and drawings that contain multiple layers of geospatial and other information used in engineering, architecture, government, agriculture, and other fields.

GIS specialists work in office settings, often with multiple computers running. Few physical demands or risks are associated with this career. Occasional travel to mapping sites may be asked of GIS specialists.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's degree or bachelor's degree
Degree Field GIS technology, geomatics, environmental science
Licensure and Certification Certification is voluntary but becoming more common; credentials are available through organizations such as the National Society of Professional Surveyors and the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
Experience Some experience in the field may be required by employers
Key Skills Troubleshooting skills, abstract thinking, knowledge of technical design applications like ArcView GIS or ESRI extensions, AutoCAD
Salary (2015) $48,925 (median salary for GIS specialists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings, December 2012,

Step 1: Obtain Postsecondary Training in GIS Technology

Individuals interested in becoming GIS specialists will need postsecondary training due to the advanced computer programs and technology used in this field. Undergraduate certificate and degree programs are available in GIS technology. These programs provide students with the knowledge and skills for entry-level positions. Courses include computer mapping and graphics, technical drafting, principles of geography, geospatial data and technology, cartographic design and digital image processing.

Step 2: Seek Employment

Employers often seek applicants for positions within the energy and engineering industries. GIS technicians are needed to develop data models for datasets, develop web-based GIS applications, perform complex integrated computer programming, conduct spatial analyses and produce maps, reports, presentations and other materials. Most jobs require a bachelor's degree in environmental science, GIS, geography or a related degree, along with four or five years of GIS database experience.

Step 3: Obtain a Professional Credential

GIS specialists who want to demonstrate their knowledge and skills for advancement and other career opportunities may obtain professional credentials through multiple agencies. For example, the Imaging and Geospatial Information Society offers certification programs related to mapping, including the Certified GIS/LIS Technologist credential. Candidates must have relevant education and work experience and pass a written exam. Renewal of the certification is required.

Step 4: Pursue Continuing Education

GIS specialists may want to continue their education to improve their career knowledge and opportunities. Graduate-level degree and certificate programs are available in geographic information systems technology. Such programs allow workers to research and focus on areas such as geospatial technology development, cartography and visualization or planning and design. These advanced programs also enhance technical expertise in various GIS technology. Some master's degree programs are also available online.

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