Be a GIS Developer: Job Description and Requirements

Learn how to become a GIS developer. Research the education and career requirements, training information, and experience required for starting a career in global information systems.

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  • 0:02 Should I Become a GIS…
  • 1:04 Career Requirements
  • 1:58 Steps to Getting Into…

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Should I Become a GIS Developer?

Geographic information science (GIS) developers may work in a variety of fields, including commercial organizations, the government, or educational institutions. GIS developers typically work as part of a team of software developers to develop GIS applications and tools and maintain software programs to support the needs of the company and/or clients. Additional tasks may include analyzing land and aerial imagery or using databases to create specialized maps, such as weather, seismic, or population-based maps. Developers may also help clients interpret data, identify trends, and highlight patterns.

GIS developers also provide technical support on GIS programs. They maintain and troubleshoot existing systems, as well as upgrading software. Additional duties can involve project development, management, and budgeting. Many of the GIS developer's work hours might be spent sitting at a desk and a computer.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field Computer science, GIS, geography, engineering, or a related field
Certification Optional certifications include GISP or Certified Mapping Scientist, GIS/LIS
Key Skills Sharp critical thinking skills, strong written and verbal communication skills, ability to analyze spatial data, problem-solving skills, project management skills, familiarity with statistical analysis; programming skills including ASP.NET, MVC, ArcGIS, Oracle databases, SQL, and GIS database design
Median Salary (2016)* $66,205

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, *, University of Oklahoma, GIS Certification Institute, online job postings (2012-2015)

Steps to Getting Into This Career

Now let's check out the steps for getting into this career.

Step 1: Earn a Degree

Although many colleges and universities offer a GIS certificate program that can be completed in 1-2 years, most employers prefer hiring candidates with a bachelor's degree in GIS, engineering, geography, or a related field. Certificate programs are ideal for graduate-level studies, enabling aspiring GIS developers with a degree in a different field to gain the specialized education needed for the career. Certificate and degree programs offer GIS-related coursework, such as spatial design, image analysis, computer programming, social applications, modeling, remote sensing, and environmental applications of GIS. Some programs also offer internship opportunities so students can apply learned skills, such as compiling data and mapping. Additionally, these programs generally introduce students to GIS software, such as ArcGIS, with which many employers require candidates to have experience.

Additionally, consider enrolling in graduate-level study. Earning a master's degree may offer more opportunities for career advancement. Prerequisites vary from school to school, but typically include having a bachelor's degree and a specified grade point average. Some schools require candidates to have some professional experience in geographic information technology or a related field.

Step 2: Gain Entry-Level Employment

Working in an entry-level GIS analyst, information technology analyst, or software developer position is a good way to gain the experience needed for a job as a GIS developer. Employers generally look for candidates with at least two years of experience in software development and familiarity with the computer programs and tools used in GIS development, including ArcGIS, a software system that makes it easier to build and use GIS systems by helping individuals collect, analyze, manage, and distribute information.

Step 3: Consider Becoming Certified

Optional certifications are available from professional organizations, such as the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA) or the American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS), and from GIS-specific software companies, such as Esri. Becoming certified may offer increased job opportunities since it demonstrates an individual's professional and/or technical expertise. Guidelines for certification vary depending on the organization issuing the credentials. Typically, a candidate must fulfill training and experience requirements and pass a written test.

Additionally, research the recertification requirements. To maintain certification, most organizations require that individuals renew the certification periodically by paying a fee and completing continuing education and professional experience requirements.

Step 4: Get a Job as a GIS Developer

GIS developers may work in a variety of fields, including:

  • Energy companies
  • Utility companies
  • Engineering firms
  • Environmental conservation organizations
  • Real estate institutions
  • Military and intelligence organizations
  • Commercial organizations
  • The government
  • Educational institutions

Some jobs may require candidates to have or be eligible to receive U.S. security clearance. After gaining a few years of experience, a GIS developer my advance to a position as a GIS analyst.

With a bachelor's degree, experience, and possibly certification, GIS developers can earn about $66,000 a year to develop GIS applications and tools and maintain software programs to support the needs of the company and/or clients.

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