Become a GIS Architect: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a geographic information systems (GIS) architect. Find out about education and experience requirements, and explore career opportunities in this field.

Should I Become a GIS Architect?

GIS architects create digital maps drawing data from a variety of sources. Because GIS and digital mapping technology are utilized in many industries, GIS architects work as employees or independent consultants in a variety of fields, including the public safety, transportation, oil & gas, business, and education sectors. Education requirements for GIS architects range from certificate programs to Master's degrees.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's or Master's degree
Degree Field Geography, Computer Science
Certification Some colleges offer GIS certification with other degree fields
Key Skills Mathematics, Computer Science, Technical Drawing
Salary (May 2014) $60,930 (median for cartographers)

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Complete High School

High school students interested in geographic information systems (GIS) may want to take classes in mathematics, geography, technical drawing and computer science. Strong technical skills are also needed especially with computers.

Step 2: Pursue a Formal Education

Individuals interested in GIS training may pursue certificate and degree programs. Certificate programs are available on campus and online, and provide students practical experience working with GIS software.

Bachelor's degree programs in computer science, geographic information systems, information technology and geography are available for those seeking a broader education in GIS technology. It may be possible to combine GIS studies with another relevant major such as sociology or business. One may earn a certificate in GIS in combination with a degree.

Possible course topics include remote sensing, GIS ethical issues and digital satellite imaging. Additional training in technical writing and specific computer programs may help secure a job as a GIS architect.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Government agencies, utility companies and technological consulting firms employ GIS architects. A GIS architect is typically responsible for designing databases, training employees in using GIS technologies and testing GIS software and applications. These architects compile data from various sources into a user-friendly format. They may also work with businesses to determine their technological GIS needs.

GIS architects in leadership positions may direct subcontractors and oversee the work of a larger team. Other responsibilities might include cost-analysis, project management and long-range planning. These individuals should have strong communication skills to clearly explain technical information to people who don't have a technical background.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for workers in the occupational field of cartographers and photogrammetrists, which includes GIS architects, was $57,440 in May 2012.

Step 4: Earn a Master's Degree

In a master's degree program in GIS, students learn about advanced computing, research techniques, graphic design, programming and GIS web application design. These programs may be completed in one year and are also available online. Graduate degrees in cartography or computer science are relevant options for GIS architects.

Master's degree admissions requirements will vary by program. Some may require a minimum amount of work experience or an undergraduate degree in a specific topic from an accredited college.

Step 5: Explore Career Opportunities

GIS architects with sufficient experience may advance to supervisory or managerial positions. Possible job titles include lead GIS architect or senior GIS specialist. Individuals may choose to work as an independent consultant. Successful GIS architects need to remain current with advances in GIS technology through continuing education courses or professional seminars.


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