Programmers and developers can find high-paying projects in many industries, but one field that's drawing increasing attention is that of geologic information systems (GIS). As more manufacturers and marketers realize the advantages of building geographical data into their operations, GIS specialists - as well as managers and researchers with GIS insight - are becoming increasingly integral parts of their company teams. So here are three tips for turning your GIS expertise - or interest - into income.
Examine your industry
"If you're looking to expand into GIS, you must first determine the role you want to play in your industry," says Thomas Thomey, founder and president of MGP Inc., a GIS technology company. Even if you're not directly involved in app development or hardware engineering, he adds, your industry is likely to make use of geographical data in some aspect of its operations.
Aside from the areas where GIS already plays an obvious and essential role - mobile app development, geological surveying and so on - a variety of other fields are increasingly making use of geographic databases for applications from customer tracking to resource management. Environmental scientists, forestry technicians, resource conservationists and agricultural managers are all using GIS technology to visualize and organize large swathes of surveying data. And of course, many advertisers are realizing the advantages of targeting ads for people in specific areas - making GIS a growing component of campaign planning.
All in all, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that thousands of new GIS-related jobs will open up by 2020, as more industries recognize the utility of geography-based data management. If you take some time to examine the technical needs of your industry, you'll probably find that GIS is either already in use or badly needed in some aspect of its operations.
Find a focus
If you've already got a degree that emphasizes GIS - or you've at least taken some classes involving geographical data analysis - you may be able to leverage that knowledge toward a position as a GIS analyst or technician. "Desktop skills running the GIS platform remain the principal avenue to employment in the GIS industry," Thomey says. "But these positions require a high degree of technical understanding in areas like data modeling, cartography and analytical processing."
If you're more of a managerial type, on the other hand, some additional education in current geographic data-gathering and analysis methods may suit you for a supervisory role over a team of GIS experts. "There are a lot of jobs out there where GIS may not be a primary part of the job description, but it's still a central component of the job duties," says Bill Hodge, executive director of the GIS Certification Institute.
For example, he says, "many city planning departments have been early adopters of GIS technology, although many of those planners use GIS as a small percentage of their job." Thus, even if you're not an experienced GIS developer, you can still complement your existing expertise with GIS insight - making your skill set more unique, and making you harder to replace.
Pick out projects
Whether your company's operations are GIS-centric or seemingly unrelated to geography, you'll stand a better shot at scoring a GIS position if you pitch or join a project that proves useful. "In many industries," Hodge says, "there's an increasing demand for more capability within the GIS group as a profession, and more and more public demand for easy to use software that provides what they need without having to be technically inclined."
In short, end users need software that makes data visualization simple and intuitive. What's more, many industries' increasing dependence on GIS software means that even interdisciplinary teams are increasingly relying on geographical data experts. "GIS tools are becoming more ubiquitous and embedded within information systems," Thomey says; "and that's creating new challenges for classic GIS practitioners."
If you're able to contribute practical GIS expertise, you may find that you're able to contribute vital geographical insights to your company's web development or customer relationship management teams. And if you're a solid supervisor or technical coordinator, you can carve out a place for yourself as a manager or go-between for your company's GIS experts and other technological teams. Keep your eyes open for projects where GIS could - or already does - play a role, and you'll start to notice opportunities to apply your knowledge.
Just as no two industries utilize GIS for the same purpose - or in quite the same way - there's no end-all answer for how to find a GIS-related job. If you work for an app development company or an agricultural agency, the applications of geographic data might be obvious; but in smaller companies that rely on simpler databases, the launch of a GIS project may take some selling on your part. But if you've got the unique insights that geographic visualizations can provide, and the ability to use geographic data to bring concrete advantages to your company, the value of GIS will make itself clear.