Gis Specialist

Job Duties

Geographic information systems (GIS) specialists use specialized computer programs and software to create maps. The world of cartography (map making) has undergone significant changes in the last decade. Most of this change revolves around the emerging technology of GIS, a type of software that can combine socioeconomic, demographic, political, and environmental data. GIS specialists use this software to create maps or graphs. They consult with users to identify the needs of their project and determine the necessary applications. They conduct research and locate any existing databases that may help with the project. They gather data and figure out how to best display it using GIS software.

The data they collect may come from a number of different types of sources, such as aerial photographs, existing maps, satellite photography, and field analysis. They apply their knowledge of spatial feature representations to design appropriate databases. They often use digitizers or direct inputs to enter and coordinate information about the land. They are also responsible for maintaining the various GIS equipment, including plotters, digitizers, color printers, and video cameras.

Job Skills

GIS specialists should have good visual abilities. Excellent eyesight, coordination, and hearing to communicate if they work in the field. They should also be in good physical shape. Teamwork is essential in this profession, and GIS specialists must be very good at working cooperatively with other people. They should also have good clerical, organizational, and research skills.


In 2002, GIS specialists earned a median annual salary of $42,870. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $25,810, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $69,320.

Training and Education

Most GIS specialists have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, forestry, geography, physical sciences, or a related discipline. Others have earned GIS certificates through colleges and universities offering these programs. One of the most desirable educational backgrounds is GIS training combined with a bachelor’s degree in business, sociology, political science, or economics. Some specialists enter the occupation by starting as a technician and working their way up as they gain experience. This is changing because most positions require specialized training from a postsecondary college or school. Technical skills, especially in computers, is becoming a prerequisite for entry into the profession. High school students interested in developing a career as a GIS specialist should take courses in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, drafting, mechanical drawing, and computer science. Visit this page about trade schools for more information on related careers.


In 2002, GIS specialists and closely related workers held about 124,000 jobs. Two-thirds worked in architectural, engineering, and related services. About 1 in 6 worked fro Federal, State, and local government agencies.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, employment of GIS specialists is expected to increase about as fast as the average. Advancing technologies will improve the productivity of these workers, which will somewhat inhibit job growth. However, workers who leave the occupation will still need to be replaced. Most job opportunities will be concentrated in architectural, engineering, and related services. New opportunities will arise in the areas of urban planning, emergency preparedness, and natural resource exploration and mapping. Opportunities will be best for those who have the strongest technical and computer skills and at least a bachelor’s degree.