How to Become a GIS Specialist


If you enjoy geography, cartography and analyzing information, then a career as a geographic information specialist is a great option for you.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to succeed in a career as a geographic information systems specialist. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more! 



Education Needed to Become a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist

To qualify for work in this field, you should either have a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Geography with an emphasis in GIS, or you should pursue a GIS certificate or diploma program.


If you pursue a bachelor’s degree, consider enrolling in mathematics, economics or business courses to complement your geography coursework, as these subjects put emphasis on data analysis, which is an invaluable skill to have as a GIS Specialist.


Note: Educational requirements typically vary by employer





General Job Description

A geographic information systems specialist is responsible for using specialized equipment and computer software to create geographic maps which contain political borders, transportation networks and environmental resources. They may also have the responsibility of rendering, analyzing, and manipulating a range of geospatial data. 



Job Duties of a GIS Specialist 

• Develop and maintain regional geographic, political and environmental databases

• Use various mathematical techniques, such as coordinating geography, to design and update GIS databases

• Design new maps or update existing ones using information contained within GIS databases

• Create visually appealing maps which make complex data easier to understand

• Confer with other researchers, analysts, internal customers, company managers and advertising account executives

• Retrieve stored and archived maps

• Prepare metadata and other information



Important Skills for GIS Specialists

To be effective and competent in this field of work, it is important to have a certain skill set, including:


Geographic knowledge: Knowledge of a variety of methods for describing the location and distribution of land, sea, and air masses. This also includes their physical locations, relationships, and characteristics.


Written, Oral and Cartographic communication skills:  The ability to communicate GIS/spatial information to people without technical skills in this area.


Analytical abilities: The ability to solve problems using the appropriate GIS tools.


Research abilities: Knowing how to find, identify and validate important information.


Information ordering: The ability to correctly follow a given rule or set of rules in order to arrange things or actions.


Systems evaluation: Ability to look at many indicators of system performance, while taking into account their accuracy.



Typical Salary Level

The salary level of GIS specialists can vary, depending on factors including:


Their level of education

Their level of experience

The size and type of their employer

The region in which they work

The specific responsibilities of their job


Geographer Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary level of American workers in the “Cartographers and Photogrammetrists” occupational group is $64,430 per year.


Salary - Canada: According to the 2017 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the “Technical occupations in geomatics and meteorology" occupational group earn an average salary of $74,501 per year, and according to WorkBC (Province of B.C.) the annual provincial median salary of workers in the “Technical occupations in geomatics and meteorology” group is $72,800. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories at the time of writing (August 2, 2019).





Working Conditions

Typically, GIS Specialists work normal weekday business hours in an office or computer workstation setting. Because of the detailed and computer-oriented nature of the work of GIS Specialists, their eyes may get strained from time to time. GIS Specialists are not typically required to perform much lifting or engage in other laborious tasks.



Employment Advancement Opportunities and Options

With enough training and experience, GIS Specialists can move into supervisory or management positions, either within their current organization or an external organization. They can also choose to pursue self-employment as GIS Consultants.



Who Employs GIS Specialists?

The following types of organizations typically employ GIS specialists:


• Colleges and universities

• Federal, provincial/state and municipal government

• GIS consulting organizations

• Oil, mining and gas companies

• Private mapping companies

• Self-employment (as a consultant)



Current Job Opportunities

Our job board below has "GIS specialist" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, when available:




Careers Similar to This in Our Database

Listed below are jobs that are similar in nature to GIS specialist, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.



Census Geographer

Map Editor

Survey Technician




Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a GIS specialist.


Occupations in Alberta:Mapping Technologist.” (March 31, 2018). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 29, 2019.

Architecture & Engineering:Cartographers and Photogrammetrists.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 29, 2019.

Blog - Careers in GIS:4 GIS Careers with Great Job Outlook.” (October 2, 2019) University of Southern California - Spatial Sciences website. Retrieved November 29, 2019.

Explore Careers:Technical occupations in geomatics and meteorology.” (March 25, 2019) WorkBC website. Retrieved November 29, 2019.

Explore Environmental Careers:GIS Analyst.” (n.d.) ECO Canada website. Retrieved November 29, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Geographic Information Specialist

Scholarships in our system that are relevant for becoming a GIS specialist are all of those that can be found on our Forestry Scholarships and Geography Scholarships pages.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Field(s) of Study

Studying the university major(s) listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a GIS specialist. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist