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So my boss told me today that he's thinking about sending me to GIS training.

That got me thinking about somebody's suggestion that I try GIS when I get out of school. I think somebody recently suggested that I go into it.

My questions are, what do professional GIS people actually do? What are my changes of getting a GIS job in Chicago (not the burbs)? And are there options for promotion with it or is it a dead end tech job?


I would say go for it. GIS people sit behing a computer, create a data base, shape files (based on another map) and put all the information into one nice little package.

as for possiblity of moving up, I don't know the answer to that. I would say it might be easier to move to another job.


Take advantage of the training to find out if you like GIS. If you do, take some more. Many GIS people end up as technicians. The trick is to know something beside "GIS." That is, use GIS as an applied tool for analysis rather than be a GIS programmer. Watch out during your career that you are allowed to do more than GIS, too.
Some of the classes I took to complete my certificate: Database design, cartography, intro to VBA, applications lab, data sources on the internet, spatial analysis, and data capture using GPS.

Most GIS people don't really know anything about VBA and you do not have to be able to program to do GIS, but there are companies that specialize in writing programs for GIS, often for iterative processes that would take too many man-hours to perform another way. I mention that because I think you have a background in computers. Maybe I am remembering that wrong.

Some GIS is used on a desktop but there are also server systems. So folks who are really geeky and can deal with databases, server systems, etc, can get really good paying jobs in GIS on the programming/systems side of it.

A GIS is a Geographic Information System. It has 5 parts: People, data, hardware, software, and a system in place -- naming protocols, rules about who has data entry rights and who has editing rights at a deeper level and stuff like that.

The 'old timers' in GIS are kind of disgusted with the trend to teach GIS as if it were merely a software application class -- how to use the software. It has a multi-disciplinary background and was invented when a diverse group of folks came together with different backgrounds, from geography to computers and probably a few other things.

So, ideally, what you want for a GIS is a system in place that takes advantage of any hardware, software, and data entry functions already in place in an organization and is hooked together in a ‘library’ model of data that can be put to a variety of uses. However, that is often not the way it gets handled.

I really know absolutely nothing about Chicago. But here area couple of GIS job-hunting sites. Maybe it will give you some idea.



Cyburbian Emeritus
We're running server based ESRI products and have 1.5 FTEs maintaining and building it.

What do they do? Developing and maintaing the system's architecture and data models,edit and create shapefiles, perform analysis, sometimes just make pretty exhibits for me, maintain metadata files, programming in VBA and java, assist other city departments build their databases and geodatabases, perform needs assessments for other city departments to help them maximize their benefit, administration such as annual and long range budget preparations, create 3D modelling of development projects, community build out analysis, and much more.

Our tech is paid in the high $30,000s and our Coordinator is in the mid $40,000s. I expect we'll be bumping the coordinator into the low $50,000's just to stay competitive in the market.

In a small organization using a single workstation and out of the box software, I would agree with MZ that programming is not necessary. In more sophisticated organizations you should be prepared to write code.