I would like to apologize in advance for asking yet another "what should I do with my life" type of question.

I am currently a senior who is very close to finishing up my B.S. in Information Systems. Over the past 5 months I have become very much interested in GIS, after taking courses in both Geology and Oceanography. I have been spending some time independently studying/learning application systems such as ArcGIS and Google Earth. I have noticed that most GIS related jobs are reserved for Geography, Architecture, and Environmental Sciences grads, which is obviously understandable being that the underlying principles of GIS are rooted in those disciplines.

My question is as follows: Do you feel that I would be considered for a position working in this field with an Information Systems degree, or should I move on to other aspirations?

I am considering completing a 9 course GIS certificate program offered at one of the local universities upon completion of my degree, though a GIS related internship would be great right now. Thank you for reading, and any bit of advice would be greatly appreciated.

5 Answers 5


Start building a portfolio, it can be worth more than your resume and education credits. Every time you produce something you are proud of -- a map, a geoprocessing model, a paper, a mashup, a complex analysis -- save a representive sample in hardcopy as well as digital. Send this in along with your resume. If you don't have things you're proud of to stick in a portfolio then you're pursuing the wrong path, not following your passions.

We routinely interview and decline prospective employees who have all the "right" educational background but can't demonstrate appropriate use or understanding of the systems, and typically this is revealed through the portfolio (or more commonly the lack of one). So while a degree in an earth science combined with GIS might make it easier to get on the short list, it's not the primary determing factor. For us anyway.

  • +1 My own portfolio includes everything from C# socket servers that pump GPS/NMEA data from a com port to a TCP/IP socket to ..PDF maps, Python scripts that harness FOSS libs, etc., etc. No kidding---anything and everything you do related to GIS, encapsulate it and zip it into a portfolio. You'd be surprised what counts.
    – elrobis
    Dec 29, 2012 at 3:08

You should absolutely consider working in this field especially if you are so passionate about it. GIS are Information Systems after all. On the development side of things some argue that programmers are more skilled in building and customizing GIS applications those with geography backgrounds. In my opinion, it may very well be easier for someone like you to have a more comprehensive understanding of a GIS then "Geography, Architecture, and Environmental Sciences grads". The GIS certificate is a great idea, you could also supplement it with some ESRI online learning if you choose to focus on ArcGIS. (Probably a good idea considering ESRI's market share)

  • I really like this answer. As a graduate assistant, I started every semester by saying "GIS is 66% Information Systems." The point was, focus on analytically deducing information given a sliver of data. In my experience, CIS-types adapt very well to GIS scenarios.
    – elrobis
    Dec 29, 2012 at 3:00

Long story short: Sell yourself and see if anybody buys, if so that should answer your question.

Being a software developer who had later been introduced to GIS I learned to love software and later to take an interest in GIS. Because of this I will never be as deep into the GIS side of things as I am on the software but I sure try. In my opinion and small bit of experience the key to answering your questions is networking and the answers lie in mentoring.

1) Find people

Best place to start is the internet, search LinkedIn within your area for "GIS" or "GIS Manager", both private and public sector. Rummage through local websites looking for GIS contacts at your county. If they keep names/contact off their site hunt down .pdf files through Google (use filetype:pdf) with the keywords of the local organization and the possible title/name of the person you are looking for, often there is an e-mail address or phone number.

2) Get ready

You can prepare your sob story at this point if you aren't good at being put on the spot. Sort through your contacts you accumulated to call/email them in the order you think is best.

3) Get a meeting

Here is where your sob story goes, you need answers and advice, they have them. Call them up, mail them, do whatever to get their time over lunch or drinks, in person (so important). There are laws about how much you can buy etc. when it comes to public sector but the focus isn't food, its drawing them out because people are really busy and short handed these days due to their budgets.

4) Get a mentor

When you have their time explain who you are, what you want, and get from them their advice. If they really like and believe in you, you may also find yourself with a mentor. Its a lot harder to make a believer out of somebody over the phone or on the internet.

5) Get into the industry

Depending on your location there are companies hiring, find them or meet with people who know of them.

While stack exchange is cool this is a bit bigger and more personal of a question that I would trust to be done justice on here.


The last time I hired a whiz kid he didn't even have a high school degree ...

So awesome to see all those fat yet shallow degrees pass by only to find the right person who wasn't cut out for the education system as it stands today here. But he was smart, and could swallow any challenge I threw at him.

The moral of the story: Unless you are a Doctor, a degree isn't all that important to start, especially in the IT field, anyone with brains on logic can make it here.

On the dark side, you will also meet people who aren't totally cut out for what they do, are stupid and dumb in general but make like 700 dollars per day since they consulted their way into large, static companies with money to burn. These types work 8 hours a day (not a minute more) doing exactly what is asked, no more no less and aren't emotionally attached to the 'problem'. They usually work there on long term assignments. They don't really care about being good, just that their 'cover' won't be blown away, so you are like 1 step ahead already.

I will take a enthusiastic , auto-didact any day and be their mentor so they can evolve.

  • 1
    Interesting answer. A bit on the cynical side, but I can appreciate where you're coming from.
    – elrobis
    Dec 29, 2012 at 3:04

Depends what type of GIS work you want to get into. Its a big field.

With your IS experience, I would recommend getting into the nitty gritty programming and server implementation side of things. I know it is a growing sector with plenty of job potential both now and growing.

Seeing as you sound keen, I would recommend trying to become a certified Google Maps developer. I think this is still free. If your keen on web development/GIS, this is a great place to start. A lot of the skills learnt here can also be applied to other web mapping platforms.

Bing offer a similar one, and ESRI are also on the verge of releasing their certification programme.

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