I've pondered for a while whether I should ask this question. I even asked whether I should ask a question that should probably be a community wiki on the meta site.

Since I didn't get many responses, and the one I did get didn't really explicitly say I shouldn't ask it, I’m going to go ahead and ask it anyway:

How are you, as GIS professionals, spending most of your day at work?

That is, what GIS tasks do you perform to get your job done? I’m curious how my day-to-day activities compare to others in the field.

These are some examples of how I spend my GIS work (feel free to add others):

  • Cartography – creating new maps, or modifying others
  • Scripting/Tool Building
  • Research
  • Data Edits/Cleansing
  • Analysis (vector)
  • Analysis (raster)
  • Meetings
  • Visiting GIS.stackexchange.com

Also feel free to add a percentage of your time on different tasks, if you're so inclined.

  • 13
    Compiling! ;)
    – user173
    Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 7:55
  • 13
    Finding, reporting and cursing ESRI bugs ;)
    – blah238
    Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 7:59
  • 2
    How do you plan to use this information? That might help (and motivate) people to provide meaningful answers?
    – BradHards
    Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 8:36
  • 3
    @BradHards, it's really just for my own curiosity, though, I feel that others may benefit from this information. I sometimes feel that GIS professionals in my workplace can get pigeonholed into different roles. Plus, I wonder if there are things that others are doing that I'm not and should be...
    – Fezter
    Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 9:16
  • 3
    Moderating GIS-SE... 100% (24/7) is not on the list...
    – Mapperz
    Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 15:04

8 Answers 8


Well, I think there is a role you are not considering explicitly: GIS developers. :-)

In my opinion, the task list you are mentioning seems quite detailed and I know several GIS professionals that usually do things like the ones you mention. But depending on the background each person has, the tasks list may differ a lot. For example, in my case I am a computer scientist, therefore, I spend my day, mainly, in programming (client apps and other webtools), publishing data/map services or suffering with spatial databases (mostly integration of different data sources). It means that usually, I do not sit in front of my computer and create maps or perform vector/raster analysis: I develop frameworks to make possible other GIS analysis.

But hey, we are GIS professionals too! :D

  • Well, he has scripting on the list. Almost there. But otherwise I agree, writing/testing GIS algorithms and supporting customers is more typical for what I do, than creating beautiful maps. Replying to emails is also a BIG part of the daily work. Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 11:48

Im my "GIS time" (~ half of the working-day) I use

60% day at computer scripting (70% developing software and "GIS recipes", 30% leading with digital cartography); 20% at meetings (skype and presential); 20% learning/refreshing.

Suggestion: review with more people here (and perhaps editing your question) the "typical tasks" list. The consensual list, and perhaps a survey (if here, can you consolidate answers? else you can prepare a page like freeonlinesurveys?), can be used by many others.

GIS professionals, typical day-by-day tasks

PS: cartographers, geographers, programmers, etc. can be "GIS professionals", since use/develop GIS as an usual task.

  • Cartography – creating new maps, or modifying others...

    • Mainly with layout (ex. editing CSS or mapfiles).
    • Mainly with databases (ex. building new layers with new SQL complex queries)
    • Mainly with raw data (ex. editing points, lines and polygons).
  • Research/develop - supposing to producing new things,

    • on GIS software/architecture
    • on Geoprocessing methodologies/recipes
  • Installing and/or Testing GIS tools and methods - no new thing; find, select, prepare and test.

  • Data editing/cleansing - editing or reviewing already created data.

  • Spatial Analysis - finding answers for spatial questions.

  • Meetings

    • With "GIS people"
    • With "non-GIS people"
  • Learning - reading books, journals, visiting GIS.stackexchange.com and another sites; using email, chat, telephone, presential talk, etc.


Somewhat tongue in cheek, but very true for me...as an academic...25% lecturing, 15% searching for interesting stuff and/or answering questions on various forums, 15% marking and the remainder learning new languages and/or software programs related to Geomatics.


Reading XKCD.

No really, 1/4 day in field, 1/4 in meetings, 1/4 day organising data, 1/4 aligning labels in the print composer....

But I'm not a GIS professional and certainly not a professional cartographer.

  • I like the xkcd part, which is very relevant for us who do a lot of Python programming. More field work would be nice, too... For me it's meetings, research, testing, writing reports etc.
    – bhell
    Commented Dec 13, 2012 at 16:37

I classify myself more on the remote sensing side of the fence. Given this, 25% of the day is spent writing and implementing scripts in Matlab, Python and R for processing remote sensing imagery. Another 25% of the day is spent learning, troubleshooting, streamlining and automating processes. Yet another 25% of the day is spent on less exciting tasks such as post-processing and editing data in a GIS. Since I am also in academia, the remainder of the day is spent writing and collaborating with coworkers.


I estimate I spend about 40 percent of my time scripting and debugging said scripting - Roughly 20 percent on cartography/generating maps for field work support or publications, another 20 percent working with GPS units to install data for fielwork or tune applications/data collection strategies. The remaining 20 percent probably goes to sanitizing data that comes in from the field, working with crew chiefs to help them be better GPS/GIS users, and cursing at ESRI products.

I really do very little in terms of spatial analysis - maybe a 1-5 percent out of the last 20 but it is certainly not the focus of my position.


Typical: 75% Developing/Tinkering solutions. 25% Analysis and maps (varies on what projects are in the pipe).

Most of my day is spent in development mode, but there are times when we have some reports that need to get out or a project need for analysis and exhibits where I'll spend 100% of my day doing analyses and map-making for a few days straight. We're without a tech at the moment, so I have been doing more basic map-making than usual as of late.

There is also the occasional training I do for users to help them acquire basic GIS skills prepare exhibits they may need for their workload that doesn't require my time.

Meetings have been trimmed down drastically, so it's not a daily issue, simply something I do every couple of weeks now.

  • 2
    Replace 'Developing' with 'searching for' and you have my typical day...
    – GR_
    Commented Dec 14, 2012 at 7:50

GIS professionals are facing issues created from/by java/.net code or non-geospatial db issues. Most of the time, I have to spend time to find why maps are not displaying in the application and any problem in the application code or application configs.

Also, I am (or finding) answering for "why maps are not displaying"....

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