I have a question regarding GIS certification.

My main goal is to develop GIS web applications. Currently I am a developer with over 20 years building software and for the past 10 building web application using mostly Java on the server and HTML/Javascript/CSS on the client. I also have a lot of experience with data integration.

I am currently enrolled in the Penn State's Postbaccalaureate Graphical Information System program. I just completed the first course this week and there are an 4 additional classes after that. The first course was very good and informative and I feel I learned a lot of background knowledge in the GIS field. I am trying to decide if I should continue on with the additional classes and complete the program.

Two reasons why I am reluctant to continue: 1) Not sure if this is the best way for me to get into the GIS industry given I want to develop in the field 2) The classes are expensive

  • For any one interested in the content of the course, the curriculum can be found at <worldcampus.psu.edu/MasterinGIS_curriculum.shtml> with links to some of the actual courses at <open.ems.psu.edu/courseware>. I have to declare an interest as I work for this programme.
    – Ian Turton
    Commented Dec 23, 2010 at 15:36
  • the phrase "I am currently enrolled" is repeated. I think the first occurrence is there by mistake and can be deleted :) Commented Dec 24, 2010 at 19:36

5 Answers 5


If all you want to do is produce Web-GIS applications then I'd recommend you take my GEOG585 course "Open Web Mapping" (https://www.e-education.psu.edu/geog585/). But I have to say that you may well benefit from the other courses in the certificate to help you get up to speed in why geography is harder than it looks. I see a lot of web development experts and expert programmers asking questions on this forum and other lists which show that they just don't get the geographic concepts they are trying to implement. I suspect that nearly all of us could point to web map apps that really would work better (at all?) if the developers had asked a geographer at some point.

  • 6
    +1. Bravo. You could easily replace "geographer" by "GI scientist" or "spatial statistician" or "geodesist" with equal validity. The main points are (a) there's much more to using geospatial data effectively than just getting them onto a server, mashing them into Web maps, or learning the latest ESRI technology; and (b) you're unlikely to learn about (a) and all the traps and pitfalls it implies "out in the field" or on your own.
    – whuber
    Commented Dec 23, 2010 at 16:26
  • 2
    I'm old school to me Geographer includes GI Scientist and Spatial Statistician.
    – Ian Turton
    Commented Dec 23, 2010 at 18:11

Personally think that for development work, there's not too much a programmer can get from a GIS course, unless the course is run specifically for Computer Science students (which is rare). My learning (coming from a similar background to yours with lesser experience at the time) after enrolling in a Master's course was applied physics, spatial/locational modelling and statistical theory used in Remote Sensing amd Urban planning. It was all very interesting then, but I haven't used it since. Most of the work in GIS I have done has been standard IT work with basic GIS data model concepts involved. However, one of the biggest benifits of doing a Master's for me was learning how to write and present better and more confidently, which is a transferrable skill.

Questions you might want to ask yourself : Do you prefer open-source development or would you rather work with vendors such ESRI/Manifold/MapInfo etc.?

My personal choice for programming was open source tools and I picked up GIS specific Java tools such as JTS/GeoTools etc on my own and more recently GeoServer/gdal.

Do you prefer Desktop or web?

web development jobs are harder to find and the user base can be hard to please as they are used to highly interactive desktop apps

What field would you like to work in - government, military, environment?

By far the biggest advantages of a GIS career is opens up avenues into fields you might not have considered or had access to with just an IT background

Hope this helps


  • 1
    Those are all great questions. Open source is my preferred route just because I've been an open source developer most of my development career. I prefer the web model over desktop model mostly because my that is where my skills are and I big believer in the remote computing/cloud technologies. Commented Dec 24, 2010 at 13:02
  • I think the courses would be a definite plus in the job market. In my experience it takes a significant amount of work to get spatial concepts across to programmers without spatial background or experience. Some firms would jump at the guy with both real programming experience and a grounding in the particulars of geospatial tools.
    – Tim Rourke
    Commented Jan 3, 2011 at 20:29

Is the Penn State Program teaching classes according to the test?

I have been working with ESRI's software in the industry for almost 3 years, and I really feel like this certification would help me toward my goal of being a high level GIS developer.

My personal rule of thumb is that you get your best education out in the field. However, it sounds like the Penn State program may have some information that would be very useful to you, plus you get the degree. If it adds to your ability to get GIS certification, that is definitely a plus.


  • 1
    I do have the same feeling about the Penn State course. I am learning new things about the GIS and mapping I would never pick up in developing technology. But, $2,000 per class is quite a bit of money, for me, and the time required to complete it is a lot. I've always pursued improving my career via understanding new technologies. Now I am trying more to understand the GIS vertical. Thanks for your thoughts. Commented Dec 24, 2010 at 13:08

Aim to meet the criteria for the Esri Certification for Web Developer Professional, and ull be very desirable.

  • 3
    Am I missing something or is this a vaporware certification?
    – Ian Turton
    Commented Dec 23, 2010 at 18:27
  • 1
    ESRI has worked very hard with GISC to incorporate the main intent of GISP and give it more validity. Definitely not vaporware. It may not be the software you are using but it is considered a major player along with being very flexible. I am all about open gis software and serverware. The ESRI cert will become a powerful emplyment/advancement tool especially for employer/employees who want quantifiable measures as to capability, and comprehension for each level of ESRI cert. I agree with both answers above Seth, and Simon. I have proof at my existing employment!
    – Brad Nesom
    Commented Dec 23, 2010 at 21:23
  • 2
    Esri seems to be the leader in the GIS space, but I would rather work in the open source side of GIS mostly because you get access to the code you are using. Commented Dec 24, 2010 at 13:05
  • Source code for Esri's Silverlight Toolkit is available esrisilverlight.codeplex.com If it is possible to become an active contributor (?), it might be a good career move. Commented Jan 3, 2011 at 16:19
  • 1
    From the link: "This certification is currently in development and is subject to change."
    – Tim Rourke
    Commented Jan 3, 2011 at 20:21

Have you seen this question, Switching career from web application to GIS developer??

I believe that if you're a strong developer who learns fast, you're a very attractive proposition for GIS jobs as is. I'd suggest that you're better off spending your money on going to a GIS developer conference or two than education, given your current objectives.

  • 1
    thank you I've feel I have good software skills to bring to the table and working in open source is what I prefer over commercial products. One major reason I am contemplating taking this class is if I am tasked with getting something done I will do it. If I say I am going to work with open source tools and build a widget it does not always get done. Personality flaw. Thanks Peter Commented Dec 31, 2010 at 15:31

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