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Careers in Geographic Information Systems

Photo of a man loking at GIS program output on computer monitors

What Is GIS? How Is the Technology Used?

Geographic information systems (GIS) is a technology that provides a sophisticated way to produce and analyze maps required to manage the nation’s communities, industries and governments from local to federal levels. Once considered just a process used to create a simple physical map, GIS technology today is an integral part of the management of a broad range of sectors.

GIS is one of three technologies that falls under the broad umbrella of geospatial technology, along with global positioning satellite (GPS) technology and remote sensing (RS) technology. It uses specialized computer software to link items displayed on a map with records in a database.

Typically, a geographic information system consists of three major components:

  • Database of geospatial and thematic data (flood data, housing data, traffic data, etc.)
  • A capacity to model or analyze the data spatially
  • Graphical display capability

According to the Geospatial Information and Technology Association (GITA), 70 to 80 percent of the information managed by business is connected to a specific location — an address, street, intersection or coordinate — putting geospatial technology into every corner of the business world.

Because the technology’s uses are so widespread and diverse, the geospatial market is growing at an annual rate of almost 35 percent, and its commercial subsection is expanding at a phenomenal rate of 100 percent each year. See a list of major GIS users and their applications.

What Do GIS Professionals and Analysts Do?

The U.S. Department of Labor describes GIS analysts as

“professionals who turn geographic data into maps and decision-making tools. They create large databases of geographic information and use them to solve problems. GIS analysts often specialize in one of three major activities:

  • Making maps
  • Combining mapmaking with specialized analysis
  • Developing GIS software

In addition to their computer applications and databases, GIS analysts use other specialized tools in their work, including multidimensional graphic display devices and equipment.”

In-Demand Career Choices

America’s Career Infonet gives detailed information about the skills, abilities, work activities and recommended education for jobs in fields using GIS technology which — depending on your level of continued education — may include:

Job Median Hourly Rate Median Annual Salary Projected Job Growth Through 2018
Civil engineering technicians $18.21 $37,900 +11%
Civil engineers $38.34 $79,700 +22%
Engineering technicians $25.60 $53,200 +18%
Industrial engineering technicians $24.66 $51,300 +22%
Industrial engineers $38.68 $80,500 +34%
Mechanical engineers $40.23 $83,700 +18%
Petroleum engineers $56.69 $117,900 +28%
Surveying and mapping technicians $15.55 $32,300 +22%
Surveyors $22.85 $47,500 +25%