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GIS in Any Field: How to Get Started

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In the early 1960s Dr. Roger Tomlinson developed the Canada Geographic Information System. The first of its kind, CGIS was used to map rural land and analyze data for the Canada Land Inventory.

Since then GIS has expanded in both technology and application to include innumerable uses in just about any field. With GIS archaeologists can plot the locations of artifacts in a dig, environmentalists can measure natural resources, and businesses can analyze customer locations and needs. Governments can use GIS in areas ranging from roadwork to defense and intelligence. The University Consortium for Geographic Information Science lists more than 10 disciplines that use GIS technology for research and analysis, but it can actually be used for just about anything that involves spatial information.

As GIS applications continue to grow, so does the need for GIS professionals, but whether you’re interested in conservation and environmentalism or architecture and engineering, thorough education and training in GIS are crucial to a successful career.

The best conduit to success is higher education. Many colleges and universities offer degree and certificate programs in GIS. An education in GIS is essential, whether you decide to focus on it in a college program or to incorporate it into another related specialization. It is important to grasp basic concepts and build on them before attempting to jump into a career.

Introductory courses in a degree or certificate program should include subjects such as cartography, GIS, database management, and programming. If you know what field you want to go into, you should research the software that is most commonly employed in that area, as different programs have different advantages and disadvantages for specific purposes. With the basics under your belt, you can try looking for an internship in your area of interest. This will give you a chance to have some hands-on experience and cultivate important contacts.

Once you have received the proper education and have gained some concrete experience, you can start looking for a job. Anyone interested in a GIS career must possess certain skills and qualifications. Excellent information technology skills are a must. According to GeoCommunity, an online source on geospatial careers, employers also often look for someone with knowledge in at least two GIS software packages. The most widely used software is ArcGIS, which is produced by ESRI. The second runner-up is MapInfo, according to GIS Lounge, another online source for GIS information.

Lastly, one of the most important things someone working in GIS technology, or any technology for that matter, can do is stay updated. Subscribe to Directions Magazine, a source for geospatial technology news from around the world, and GeoCommunity. Also, if you receive certification from the Geographic Information System Certification Institute, you will be required to be recertified every five years. The GISCI has a system whereby GIS professionals need to accumulate 75 points over the course of five years in areas including education, professional experience, and contributions to the profession. Staying up to date in any field of technology is absolutely essential, whether you’re a newcomer to the field or a seasoned professional trying to compete with the young graduates flooding every area of the job market.
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