A technician studies complex maps on a computer monitor

A geographic information systems technician could...


Create lava flow maps for researchers by integrating data from satellite images and GPS lava data loggers. A color-coded lava flow map for an active volcano Aid law enforcement by creating a mapping database to track criminals on probation wearing GPS anklets. A man wearing a GPS ankle bracelet
Create and maintain databases, like Movebank, for researchers to track the migratory paths of animals on the move. Screenshot of a global map with animal migration data Help drivers avoid frustration by updating GPS mapping applications to re-route around traffic jams. A person driving a car on the freeway
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Key Facts & Information

Overview Have you ever been in a new city and needed to figure out how to get from point A to point B? Have you ever tried to figure out the best time of the year to go on vacation so that you have good weather? Many people in these situations turn to a map. Maps are important sources of information, and geographic information systems (GIS) technicians are the professionals who gather data from a variety of sources, store it in databases, and use those databases to make accurate maps. Because maps are used to convey all kinds of information, such as rainfall density or traffic patterns, GIS technicians must be knowledgeable in many different areas of science.
Key Requirements Detail-oriented work habits, good time management skills, analytical and critical thinking skills, interest in maps and geography
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, geometry, algebra II, calculus; if available, geography, computer science, environmental science
Median Salary
Geographic Information Systems Technician
  $86,510
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
  $49,630
Min Wage
  $15,080
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%) In Demand!
Interview
  • Find out how people turn ground-gathered data into usable maps with GIS specialist Christine Maynard. GIS, or Geographic Information Systems, is a mapping technology that allows the user to create and interact with a variety of maps and data sources.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

GIS technicians should continue to take classes and participate in professional seminars in order to keep current in new technologies and practices in their field.

Education and Training

The minimum degree required to gain an entry-level position as a GIS technician is a bachelor's degree in geographic information systems, geography, cartography, or related field. Candidates who have internships in cartography or GIS, or who have experience with mapping or surveying, have an edge when seeking employment.

Nature of the Work

Geographic information systems (GIS) technicians are professionals who convert the information found in topographical maps, geographical surveys, satellite images, fieldwork, and other sources into data that is correlated to location. Because GIS technicians work with organizing and storing large amounts of data, they design and develop databases to house data. They work with scientists and clients to update GIS databases and analyze the data to find out how geographical elements relate. GIS technicians develop computer programs for their employers or clients that query GIS systems for pertinent data and correlations. They can also train their clients to use the computer programs or tools that they create. GIS technicians physically make maps to share the data that they have collected, either from the field, or from querying GIS systems. They share these maps with their employers and their clients.

Wesley Catanzaro describes what he does during a typical day and talks about how maps are used to convey real-world phenomena. Wesley Catanzaro is a geographic information systems analyst with the Department of Public Health in San Francisco.

GIS technicians work on projects across a wide spectrum. For example, GIS technicians are involved in creating navigation systems, real-estate mapping, military surveillance, and site selection for buildings. In order to be able to do their job well, GIS technicians must be familiar with GIS software and hardware tools. GIS technicians must be proficient at drafting, computer-aided design and drafting (CADD), SQL language, and ArcGIS (a suite of GIS software). They use large-format printers, scanners, and plotters.

Work Environment

GIS technicians are usually employed in clean, well-lit, and well-ventilated offices. They work with computers and automated mapping equipment. The work often involves long hours in front of a computer screen, using a keyboard and a mouse. Some GIS professionals collect data via fieldwork outdoors. GIS technicians generally work 40 hours a week. Longer hours and workweeks are not uncommon.

GIS technicians are employed in a variety of industries including the private sector, the military, and the federal government.

On the Job

  • Design or coordinate the development of integrated GIS spatial or non-spatial databases.
  • Design or prepare graphic representations of GIS data using GIS hardware or software applications.
  • Enter data into GIS databases using techniques such as coordinate geometry, keyboard entry of tabular data, manual digitizing of maps, scanning or automatic conversion to vectors, and conversion of other sources of digital data.
  • Maintain or modify existing GIS databases.
  • Perform geospatial data building, modeling, or analysis using advanced spatial analysis, data manipulation, or cartography software.
  • Analyze GIS data to identify spatial relationships or display results of analyses using maps, graphs, or tabular data.
  • Interpret aerial or ortho photographs.
  • Review existing or incoming data for currency, accuracy, usefulness, quality, or completeness of documentation.
  • Transfer or rescale information from original photographs onto maps or other photographs.
  • Select cartographic elements needed for effective presentation of information.
  • Confer with users to analyze, configure, or troubleshoot applications.
  • Read current literature, talk with colleagues, continue education, or participate in professional organizations or conferences to keep abreast of developments in GIS technology, equipment, or systems.
  • Provide technical support to users or clients regarding the maintenance, development, or operation of GIS databases, equipment, or applications.
  • Recommend procedures and equipment or software upgrades to increase data accessibility or ease of use.

Companies That Hire Geographic Information Systems Technicians

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Additional Information

The following page from ESRI shows how GIS information and software is used in different industries, from education to transportation to urban planning.

Sources

Additional Support

We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:

  • Chevron
  • Northrop Grumman
  • Motorola Solutions Foundation
Free science fair projects.