What Does a GIS Analyst Do? (With How to Become One)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated January 20, 2023

Published May 7, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

GIS analysts, or geographical information systems analysts, work with map programming and data management. The resulting digital maps inform land development decisions and infrastructure projects by providing specific details for the geographical layout of an area. By understanding what a GIS analyst does, you can determine if it's a suitable career for your interests. In this article, we answer "What does a GIS analyst do?", explain how to become one, and explore useful skills for this career.

What does a GIS analyst do?

You may wonder, "What does a GIS analyst do?". These professionals work as digital cartographers and use imaging technology to generate virtual maps. They gather broad sets of data using various technologies and design systems to organize and map information. Businesses and governments enlist GIS analysts to provide topological information on a specific area. They explore geographical patterns and trends to predict future geography based on economic or climate changes. GIS analysts gather information from mapping software to create layered maps that include topographical, political, and demographic data.

Related: 22 In-Demand Careers in Science

How to become a GIS analyst

Here's a list of steps you can take if you are interested in becoming a GIS analyst:

1. Earn a relevant degree

The first step to becoming a GIS analyst is to obtain a bachelor's degree in a field related to map sciences. Common majors include computer science and engineering because the requisite courses provide applicable technical training. Earth sciences and geography degrees include relevant cartography information and focus on the applications of mapping technology. Another approach to education is obtaining a two-year software engineering technician diploma. These diplomas train students to write, manipulate, and integrate code. The courses focus on technical applications, including database management and analytic tools.

Related: How to Become a Freelance Software Developer in 9 Steps

2. Learn back-end programming

Learning the programming languages the map industry uses is the next step to becoming a GIS analyst. Popular database languages, such as Python or SQL, enable you to manage information by writing a program. The script takes the input and converts it into usable information that's sorted according to the program's parameters. Front-end design languages are equally important as they log the data visually on the screen. Design programs create imagery, where you can take the data and present it in a clear, visual way. HTML, JavaScript, and CSS programs enable you to turn raw data into a digital map.

3. Gain applicable experience

GIS analyst positions typically require firsthand experience in GPS systems and map tools. You can learn how to use global positioning measurement hardware and surveying equipment, then train in using diverse cartography software such as Carto, Caliper, or ArcGIS. This gives you experience with both the hardware and software components of map science.

Career experience in quantitative analysis and problem solving helps you apply your map sciences skills. Participate in projects that involve data analysis to develop attention to detail and learn industry-standard analysis techniques. Workplace experience communicating complex ideas can help you relay the results of your GIS analysis to supervisors, colleagues, and clients.

Related: Top GIS Certifications to Help Advance Your Career

4. Choose an industry

GIS analysts work in both the public and private sectors by providing relevant geographical information to interested parties. You can work as a member of an engineering firm or as an in-house consultant for corporations. Try to consider how you want to balance your tasks of manual data gathering and analysis to help inform your career direction. For example, urban planning relies more on surveying technology, while an environmental impact study may require more laborious methods of gathering data.

5. Remain technically current

Map sciences applications update regularly to remain compatible with new surveying technology and data analysis tools. To remain competitive as a GIS analyst, routinely assess and update your technical skill set. This involves familiarizing yourself with new GIS software and hardware as it becomes available.

Read more: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

GIS analyst career skills

GIS analyst careers involve collaborative and individual work, so it requires a balanced set of hard and soft skills. Hard skills for this role include your abilities to manage technology, gather information, and analyze it using the software. Soft skills for this role include your ability to work with a team, communicate the results of your analyses, and earn contracts with new clients. To grow your career as a GIS analyst, it helps to develop the following competencies:

IT skills

Short for information technology, this skill set refers to the ability to complete routine software maintenance and provide technical support. IT skills include troubleshooting, data analytics, and understanding standard security protocols. GIS analysts work with technology every day, so it's important to have the skills to interact comfortably with a variety of software and hardware systems.

Database management

Understanding how to navigate and program databases is essential to gathering the data you use as a GIS analyst. The skill involves effectively querying the database for relevant information, sorting it, and presenting it in an organized report. Many GIS analysts program unique database management software to add information layers to existing maps or to reconfigure large sets of data.

Read more: How to Become a Data Architect (With Essential Skills)

Leadership and teamwork

GIS analysts typically work as a member of a team to complete digital mapping contracts. To successfully collaborate, it's important to have a strong work ethic, a positive attitude, and a creative approach. Clearly communicating with colleagues to establish work objectives improves efficiency. Teamwork relies on individual members using their strengths, making delegation a critical part of the collaboration.

Leading a team of GIS analysts involves motivating members, clearly communicating, and providing constructive feedback. Understanding how each participant's experience applies to the project can improve efficiency. Assigning work based on strengths and weaknesses can help your team use their strengths and developing new competencies by participating in the project.

Imagery

A major component of map analysis involves the visual interpretation of raw data. GIS analysts program interactive technology, including variable tables, topology fixing, cataloguing, and metadata management. The analyst prepares reports that detail this information numerically, textually, and visually. Understanding how to incorporate responsive imagery that's appealing to users helps analysts remain competitive. Accurately classifying images, integrating different sensing equipment, and photogrammetry skills show you can incorporate visuals into your systems. By exploring machine learning and the Internet of Things, GIS analysts find new ways to create maps and integrate information.

Communication

Successful communication involves clearly relaying a message through active listening and efficient speaking. You can learn to base your method of communication on the content and your audience to develop effective communication skills. As maps organize large sets of information in a visual manner, incorporating text and iconography, clear communication skills can help you develop comprehensive maps that contain ample information.

Portfolio development

Your portfolio is a critical tool that helps prove the information on your resume. Learning how to maintain a current portfolio can help increase your likelihood of earning a promotion at work or gaining new clients. Portfolio management involves categorizing your skills and citing specific experiences that prove your knowledge. You can use the following portfolio sections as a reference:

Overview

An overview section provides a summary of your portfolio, either in text or as an infographic. Incorporating visual components can help highlight your most significant achievements. Keep the information concise to encourage the reader to continue reviewing the content of your portfolio.

Project highlights

The project highlights section of your portfolio lists your project titles and labels each item using tags. The tags categorize your GIS analysis projects with specific skills so readers can filter and sort your projects. For instance, if the prospective employer wants to see a specific example of your programming skills using Python, they can navigate to the Python tag to see all the related projects in your portfolio.

Software

There are many map systems applications, and some employers have software preferences. Organizing your portfolio according to the technology in each project shows you understand how to use a wide range of techniques. Try to incorporate a list of the software types you know, focusing on the main four software types:

  • System software

  • Programming software

  • Application software

  • Driver software

Be sure to provide specific examples for each type of GIS analysis software you reference.

Skills

Tagging your GIS analyst skills using a map structure gives your portfolio an experiential component. By itemizing your technical abilities within the portfolio, you can show how you practically apply those competencies in different situations, such as:

  • Front-end development

  • Database development

  • Full-stack development

  • Cloud computing

  • Mobile development

Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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