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What Happened to the GIS Analyst?


New data capture devices. New data sources. New media. New types of distribution. All of these have a foundation in the realm of GIS development and technology and will not go away anytime soon. There will always be something new around the corner that’ll require some sort of technical/computer programming know-how in relation to GIS.

However, what happened to the GIS analyst? Plenty of developers can create a mobile device application that collects geo-locations of people who bought coffee this morning and then display their locations on a map. So what? What good is that data? Will it improve society and tell us more about ourselves? Where is the analysis? Do not misunderstand. These new Web 2.0/NeoGeo data collection and display applications are awesome. They’ve driven the GIS industry to new and interesting places. But how can we have all these great new data and applications and no new analysts?

….To continue with this post and find the answers to these interesting questions along with tons of other related material, check out Careers in GIS: an Unfiltered Guide to Finding a GIS Job as an eBook or paperback!

23 Responses to “What Happened to the GIS Analyst?”

  • Dina Jambi says:

    Hi, I have an M.Sc in GIS, and I’m facing the same problem. Even if I chose these positions, the problem shows up when the firms don’t use the GIS technology. The developing countries still use it only in urban planning. I’m interested by GIS and Public Health. It’s critical decision but taking more time and spending more money to improve our skills in many other fields it will be sometimes lost in our concentration.

  • Caitlin says:

    Good points. It’s important for job seekers to be creative in their job searches. I’ve added your site as a resource on GIS Lounge’s GIS Career Resources page: http://gislounge.com/gis-career-resources/

  • Joe h. Pang says:

    Strongly agree. My primary strength/interest falls in retail analysis. In the past few years I have seen GIS Analyst positions being disguised into Marketing Analysts, Business Analysts, I have even seen an ad seeking a Flight Operations Analyst! I would like to point out 2 potential (one deadly) issues that may arise.

    1) It is much harder for us geomatician to notice a position we see fit in our job search. Our skills has been long blended into the IT category, recently I have seen GIS related position found in other skills category as well. It really takes twice the effort for us just to locate the right job ads.

    2) It creates a confusion to the HR (assuming the company is not focused in the geomatics business). I once went to an interview for a Business Analyst (primarily responsible to locate the best site for new stores) and I found myself competing with people with zero geomatics background. They got hired simply because they were previously Business Analysts as well, and my past title was only a GIS Tech.

  • Change is constant, many such tags have been changing, nothing to do with the title, what yo do matters.u

  • John Linehan, GISP says:

    What is a GIS Analyst? They are a blend of cartographer, database administrator, query analyst, programmer, and designer as well as system architect. How do you fit all that into a simple title? HR and headhunters have a common list of titles, such as business analyst or developer that they simply apply if you hit one or more of the above talents because it’s something that fits them when broadcasting a job, but unfortunately not you. This is more of a dream, but what is needed is a published (perhaps on a wiki site) set of titles with common tasks used in the GIS industry that can be referenced by everyone for a better fitting job title. I would also like to see the term GIS Analyst morphed into Spatial Analyst. The term GIS on job listings has become a catch-all that it’s more synonymous with IT functions than geomatics. Unfortunately, the canned forms and titles currently used in the HR industry do not yet recognize spatial as a subject. Meanwhile, we in the industry become more specialized into sub-fields of the GIS world, that keeping our job titles representative of our work has become more difficult.

  • Shaimaa Ahmed says:

    It is important nowdays to combines GIS with another field such as health r urban planning. what ever discpline you had chosen to combine with GIS will change as you grow in your profission. I think that what attract my attenstion to GIS from the beginning that you always learn something new. the trick is to have a vision of what next in your market or society. you get a course or two in that field, you network and here you go.

    I think the challenge for developing country is different from USA. In the third world, people do not like to share information or learn something new thus I think GIS market there will be limited to the hands of discion making and forgin company.

    Shaimaa Ahmed
    MA in GIS from Clark University

  • Todd Schuble says:

    Stay tuned to Careers in GIS. There is a blog post coming up that addresses this very issue of international GIS jobs.

  • I don’t see a fall off in Analyst/Technicians positions; I see a rise in non-analytical GIS (or geo data) use. I think the trap that many of you are falling into is thinking of GIS as a career as opposed to a skill set. The broad nature of geographic analysis is such that GIS will inevitably be wedded to many different fields and incorporated into a variety of job descriptions. Ideally every GIS user would have a solid background in Geography, Cartography GIS and whatever other field it is that they are interested in applying GIS to (Geology, Conservation, Medicine etc.). In the end, the increase in one-dimensional geo-fluff that’s getting created under the guise of GIS or Geography right now only serves to emphasize the power and usefulness of real geographic analysis.

    To be honest, as a Geographer and Cartographer, I’m a little amused at the notion of GIS professionals looking around the market place and wondering how it can move forward with a workforce that isn’t training to do analysis with the software. Where as I have been wondering for some time how GIS Analyst’s and Technician’s can get away with so little geographic and cartographic background. 😉

  • Kajori Parial says:

    Hi all!
    The discussion topic is very relevant.thanks for that. However I think mere discussion will not help. we really need to take steps such that our message and comments can be communicated to the right person or department.
    as the group is international so everyone needs to follow up his or her respective country. else we who are in this comparatively new field will always remain a beginner far away from reaching our coveted destination as per our potential.
    Like Dina, my self who is interested in GIS application in Disaster Management and many more will really loose their enthusiasm in due course without proper opportunity at right time.please do think over.may be many of us in this group are having immense potential but with a very limited scope!

  • All GIS professionals need to supplement their GIS skills and training with complimentary business skills and back those up with solid commercial awareness. The analyst skill set is still very much in demand but has become a little industry specific (e.g. water, health, local government and so on) although these skills should be easily transferrable.

    In a market where business benefit and added value needs to be demonstrated, GIS professionals need to be delivery focused and know that technology is not the solution but the application of the appropriate technology will solve the problem. The ability to integrate information and the creators of the information is key.

    Having done many interviews of GIS professionals this year, my main concern is the quality of the qualifications. A one year Masters and expecting a top salary is quickly found out when the core skills and data understanding is absent.

    Dirty data still persists so don’t believe everything you see espcially if it’s mashed up from unknown sources.

  • Hi, on the subject of analysis spatial, I think a key issue is the ignorance of the potential of GI-Science versus GIS-technology by the management teams of organizations.

    Today we are overwhelmed by position of supremacy of geodata. Society lives in a state characterized by slogan ‘Geo-data inside’. We are anchored in large masses of data without evolution towards a new era in which the spatial analyst is the next ‘lead ahead’.

    This radical change in perspective, against the spatial data, is not easy. It requires a certain maturity on the part of the management teams of organizations. They have to know the capabilities afforded by GIS in decision making.

    The current status of the potential lack of GI-Science is not by chance. It may be due to a deficit of disclosure about the possibilities of spatial analysis.

    If they do not know which questions can be formulated, it is difficult that can reply from the spatial analysis. In these times of crisis, spatial analysis have an opportunity of showing their potential.

    How can improve this situation?.Perhaps achieving greater visibility on the web of the achievements and results of some spatial analysis. Geo-blogs and social networks can contribute to the growth of a greater demand for spatial analysis.

  • Charnel Hill-George says:

    After being a Tribal GIS Manager and fostering GIS tools and information for years as a both a spatial data generator to a client of the systems created since then, the information management idea itself is not fully realized but is making progress. For me the term Analyst refers to a technical position for a decision maker using the information for policy, enforcement, or mitigation.
    In 1998 a personal choice was needed made to pursue graduate studies that included GIS. Going one step further from a Geography/GISc degree offered at South Dakota State University was a bigger step.
    Instead of a degree in Geospatial Engineering in the College of Arts and Science (post Masters) was to pick a study area of expertise as a PhD–in a now closed, inter-disciplinary degree program called Atmospheric, Environmental, and Water Resources (AEWR)–in the College of Engineering at SDSU.
    No matter what subject matter GIS is actually use for, the GIS field is like the Word Processing jobs back in a day, think Boeing in 1985. Uses in my work e.g., emergency management, transportation planning, zoning, or tribal realty; must still be backed up by surveyor work, CAD files, or somebody responsible for the accuracy of the base data.
    My analyses are limited by precision and accuracy in GIS or developed models but the conclusions are still based on my qualifications in a specific engineering field, not IT.
    The GIS expertise is so handy for a local government planner, but it is still a means. Advance a career in a professional field with GIS or IT but the window is closing on GIS Analyst like Word Processor did years ago.

  • John Corbett says:

    Re-read the comment from David Medeiros – this is right on…
    GIS is a skill set not a career! The fallicy of the ‘GIS’ degree is that the user needs a GIS. Location intelligence is perhaps a better term for what is needed. There is no question that just about every business would benefit from the infusion of LI thought leadership – every sale happens somewhere. That location signal enables integration with every other bit of data from marketing spend to demographic profiling and then prediction. You can even link weather to the sale trend!

    Location Intelligence first – learn why ‘geo’ is so valuable. The ‘how’ will evolve. For some, yes, GIS software will be needed – for most, knowing the value proposition for the company will lead to acquisition of the appropriate part of the geo-tech. A full featured GIS is rarely the solution – most of the features simply have no value to the business challenge.

  • David Lok says:

    I am very glad to find a forum to talk about this – a question that seems so hard to answer even by many professionals in the field; definitely for me.

    I think there are a few problems.

    First, 100% pure GIS-centric positions are very limited. Most GIS positions are hybrid in nature requiring or mixing with other skill sets.

    Second, GIS positions seldom viewed as a stand-alone function but rather as an application. Thus, when we talk about GIS analyst position, we almost have to talk about GIS of which industry and for what applications?

    Third, many companies do not view GIS as a separate function or professional discipline but rather as add-on to the core position functions. Therefore, many GIS positions are classified under other categories. Many companies push the functional staffs to pick up GIS skills rather than hiring new GIS professional.

    Four, GIS functions rest on other core functions and this immediately suggests the compulsory requirements of the vertical functions of the core functions. For a planning department, the GIS staff is expected to have planning knowledge. Many companies consider being economical to train functional staff to act as GIS analyst rather than hire a GIS staff and train the staff on the core business.

    Five, GIS requires substantial investment in IT and database, in setup and maintenance (to be worthwhile and functional). This operating scale and high cost barrier makes most GIS functions are in government sector and perhaps only in a handful private companies. This limits the adaptation of GIS analysis functions in commercial world.

    Six many companies do not understand the power of GIS and how its applications can help the company bottom line. To use GIS, the company needs preprimary data for GIS. Many companies do no have such data and is not GIS ready. It becomes difficult for senior management to see and justify the creation of GIS position in the organization. Many companies still think GIS is mapping.

    There are different levels and direction in using GIS. It ranges from GIS data creation, GIS data collection and editing, GIS and database administration, GIS spatial analysis, GIS developer/programmer, GIS Power user, to GIS causal user and GIS data Viewer. If you look at all these functions, you can see how hard to define what GIS function in an organization.

    I have many years professional GIS working experience, many years in government sectors -started from GIS spatial analysis to GIS data collection, editing and creation. I have some exposure in integration GIS technology with other technologies such as API, aerial imagery, web technology, oracle database and data modeling. I also have business background, but now working in engineering field with good exposure in CADD as well. Yet, with all these exposure for these years, I still not sure what is the edge all my exposures would bring – especially in private sector?

    I have seen the popularity of GIS grows, but not in new GIS position openings. I have seen the function of GIS grows within the department but in an informal and decentralized settings rather than growing into a pure GIS analyst position.

    My worry is that would GIS much like Web technology that it starts as a professional discipline but now grows to very informal. I learned to write HTML codes probably 6 to 7 years ago, but now everyone is a bloger, and almost everyone has a web page, and every company has a web site.
    What should we do as a GIS professional?

  • Charnel Hill-George says:

    The skill set definition worked for me. I would not have otherwise commented. The need to adapt for the growth in technology generally means that those whom have invested time and effort in the spatial arena should be more useful in many ways than non-users. Government responsibilities are well met by the technologies IF they have the people to make it work. Careers in GIS … how about Careers with GIS.

  • Kalai says:


    Trends have been changing, and the new trends have diverted the skilled professional into non-perishable business lines such as retails, service business such as HVAC,Plumbing,Piping designing and finally into Engineering sectors.
    A day will come/came when skilled GIS related specialist will be in scarce..This is my analysis from the recent time.


  • Cameron Wallace says:

    The technology is not that important anymore. I can do some reasonable analyses using free packages such as ArcGIS Explorer and Google Earth, or on-line using web maps (check out iMap BC)…

    The important part is the mix of disciplines, as stated above. “GIS” Jobs are becoming the realm of the developer. As the technology becomes more and more accessible, it becomes increasingly important to have GIS skills in combination with something else, to become the XXXX Analyst.

    This is not to discount GIS. Without this skill-set, many of these multi-disciplinary positions become limited or impossible.

    Sometimes this means a stronger focus on GIS Skills, sometimes it means a stronger focus on the other skill in question. The most impressive thing these days is that people with little or no GIS training, are able to do more and more GIS Analysis using these tools, ensuring the future of GIS specialists and developers, while allowing people to find their place in an increasing spectrum of positions/titles/disciplines.

    Welcome to the messy not so easy to define future! Gotta love it.

  • I was reading your posts and I work for a company that sepcializes in GIS. We are currently seeking a GIS Analyst for our office in McLean, VA. Send your resume/cover letter and requirements for consideration.

  • David says:


    I have been in the GIS Industry for over 12 years and have seen what was a very painful process for converting data become very streamlined. Due to the increase of technology the need for someone with a geography background and gis skills is no longer needed. Much of the changes have been accelerated due to recent economic changes. Do more with less. What will happen unfortunately is that consumers will have little understanding how the data was created. I am already seeing this occuring.


  • Anjitha Senarath says:

    David is spot on

    I believe GIS is technical knowledge for future and you must have other domain knowledge such as agriculture, hydrology,biology… etc.Multiple skills are important for future and decision making and project management skills could lead to a be a bright star among others.
    I have seen rapid improvement of opensource GIS software and tools and any one can download and implement GIS solutions at no cost.
    If you area specialist in GIS then add domain knowledge you prefer most.


  • Nick says:

    I would like to know how many undergraduate or graduate programs actually focus strictly on the technical aspects of GIS and spatial analysis. My scholarly training has always emphasized a multi-disciplinary approach. I recently talked to a gentleman that was hired as a GIS manager at an environmental research agency and his background was in strictly computer science. I told him I was jealous of his programming skills and said I was nervous about competition from people like him for GIS-related positions. He told me I shouldn’t worry because people like me (more research an analysis oriented)are the thinkers, and people like him are just there to do what they are told by the thinkers. I hope he’s right.

  • Mark says:

    I also have an MSc in GIS and am having a big problem finding any GIS related work….and I have 20 years of related experience too. The problem, I find, is that there are too many organizations (like ESRI) that publish what they feel are the skill sets that are required for GIS professionals today. These lists are very explicit and inclusive; however, the problem is that these are just lists of skills that individually can be applied to various GIS related jobs….they are meant to be all inclusive lists of mandatory skills that everyone needs to possess to find meaningful employment. For someone to have ALL of those skills incredibly unrealistic, if not nonexistent.

    People who graduate from a GIS program (and I mean a GIS program that teaches GIS principles and understanding….not a program that just teaches you how to use ArcGIS) will be able to adapt to whatever skills the employer needs. That is why those programs were implemented. Graduates of these programs are typically very good at learning new skills, software, and applications…that is how they were taught.

    However, today employers may need a systems administrator who can install GIS software on their server and they think that this is a GIS job….so they list all of the GIS skills they want this person to have. This is so wrong. Employers that do this are eliminating thousands of professionals who can do the job in their sleep.

    Also, most developers are just that, “programmers” who can design, implement, and relate applications to databases. I have worked with these people on multiple projects, and I have found few (if any) who would know how to actually analyze any data using a GIS. They certainly understand the GIS software and how it connects to data etc, but they do not understand the basic geography that is so important when you need to analyze the data. In fact, the last time I asked a developer to show me how the software was used by a GIS user the response was, “hey, that’s not my job”.

    The problem is that 90% of the employers, and 99% of the recruiters seeking candidates to fill these roles have no clue what a GIS person even does. They are looking for “keywords” on someone’s résumé that matches what the employer thinks they need, and that’s it. This means that the employer is missing out on dozens, perhaps hundreds, of qualified candidates that could easily fill their needs, and probably all do a better job than the candidate who happened to have 2 or 3 of the keywords they were seeking.

    I mean really, does it really take a seasoned GIS professional more than a day to learn how a different GIS software needs to be applied to a specific GIS function? When did “button pushing” become so much more important than understanding GIS principles and procedures? When did it become more desirable to hire someone who knows nothing about GIS, but has learned how to make a map come out of the plotter, over someone who can teach GIS to virtually anyone, but may have only ever used MapInfo, and not ArcGIS? Does the employer and recruiter actually believe that this person could not learn how ArcGIS functions in a day or two? It has never been about what buttons you know how to push….but employers and recruiters all seem to think that this is what it’s all about.

    These are probably the same employers who will change their GIS platform as a part of a new corporate direction, and then promptly fire all of their GIS staff because they have never turned on the new system before, even though they could all be come experts using that new software in a week.

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