GIS and Beyond!
A column from members of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association
Oftentimes, when young professionals coming out of college utter the words, "I'm pursuing a job in GIS," many friends and family become instantly confused. I am no different. While I was in school, my own friends and family could not understand why I was going from a secure job focus in secondary education to a focus in something no one had ever heard of.
GIS has been nothing but a blessing in my career. Having a love of maps and how the world works and making it into a creative and innovative career move has brought many great opportunities to me and continues to even now.
Many young professionals exiting college just know GIS as a geography discipline, or at least I did. They assume that for the next 30 years of their life, they will either help a municipality do city planning and zoning, collect water samples and save wetlands with a conservation group, or find their way into teaching geography in a middle school. In 2014, that could be the farthest from the truth!
GIS has become one of the largest arenas and skills in analyzing truly how the world works—from utility companies to business to government to computer software companies. If you love data and how the world is changed by it on a grand scale, GIS is a discipline that now allows you to expand this passion into many industries. With experience in the utilities, telecommunications, and gaming industries, I have been able to not only learn where GIS can be utilized but also how it can solve greater public and private sector problems without it being strictly limited to a geography or environmental focus.
The next question for young professionals coming out of college should be, "If I don't want to focus strictly in geography, how do I gain greater knowledge to get GIS jobs in other disciplines?" One route I recommend is adopting, if you haven't already, the fact that geography affects every walk of life. Having geography influencing how the world works on a grand scale allows you to think of how GIS can integrate into the many industries throughout peoples' professional careers. In the telecom world, for example, the location of a tower will affect what type of service you receive on your phone or through your Internet service. In terms of utilities, locating electric and gas lines to not be interfered with by trees and other obstacles affects the service of these resources to customers. If you are developing a game with the intention of referencing real-time landscape geography, there is no question GIS can be a major player. The list of industries goes on, but knowing that GIS and geography touch on many different categories in life helps to explain that your very niche skill set can be very exciting when it comes to paving the way for your career.
Another thing to consider is what kind of job would make you happy on a daily basis. Many would look confused wondering how this applies to just having a job in GIS. It's very valid and important not only for your career but also the longevity of GIS as a discipline in the professional world. If you are not passionate about GIS and your job, the field of GIS remains limited. The purpose of GIS in the world today is not to solve geography problems. It is there to ask questions, push possibilities, and explain something that is not necessarily GIS-centric. GIS simply is the tool to help solve the problem or get to the answer more easily.
To gain perspective of how GIS is integrated in small, medium, and large businesses/agencies throughout all industries is tough. One thing that is in your court is that you are the "specialist," even if you are just entering the work force. This means that you are in a very niche skill set that many employers both don't understand and may not be well versed in. So for those who have no idea what GIS is, this gives you the opportunity to sell yourself as an employee and possibly bring something new and innovative to that business. There is nothing limiting you from doing on-site visits to companies/agencies (using business etiquette, of course) to research companies, ask questions, and meet the personnel that already work there. One note: do your research of the company before going blindly into a visit. Employers who are familiar with GIS as a technology will find you to be a commodity because, even though you are new to the work force, you hold a unique skill set today!
As a prospective GIS analyst, engineer, or technician, congratulations on taking a risk and graduating in a focus that is still a mystery to some and a desire for others. Congratulations on graduating in something that you are passionate about! Take that passion to pave the way (much like you did in college) to find the job that you are equally passionate about. The reward will not only satisfy your career right off the bat but will also increase the longevity of a still niche but very interesting field!
About the Author
Jennifer Egan was born and raised in Washington State. She graduated from Western Washington University with the intent of going into secondary education in social studies but chose to pursue a career in GIS instead. Now she is in her eighth year of GIS, and her career has covered multiple industries. She has enjoyed working in the utilities, gaming, and wireless industries, with wireless being her overwhelming favorite. The ability that GIS has to integrate into a number of industries is what drives her most, because GIS is a universal tool (although geographic-centric in many cases) to help people understand and articulate the world in a different way, unlike any other specialty skill sets. Looking into the future, she is excited to be soon obtaining her GISP certification and continuing to add skills to her GIS resumé and contribute to the GIS community.
For more information, contact Jennifer Egan.