How to Grow Your GIS Career

What is the best way to grow my career in the geospatial industry?

Many emerging GIS professionals ask themselves this question. But navigating and making the most of a budding career can be daunting. It is especially challenging to do in a technology-driven culture, where things seem to be ever evolving. So how can you manage yourself and your aspirations in a way that leads you down a path of success?

Getting educated on the latest technologies is a start, though lack of funds for training can impede this. Having employers support your professional development can help, though some organizations don’t make this a priority.

Regardless of which side of the coin you’re on, investing in yourself opens up an abundance of opportunities to expand and grow. That’s where getting involved with a professional organization comes in. Many GIS practitioners use them to get to know the geospatial community, explore new career paths, and give back.

The Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA) offers scores of ways to get involved with and learn from the geospatial community. For emerging geospatial practitioners, URISA also provides considerable guidance for how to develop a successful career in the GIS industry.

Various Ways to Get Involved

Participation in a professional organization doesn’t follow a specific formula. Everyone has commitments in their home and work lives, so contributions take many forms, from attending events or volunteering to help with activities to being a member of a committee or accepting a leadership role. Any contribution will pay dividends not only to your professional growth but to the geospatial community as well.

The key to getting involved is to try to find a niche that piques your interest or that can expand your geospatial skill set. At URISA, there are more than 10 committees that members can volunteer with, including the Policy Advisory Committee, the Professional Education Committee, the Marketing Committee, and the Vanguard Cabinet.

A photo of seven young women who are in the Vanguard Cabinet
Young professionals and Vanguard Cabinet members from the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA) pictured in October 2019. From left to right, Caitlyn McNabb, Christina Brunsvold, Rachel Rodriguez (front), Kristin Johnston, Caitlyn Meyer, Alex Lopez-Rogina, and Haley Zehentbauer (back).

Most young professionals are encouraged to participate in the Vanguard Cabinet, an advisory board composed of emerging GIS professionals who organize events and programs targeting those who are new to the field. This group is an excellent introduction to URISA, but keep in mind that it is not the only option for young professionals. Local URISA chapters, which put on their own events, educational workshops, and webinars, also have committees that need members. And if your state or province doesn’t currently have a local URISA chapter, then there’s certainly an opportunity for you to establish one.

Another way to get involved with the geospatial community early in your career is to volunteer with GIS Corps, which provides free GIS services to communities in need. This is a great way to gain experience while giving back. And if you just graduated or aren’t super technical, don’t worry; GIS Corps doesn’t turn people away and gives volunteers all sorts of opportunities to develop new skills.

The Business Value of Professional Development

Ideally, managers and team leads should consider their staff members’ career goals and provide adequate flexibility and opportunities for professional development. Doing so can help managers identify employees who are dedicated to building their technical and nontechnical skill sets and even pinpoint some of them for future leadership roles.

Two additional benefits of giving employees time to engage in professional development are that it helps retain top talent and encourages staff to speak highly of the organization to potential clients and hires. Thus, by helping employees progress alongside their geospatial industry colleagues, companies open themselves up to growing their businesses in new ways.

For emerging GIS professionals who work at organizations that encourage professional development, they should always maintain an open dialogue with their team leads about how much time they can devote to it. This shows respect for the company and the team’s workload.

For those whose employers do not formally recognize the value of professional development, don’t get discouraged! You can still evolve as a GIS professional. You just need to find creative outlets, areas for exploration, and avenues for continued education outside of work.

URISA’s Unique Appeal

Why should emerging geospatial professionals get involved with URISA specifically? Put simply, it’s a worthy investment in yourself and your career.

Being a member of URISA and participating in events exposes young and emerging GIS professionals to other people in the industry—in particular, those with more experience. This not only enables new geospatial practitioners to strengthen their networks, but it also increases their chances of forming mentor-mentee relationships. In addition, URISA helps members build leadership and management skills and learn new and emerging technology.

Many members cite growing their networks as the most rewarding part of being involved with URISA. The organization provides numerous opportunities for members to meet colleagues from around the world, make new friends, share ideas, and find people to work with. Some of these connections could end up having a lasting effect on your career.

At URISA, young professionals gain valuable educational experiences while giving back to the GIS community. And don’t forget, if you’re aspiring to become a certified GIS Professional (GISP) through the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI), being involved in and making contributions to the profession are vital to receiving and maintaining certification.

Make Opportunities Happen

In countless ways, URISA helps emerging GIS professionals improve their skills, enhance their contacts, and reach their career goals. Perhaps more importantly, it also provides them with a way to give back to the GIS community. So young professionals have a lot to gain by becoming members.

Ultimately, you are in the driver’s seat of your career. As an emerging professional in the GIS industry, you can navigate where you want to go by taking advantage of opportunities that exist through URISA. But don’t just wait for these opportunities to present themselves. Go out and make them happen!

Take a look at your future and ask yourself if you know the best way to grow your career in the geospatial industry. If you need help, URISA is always there.

For more information on how to get involved with the geospatial community, email Haley Zehentbauer at or Rachel Rodriguez at

Managing GIS, a column of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA)

About the authors

Haley Zehentbauer

Haley Zehentbauer graduated from Youngstown State University and is a business analyst for the Stark County, Ohio, IT department. She is past president of the Ohio chapter of URISA and the current chair of URISA’s Vanguard Cabinet.

Rachel Rodriguez

Rachel Rodriguez, GISP, has more than 10 years of experience working in the geospatial community for state, local, and tribal governments. She is currently a senior GIS analyst at Los Angeles County and the coordinator for its Countywide Address Management System (CAMS). Rodriguez recently wrapped up her term as chair of URISA’s Vanguard Cabinet.