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What Exactly Is a GIS Specialist?

GIS Specialist Career

What Is a GIS Specialist?

A GIS specialist is well-rounded in all areas of GIS. In particular, they specialize in analysis, cartography, and data management.

There’s an expectation that each GIS specialist is multi-disciplinary. For example, they can automate with ModelBuilder or by building Python scripts. And they can handle almost any task thrown at them.

Often the case, GIS specialists have the same roles and responsibilities as GIS analysts. But the only difference is just the job title.

Today, let’s explore the career of a GIS specialist. And are they really that special?

GIS Specialist Job Description

If you look at the GIS specialist job description, it has some common themes. For example, most GIS specialist jobs include the following skill sets:

  • TECHNICAL EXPERTISE: They act as a technical expert in Geographic Information Systems. No matter the task, GIS specialists go above and beyond expectations. For example, it can even include database administrator, programming, and IT-related roles.
  • DATA MAINTENANCE: The maintenance and creation of geographic data is a staple in GIS. Without spatial data, there is no GIS. By following and building guidelines, GIS specialists act as the primary data custodian. To such a degree, this maintains accuracy and quality in the organization.
  • MAPPING: Mapping is the lifeblood of visualization in GIS. As a GIS specialist, there is a fair dose of building cartographic output. By applying the principles of cartography, you won’t only produce paper maps. But you will develop web maps for online usage too.
  • SCRIPTING LANGUAGES: Nowadays, it’s common to see coding experience in GIS specialist job descriptions. By using scripting languages, you can automate workflow and improve productivity. The most frequent are Python, JavaScript, and VB.

How much do GIS specialists make?

The geographical information systems (GIS) mapping field is growing by leaps and bounds, and opportunities for GIS specialists are increasing for those who get the education and training to take advantage of these opportunities.

GIS Salary Pyramid

The salaries for GIS specialists vary dramatically depending on the level of experience, location, and the type of industry the employee is working in.

But GIS specialists can command a sizeable income with an average salary of approximately $64,000. This puts them in the mid-range tier for earning potential.

Are GIS specialists in demand?

The graph below displays the number of GIS jobs available by year.

gis technology jobs trends

If you look at them as separate jobs, GIS technicians, analysts, and specialists have the lowest demand. Unfortunately, these positions have a high number of applicants too.

But GIS technicians, specialists, and analysts have overlap in their job descriptions too. If you add up their job postings, their job demand would be similar to GIS managers and developers.

Quality of Life and Average Salary

According to PayScale, the average salary for GIS specialists is $56,000 in the United States.

Even though all situations are different, Payscale gives a fairly decent quality of life rating for GIS analysts at 3.8/5:

  • Personal satisfaction: C
  • Benefit to society: B
  • Flexibility: B
  • Low stress: A

Stress ranks the best. Then, flexibility and benefits to society also rank fairly well. But personal satisfaction ranks the lowest. If you think about it, it’s true in some cases. For example, editing data and writing metadata can be a drag on your career.

Summary: What Is a GIS Specialist?

In summary, GIS specialists are similar to GIS analysts. But GIS specialists have a bit more experience and are well-rounded in most areas of GIS.

For example, GIS specialists have a high level of skill in data analysis, mapping, and databases. Additionally, they should have a background in scripting.

Although personal satisfaction rates are low, they are fairly high in demand and have a decent quality of work-life balance. Keep in mind every situation is different, no matter which country you live in.

Are you interested in becoming a GIS specialist? Or are you a GIS specialist already? Please let us know your thoughts on this exciting position in the field of GIS.

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  1. Yes, it’s very difficult to be a specialist in all these areas – and there are more – given the technology is constantly changing.
    I’m surprised by the Payscale ratings. Most GIS specialists I know are quite passionate about what they do, but maybe feel unappreciated at an average salary of $51000.
    Thank God, I don’t think VB is an important GIS programming language anymore. The three most important languages are probably Python, Javascript, and R. Especially Python for general purpose GIS scripting interfacing with major GIS software like Arc and QGIS. R if you do a lot of analysis, graphing, and stats. Javascript if you do web stuff or Google Earth Engine.

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