What's the deal with GIS these days?
September 3, 2010 10:44 AM Subscribe
So I'm really excited about the possibility of working in Geographic Information Systems - please help me get a sense of the lay of the land.
posted by geneva uswazi to Work & Money (11 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
So for some time now (a year and change), I've been trying to figure out how to retool myself from guy with a liberal arts degree and some spotty experience shuffling paper in nonprofits to someone with strong technical skills who can proudly be an indispensable cog in the world of environmental conservation and restoration projects. I've also been trying to come up with a solution that won't have me completely abandon my educational background (like, going into engineering wouldn't work).
The answer I've come up with is to learn GIS. I'm currently taking a graduate course in ArcGIS and another one in statistics, and have been pleasantly surprised to discover that I like it, a lot -- as in, think about it in my sleep, eat dinner 2 hours later than I should, and snub addictive websites in favor of studying. The idea of spatial analysis appeals to me as someone who loves the synthesis of data from multiple disciplines and also on this weird level that is purely aesthetic.
I've put together a decent list of natural resource management Masters programs where I can do a concentration in GIS, and in light of the application process, the time has come to put my convert's zeal aside for a second and seriously consider my future career options.
That's where I'm hoping you all will be able to help. There are 3 major areas about this path that concern me:
1). What are the actual JOBS? As I browse job listings, I see mostly mid- and senior-level "GIS analyst" positions with an obscene number of technical skills required, from programming in 4 languages to inscrutable alphabet soups of software to physical science degrees. There's obviously no way I'll be able to do THAT much retooling in a 2-year Masters. As I construct my statements of purpose, I find myself at a loss for what to say in terms of a realistic career plan, except in the vaguest and most generic terms. Ideally I would be a spatial consultant of some sort in restoration of bottomland hardwood forest (what? it's my favorite forest!) - figuring out which parcels of land have the ideal flood regime for new cordgrass, that kind of thing. But without a notion of what's realistically available on the job market to someone with my qualifications post-Masters, I'm feeling a little naive about my vision.
2). GIS technology seems like one of those things that's going to get easier to use every passing year. Before long, my 12-year-old cousin is going to be analyzing alluvial groundwater deposits on his PSP between bouts of "Bomberman." So I find all the hype about GIS as this incredibly promising growth sector to be nearly as disconcerting as it is encouraging. The standard of expertise seems destined to change, and fast. How can I go beyond just being the guy who knows which menu to click on to find an obscure tool in a computer program of above-average complexity?
3). Global outsourcing. Already I see the devilish specter of ITT-Bombay in the Facebook search results for GIS. I personally welcome our Indian and Chinese overlords, and am excited about their contributions to late capitalism. However, I'm also not too keen on investing money and time into some OMG fun new tech skills just to see yet another computer-based field get hit with a wave of downsizing. I know no one can really "answer" this, but should I really believe the hype about GIS as a "smart choice" of skill-set?
Thanks for reading and I'm really eager to hear your thoughts!