Get me back on track with my GIS career
March 4, 2010 6:54 AM   Subscribe

I am pursuing a career in GIS and I need to refresh my skills and learn new ones. Which tutorials, classes, websites, industry magazines, conferences, etc. would you recommend?

I graduated in 2007 with a Masters in Urban Planning with a GIS concentration. I'd really like to go into GIS, but my career has stagnated since graduation and I've been working in an unrelated field. I need to get up to speed on the latest developments in software (including open source) and best practices. My courses used ArcGIS 9.2, ArcIMS, ERDAS and Idrisi. How should I brush up on my old skills, and what new skills should I pursue? I asked this question about programming languages - would you change any of the answers? I would also appreciate advice specific to the GIS field on networking and searching for jobs.
posted by desjardins to Work & Money (4 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
For networking and job searching, I would recommend tracking any regional GIS user-groups in your area. I think for you that would likely be the Mid-American GIS Consortium (MAGIC). You can also get connected with your state-level GIS Coordination group. Have a look at the information on the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC) web site for who your state contact would be. (Full disclosure: I am GIS Coordinator for Delaware and a member of NSGIC).

I maintain a Google calendar of GIS Conferences and major events for NSGIC. Any of these that you can attend would be huge for networking.
posted by mmahaffie at 7:08 AM on March 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

For the job search, I suggest checking out environmental planning consulting firms in your area. I work for such a firm and we have a GIS department. The Find a Consultant list of the American Planning Association may be useful.
posted by socrateaser at 7:52 AM on March 4, 2010

Best answer: For GIS skills, it really depends on who you want to work for & what you want to do. If you look at GIS jobs, you'll find a couple main types: technician, analyst/specialist, developer/programmer, web applications developer, and database administration. I work almost entirely in an ESRI environment, so can't speak to the open source stuff as much. Here's what I've learned:

If you're interested in answering questions or using spatial modeling to figure out problems, you'd be best going down the analyst/specialist route (and if you're like me, you'll find the web developer and database jobs boooooring). For analyst/specialist jobs, it'd be good to be fluent in geodatabases, editing, analysis, and know a scripting language like Python. For most analysis, you don't really need to know .NET - you can get a lot done using the tools in ArcToolbox and Python, and ESRI is expanding Python possibilities in ArcGIS 10 so you can use it for batching maps, etc. In my experience, as a GIS analyst/manager for The Nature Conservancy, scripting skills can make you really useful. For a conservation organization like TNC, it's expected that most or all scientists will be at least moderately proficient in GIS, but being able to write tools in Python or batch process stuff is a surprisingly rare skill.

To pick up scripting, I'd recommend the ESRI course on geoprocessing, and either their course on Python, or picking up something like Lutz's Learning Python book. You might also consider downloading some Python scripts from ArcScripts, and studying them to see how they work. The ESRI User Conference is super pricey (~$1200 for registration?), but it's a great way to learn the basics on any particular topic - geoprocessing, scripting, cartography, analysis, etc. If you want to make yourself even more valuable as an analyst, it helps to learn the statistics language R, and study graphic design a bit (Tufte, infrographics books, etc etc) so you can make a decent map.

For plain old developer jobs, you'll want to learn some version of .NET (C#, VB.NET), and the behemoth of a headache that is ArcObjects. It would be pretty difficult to pick up ArcObjects on your own unless you're already a good programmer. Your best bet to get started w/ ArcObjects would probably be an ESRI instructor-led class.

For web applications developer, you need to know GIS basics, plus GIS server stuff, plus good web skills (HTML, CSS, Flash/Flex, Javascript). If you really want to DO GIS, web mapping probably isn't the best route, because it's more oriented towards creating apps that others can use to do basic GIS.

DBA GIS jobs mostly support multi-user GIS server environments or the server end of web-mapping applications. In the ESRI world, you'll want to know database software like SQL Server or Oracle, and ArcGIS server. ArcGIS server basically replaced ArcIMS, and has 3 levels of functionality. The basic level is just ArcSDE - the spatial database component that lets you do GIS in a multi-user environment. Standard level ArcGIS server is basically what used to be ArcIMS, only with a sexier interface. Advanced ArcGIS server adds on web-based geoprocessing, so users without GIS can process data on a remote server.

For networking and jobs, it would be worth pursuing both GIS conferences or user-group meetings as well as meetings in the field in which you'd like to work (planning, conservation/environmental, etc).
posted by indeterminacy at 9:16 AM on March 4, 2010 [9 favorites]

If you're going to APA in New Orleans this year, ESRI usually offers a one-day refresher workshop the day before the conference starts, but you have to sign up ahead of time. ESRI also publishes a regular newsletter which is free.
posted by carmicha at 4:02 PM on March 4, 2010

« Older Simple recipes for single man with tiny kitchen   |   Shoes for the tragically unhip. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.