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Geographic Information System (GIS) Technician


If you are planning on driving from Seattle to Miami, chances are you will need a road map. If you are interested in the proximity between Dublin, Ireland and Cape Town, South Africa, consulting a map or atlas will help answer your questions. Geographic information system (GIS) technicians use specialized computer hardware and software to model, map and analyze data about the Earth and its resources. They gather land survey data and other topographical details needed to build this geographical database. This compiled geographic, political and cultural information is used to prepare all types of maps. GIS technicians measure, map, and chart the Earths surface, which involves everything from geographical research and data compilation to actual map production.

All information necessary to map the world is stored on GIS compatible computers. GIS technicians gather land survey data and other topographical details needed to build the geographic databases. Since GIS is designed to help us better understand the world we live in, the system digitizes maps and charts and then cross-references these maps with other data. As information is continually entered and stored on this database, people can easily find hidden relationships, patterns and trends they could never see with hand-drawn maps and charts. GIS can also be used to help preserve the environment. For example, the system can map pollution, track endangered species, identify fragile habitats, ecosystems and wetlands and decide how to best use natural resources like water and forests.

GIS technicians that design maps must decide upon what information is important and how to convey it clearly and accurately. Once all compulsory information has been compiled the GIS technician will figure out how to use it and draw a rough draft of what will actually appear on the map. Using GIS, they can decide what elements are relevant to the production of the map. When this has been completed, the technician will design the final copy and oversee the printing process to make sure it is free from errors.

GIS technicians create maps for a number of purposes -- travel guides, education, oil, gas and mineral exploration, government records, economic and scientific studies and promotional advertising. GIS technicians strive to create maps that are both visually appealing and accurate. They must pay close attention to details for maps with errors can mess people up.

GIS technicians in large companies usually work with a team of surveyors, photogrammetrists, engineers and others, working on projects together. Those who work in smaller companies tend to meet with clients, contractors and other professionals. In order to keep up to date with new developments, GIS technicians must spend significant amounts of time reading pertinent articles and newsletters, and attending training programs, workshops, seminars and conferences.
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  Interests and Skills  
Geographic information system technicians should possess the ability to analyze technical problems and concentrate for long periods of time. The must have the flexibility required to change abruptly from abstract logic to dealing with masses of details and a resourcefulness when looking for potential sources of data.

Successful GIS technicians have good communication skills, including the ability to listen carefully and express complex ideas in clear, understandable language, and work both independently and as part of a team. GIS analysts should enjoy analyzing database problems and developing innovative solutions, using computers to perform tasks requiring precision, and directing the work of other people.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Use existing technology to design and code spatial information and database applications, and customize other computer applications
  • Assist in the development of Internet-based GIS and business applications
  • Integrate external software such as spreadsheets and statistical packages with GIS software
  • Use software to enter, edit, display and manipulate spatial information, analyze and model data, and project and present the results of planned changes
  • Conduct cost-benefit analyses, budget for and manage GIS projects
  • Compare and assess software and hardware for their suitability in handling common GIS applications and plan the acquisition of new GIS technology
  • Work with external organizations on data transfer and data standards issues
  • Train and provide technical support for GIS users
  • GIS technicians usually work in an office environment. They also do some field work when doing mapping research. They usually work standard hours however, longer hours are often required to meet deadlines or to debug systems that are not running properly.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • GIS analysts are employed by large organizations involved in forestry and natural resource exploration, mapping companies, large utility companies, research organizations, GIS vendors, computer companies, consulting firms (e.g. in environmental, engineering, forestry, surveying and marketing fields), and in different levels of government.

  Long Term Career Potential  
With experience, GIS technicians may advance to project leadership and supervisory positions. Further advancement opportunities depend on the size and nature of the employing organization and the analyst's academic qualifications. A few GIS technicians are self-employed consultants that work on a contract basis.

  Educational Paths  
To get a job as a geographic information systems technician, a one- to two-year diploma in cartography, photogrammetry or cartographic technology that specializes in GIS is compulsory. It is also possible to take courses related to mapping from the geography departments of many colleges. Some school programs offer internships, which are valuable in helping gain experience and make contacts. A background in computer science is compulsory, as most GIS technicians use more than one advanced computer-mapping programs.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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