The Top 5 Skills Needed to be Successful in a GIS Career

Blog Post created by jkerski-esristaff Employee on Jun 28, 2017

In a few weeks, I am giving a webinar entitled “The Top 5 Skills you need to be successful in a GIS career.” Because this is a topic that has been covered by dozens of articles in GIS journals and magazines over the past 20 years, I aim to do something different that stems from my educational work with the GIS community over that time.
I argue that the first skill is curiosity. Successful GIS people are curious not just about geospatial technologies, but they are also curious about the world. They ponder spatial relationships at work in phenomena from the local to global scale, ranging from demographics, land use, and traffic patterns in their own community to natural hazards, biodiversity, and climate around the world. This curiosity fuels the tenacity that is often necessary to solve problems using GIS. This curiosity is also essential because it helps frame geographic questions, and asking the right kind of questions is the first step in the geographic inquiry process that is key to successful work in GIS.

The second skill is the ability to work with data. Those successful in GIS have developed critical thinking skills regarding data. They not only know where to find data, but understand metadata so well that they know the benefits and limitations of working with each type of data. They know the most effective means to gather, analyze, and display geographic data through a GIS.

The third skill is understanding geographic foundations. Successful GIS practitioners know the fundamentals behind all spatial phenomena, including map projections, datums, topological relationships, spatial data models, database theory and methods, ways to classify data, how to effectively use spatial statistics and geoprocessing methods, and more.

Adaptability is the fourth skill essential for success in the GIS field. Now more than ever, as the field of GIScience is evolving rapidly in terms of its consumer audience, sensor network, functionality, the platforms by which it can be accessed on the desktop, mobile devices, and cloud, and in many more ways, successful GIS professionals need to be adaptable and flexible. They need to be not only willing to change but accept and embrace change as an essential and necessary part of the field. They are lifelong learners.

The fifth skill is good communications. Those successful in GIS know how to use GIS and other presentation tools to communicate their results to a wide variety of audiences. They know how to effectively employ cartographic elements, but they also know how to clearly communicate the results of their analysis in oral and written reports, video, face to face, online, and via other means.

Do you suppose these skills will become more important or less important as geospatial technologies grow in their impact on society in the years ahead? Do you agree with this list? If not, which five skills do you believe are the most important? How can the Geospatial Technology Competency Model inform such a list?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager