GIS Job Titles of the Future...

02-22-2019 08:25 AM
Regular Contributor

The standard GIS job titles, for me, have always lacked descriptive specificity. They pretty much suggest everyone is a generalist, which is not true. As a result, GIS job postings typically describe GIS jacks-of-all-trade. Also, job titles aren't really commoditized - the GIS Analyst in one company is equivalent to the GIS Technician another company, and really does no analytical work whatsoever. And how about those ranks of Tech I or Tech II, or Analyst IV!? Come on!

Well, I've referred to the future but the future is now. I'm proposing the below new GIS job titles - these would be the roles I'd start with for my own team.(Cut me some slack for a very personal and partial and potentially insular GIS world view.)

  • GIS Data Engineer
    • Data Engineer is the new ETL technologist with a pinch of data architect and a dash of big data developer, This is the world of data pipelines, scheduled jobs, data in the cloud, reatime data, and data integration. My hope would be for this person to never have to open a desktop GIS tool or print a map but to have the most thorough understanding of geospatial data. The GIS Data Engineer interacts with anyone needing GIS data or being a source for GIS data.
  • GIS Front End Developer
    • Call her or him a GIS Web Developer or Web GIS Developer. Someone who knows general Web Design and Web Development, knows any GIS related API's and has enough background in Desktop GIS to be able to finish the journey from desktop use to Web UX. There is a still a cartographic element to this. We don't want to lose that quality and certainty that comes with a professional to be lost in the migration to the web.
  • GIS Data Capture Specialist
    • There is some old and new in this role. We still use handheld GPS but we also capture GIS data using phones, LIDAR, sensors, along with other feeds that need to be ingested. I see this role as the field focused one that used to be about GPS surveying but now is about embracing IoT, edge computing, and realtime. This person will work with the GIS Data Engineer to make the data flow and the GIS Front End Developer to expose it.
  • GIS Mapping Technician
    • We may still be stuck with this role until self service mapping means mind reading and voice activation or realtime dashboards have completely voided the need for any one-off map deliverables. For the time being, the mapping tech will remain a jack of all trades and interact with everyone on the team.
  • GIS Database Administrator
    • What used to be the arcane world of the SDE Admin who ruled the creepy command line will continue to morph into someone who understand spatial data in any format and database flavor, relational or not, handles all the access and security where that isn't strictly in the domain of SecProv or other DBA's, knows versioning and replication inside out and can make GIS data shine and sparkle 24/7/365.
  • GIS Business Analyst
    • Most places I've seen, GIS staff play entirely reactive roles. Someone calls and says: "I need a map that shows XYZ." - GIS gets busy and creates a map that shows XYZ. A little more requirements gathering goes into things like a portal implementation but it happens during downtime when the phone is silent and no maps are being made. Managers rarely have time to actually figure out what the enterprise needs or to explain to the enterprise what GIS can do. So hand that whole aspect of eliciting requirements supporting the enterprise value chain and marketing the power of GIS to a GIS Business Analyst. 
  • GIS Data Analyst, here goes...
    • What GIS analysis should be about in the first place. Making sense of geospatial data sets not just plotting them on a map. Integrating GIS data with non-geospatial data. Devising geospatial data models and applying statistical rigor to GIS data. Processing and mining realtime geospatial feeds. Making GIS part of data science. Collaborating with machine learning experts to find geospatial patterns and perform time series and predictive analytics. Delivering geospatial intelligence for enterprise decision making.

Any thoughts?

Update (02/25/2019)

  • GIS Manager, GIS Supervisor, GIS Tech Lead, Chief GIS Officer...
    • Clearly, no team or department would be complete without solid leadership. If there is only one leadership role for the GIS team, then this should be someone who really knows the business and knows as much about other parts of IT and non-technical areas as he/she does about GIS. This individual should be setting the agenda for the team and "managing" the team effort, not be bogged down with administrative duties. This role would serve as guardian of the GIS Roadmap. Where you can split roles up into a GIS Tech Lead and a GIS Supervisor (administrative) role, that's great. It's the tech lead's job to seek alignment with other technology teams and initiatives in the company and understand what's cutting edge in GIS (similar to a SA as suggested in the comments). Leave the other managerial duties and project management type task to the supervisor.
  • In my attempt above at delineating roles, I was thinking a  lot about how/where GIS Interfaces with the non-GIS world. I think that's very important and goes a long ways towards not only making GIS successful but making it relevant. However, I think I've neglected an entire tranche of GIS capabilities, that - while they may not be crucial for every team - are uniquely GIS and require a deep understanding, training or experience in geospatial science. Some of the comments have suggested a need for something like a GIS or Geospatial Data SME. So maybe "Geospatial Subject Matter Expert" or "Geospatial Scientist" would best describe this role. It's someone who understands spatial features and spatial relationships, who can architect and build GIS networks and data models, who understands raster data and elevation models, who can validate or vet output from the ever-easier-to-use desktop and web tools, finally someone who can act as a data steward in organizations where GIS counts as a true system or record and thus a source for master data.
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