GIS Advancement Options for Young Professionals

09-20-2022 10:30 AM
Esri Contributor
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Depending on your situation, a master’s degree in GIS could be your best route to advance in your GIS career. On the other hand, if you don’t have the time to complete a master’s degree, there are plenty of other options out there to further your development in the GIS industry.

Maybe you just completed an undergraduate degree and want to jump right into a master’s degree like I did. Or, you have been in the working world for a few years and want to further your education in ways other than a graduate degree.

This blog focuses on various options to continue your advancement in the GIS field; especially as a professional, young in a GIS career.


GIS certificates demonstrate a person's knowledge of a particular area within the GIS umbrella. The few certification types we will discuss in this article are Esri technical certifications, Esri massive open online courses (MOOC), the GISP certification, and other certification options.

Esri Technical Certifications

If you work with Esri software, you may want to consider exploring the Esri technical certification website. Esri certifications demonstrate detailed knowledge of Esri products by applying specific ArcGIS concepts within the ArcGIS platform.

Don't know if you're ready to take an Esri technical certification exam? Esri has resources to help you prepare for these certification exams. These include the exam’s purpose, target audience, candidate qualifications, what content to be familiar with and what not to be, & how the exam is broken down. Additionally, there are learning plans within the Esri Academy that contain curated lists of resources that will help you prepare for the exam.  

Some benefits of Esri certifications include:

  • These certificates never expire.
  • They look great on your resume.
  • You will receive a badge and a link for people to verify the achievement. Plus, you can add the badge to your email signature and/or resume.

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Esri’s MOOC Program

MOOC stands for, “Massive Open Online Courses” which are free hands-on courses that are for individuals who are looking to build their skills within GIS. These courses are self-paced and help you learn about new technology which will help expand your existing knowledge.

The courses are between 4 and 6 weeks long and involve a minimum of 2 hours of study time per week, designed to be at your own pace; however, there are firm start and end dates with each course. After completion of a course, a certificate is awarded which will be listed on your My Learning Activity page on your Esri Training site.

If you are new to Esri technology, another great perk is that MOOCs provide free access to the latest Esri software for the duration of the course. Overall, the Esri MOOC Program is a great way to get started with GIS or sharpen your current GIS skills.

View all of Esri’s MOOC courses here and if you have any questions, visit the MOOC common questions page!


GISP Certification

If you are looking to take your GIS career a step further, the GISP certification may be a good option for you. A GISP is a certified geographic information systems professional that is recognized by the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI) who has met specific standards for ethical conduct, completed a portfolio, and passed an exam. This option is great if you’re already working in the industry and looking to enhance your career. Here are a few more details on qualifying for the GISP Certification:

  • Must have at least 4 years of experience
  • Pass the GISCI Core Technical Exam
    • After passing the exam, you have up to 6 years to meet the portfolio requirements
  • Commit to a code of ethics
  • Expiration date of 3 years
    • Then you’ll have to resubmit a portfolio and resign the code of ethics

Although you must have 4 years of experience to be awarded the GISP certificate, you can begin the GISP process at any time. If you’re in school or a recent grad, you may be interested in taking the GISP exam while the information you have learned throughout your degree is still fresh in your mind. If you’re interested in learning more, visit “What is the GISP?” or browse to the GISCI website.

Joseph Kerski, Education Manager for the Esri Education Outreach Team.Joseph Kerski, Education Manager for the Esri Education Outreach Team.

Other Certifications

Some additional certifications include third-party, online certification programs. These can sometimes be called, “micro degrees” or “microcredentials” which are becoming more and more popular. For example, Monroe Community College in Rochester New York launched their 9-credit microcredential program around modern GIS skill sets. You can read about it here.

Unlike the previous certification topics, online certification programs are often comprised of short-term coursework that prepare students for a career in the GIS field; whether you’re new to the field or a GIS veteran. Either way, GIS certification courses demonstrate a deeper understanding of GIS and show current or future employers that you’re eager to continue developing in the GIS industry.

You can also find online certification courses that are flexible and self-paced.

Internships, Fellowships, Volunteer Work, & More…

If you have a more flexible schedule, an internship, fellowship, or volunteer position may be a good option for you if you’re looking to further your GIS skills. Esri offers two types of programs: a 12-week summer internship and a 1-week assistantship as an event volunteer. There are plenty of other options outside of the Esri internship program, too. This includes various internship opportunities or volunteer opportunities. During my research on this subject, I read about people who contributed to OpenStreetMap as a form of volunteering. Pretty neat!  

Sometimes, master’s students and PhD candidates need assistance with general GIS tasks. If you have a college or university nearby, consider reaching out to their GIS department to see if they could use a volunteer or assistant. It would be mutually beneficial for you and the department.

Finally, get creative! I’ve read online about people making maps of parks, hiking trails, or just the local area and handing them out around town. If you like cartography, this idea can help advance your GIS skills and develop your GIS portfolio. Or, it could just be a fun hobby!

Diana Catalina Beltran Huertas at the 2022 User Conference fulfilling a 1-week assistantship with EsriDiana Catalina Beltran Huertas at the 2022 User Conference fulfilling a 1-week assistantship with Esri

To Wrap Things Up 

With all of that said, there are plenty of options for you to choose from to further your development in GIS. If you have the time, postbaccalaureate programs are a great choice. Alternatively, there are various certificates and “microcredentials” to choose from including Esri Technical Certificates, MOOCs, and even the GISP Certificate. Other options include internships, like the 12-week Esri internship program, and volunteer work to learn more about GIS. Finally, I highly encourage you to visit the Esri YPN website to find other helpful resources and to read about other young professional’s experiences with GIS in our Faces of YPN series.