Landing a GIS Job and GIS Skills Development in 2013

Note: This post is a 2013 update to my earlier post on Learning GIS and Getting a GIS Job – Some Tips and Tricks which was originally posted in 2009.

In 2009 I wrote a post on how to obtain a GIS job that focused on pathways to learn GIS, critical skills every GIS analyst should know and ways to augment traditional learning pathways to set you apart from other job candidates. Even though this post is well over 3 years old, it’s still read by people interested in the topic and I still receive comments.

I recently re-read the post and decided that an update was in order. Software has changed and old skills need to be replaced with new skills to keep up with the evolving GIS software industry. For brevity, I’ve focused this new post on changes and revisions to the recommendations I made in my earlier post.  I’ve also added links to resources and elaborated on some topics I introduced last time. So, please be sure to read that post before this one so you have the complete picture for what’s changed.

For simplicity, I’ve focused on skills needed for a GIS Analyst/Specialist position. GIS developers and GIS database manager positions have a different set of skills that may overlap with some of these, but also include specific skills that are not part of the everyday toolkit of GIS Analysts and are not included here.

Learning Pathways

There are a variety of reasons why you want to learn GIS. You may be employed in a non-GIS field and are learning GIS as part of your job. Maybe you are switching careers or retraining yourself to find a new job in the growing geospatial industry. Perhaps you are a student who wants to learn GIS to support your field of study, or you are a student majoring in GIS or geography with aspirations of landing a job doing GIS.

Depending upon your goal, there are different pathways to get started learning GIS:

Formal GIS/Geography Degree

If you want to obtain a bachelor’s or master’s degree majoring in GIS or geography, you should start at a community college or university where you can take accredited GIS courses that will apply to your major’s requirements.

Professional, Continuing Education

If you’re seeking GIS skills for your current job or want to re-tool yourself for immediate employment, you may be better served by finding a professional certificate program in GIS at a local community college or university extension. These programs are usually non-accredited, which means that they will not likely count towards satisfying the requirements for a formal degree in GIS, but they are a great way to learn GIS quickly and gain readily employable skills to help you enter the marketplace. In addition, many professional certificate programs are taught by professionals working in the field, so you will get first-hand information about how GIS is used by the people who use it daily. These programs are also fantastic places to network with potential future employers.

If the professional certificate track is what you need, check with local community colleges and universities in your area to see if they have a professional, extended, or continuing education certificate program in GIS or geospatial sciences. If there is no school in your area offering certificates or degrees in GIS, there are a number of excellent online programs available today, including:

This list is by no means complete, so if you know of other programs not listed, please add them as a comment to this post.

Both URISA and ESRI maintain a list of universities as well, so you may also want to check their websites as well:

There are also a number of specific free short-courses and technical workshops available on the ESRI Virtual Campus website.

Learn What Employers Want

Do not necessarily trust that your GIS certificate or degree program will teach you all the skills you need to know to land a GIS job. I’ve interviewed too many candidates who graduated from a GIS certificate program but only knew how to operate ArcGIS. While proficiency with ArcGIS is a critical skillset to have as a GIS analyst, there are a number of other hard and soft skills/techniques you should know to be a worthy job candidate.

Minimum Skills

At a minimum you should be proficient with the use of ESRI ArcGIS software (and extensions such as Spatial and 3D Analyst) and you should be able to produce cartographically pleasing outputs. However, GIS Analysts and Technicians are also expected to know the following: 

  • Cartographic production
  • Data creation
  • Geodatabase design and creation
  • Data editing
  • Topology
  • Projections
  • GIS analysis
  • Geoprocessing
  • GPS data capture
  • Aerial photography interpretation
  • Georeferencing
  • Data conversion
  • Metadata implementation

Employers also expect GIS Analysts to have experience with:

  • At least one non-spatial, database management system (Microsoft Access, Oracle, MySQL, etc.)
  • Microsoft Office (Excel, Word, Outlook, PowerPoint and Access).

Finally, most job advertisements also require GIS Analysts to have a Bachelor’s degree in Geography, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Cartography, Computer Science or a related discipline. (Related disciplines can be landscape architecture, urban planning, geology, etc.). In many cases employers will accept a degree in an unrelated field with evidence of completion of a GIS certification program or demonstrable experience with GIS. While GIS technician positions often require very minimal years of experience, it’s typical to see employers require at least 3 years of GIS experience for GIS Analysts.  However, don’t let these numbers dissuade you from applying for any position. In most cases these are “desired” qualifications for a “perfect” candidate. “Perfect” candidates are rare, so employers frequently accept lesser qualified candidates, and it’s here that you can shine with your experience and skills.

Preferred Skills

In addition to the minimum skill sets, the following skills are commonly listed in advertisements for GIS Analyst positions:

  • SQL
  • Programming/scripting with Python
  • ArcGIS Server / SDE
  • Model builder
  • Trimble Pathfinder
  • ArcGIS Mobile
  • AutoCAD and integration of GIS and CAD
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Acrobat Pro
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Experience with web-application development (Net, Java, Python, PHP, HTML, JavaScript or Flex)

Soft Skills

Finally, it’s not just about technical abilities; employers also look for GIS people who:

  • Can to learn new technologies, skills and software platforms/extensions quickly with minimal oversight
  • Are good at problem solving and troubleshooting
  • Are self-motivated and pro-active
  • Can multitask and balance priorities with work load
  • Can be flexible in working on unplanned projects/events
  • Can work both independently and function well in a team environment
  • Are able to communicate complex GIS concepts to entry level users.
  • Show attention to detail and process
  • Show initiative in working efficiently and seeking out work
  • Have a customer focused/value added approach
  • Have strong verbal and written communication skills

Domain expertise, don’t just be a GIS jockey, know how to apply it to some government or industry such as environmental analysis, utilities, planning and urban development, marketing, etc. Whatever your interest, learn how to use GIS in your area. It will make you a more valuable and interesting person than just someone who knows how to use ArcGIS.

Read GIS Magazines and Websites

GIS website portals and magazines are a great way to get a sense of what direction the industry is moving, which topics are hot and how people and organizations are implementing GIS. They’re also useful for keeping up with the latest GIS-related news. So, explore some of the magazines and websites that are available. Some of the more well-known sources include:

Magazines

Portals

Attend User Group Meetings

I said this in my earlier post, but I’ll say it again because it’s important: Virtually everyone I know working in GIS got their first or subsequent job as a result of networking at a local or regional user group. Find one and attend them often. Ask questions, talk to people – these are (or will be) your colleagues and peers.

To get started, check the following websites to see if there is a user group in your area:

If there isn’t a local or regional User Group in your area, start one. There are probably lots of GIS people working in your area that would love to attend a user group. This is a great way to make contacts in the GIS industry very quickly. Many agencies can get the use of their meeting rooms for free. Most local vendors will jump at the chance to market their product to a room full of potential customers, so vendors can be helpful in filling presentation slots and getting the word out. With a little bit of tact you can usually get a vendor to sponsor snacks if they are presenting.

 

Get Real-World Experience and Build a Portfolio

In my earlier post I mentioned the need to get real-world experience to set you apart from other job candidates who only have GIS classwork experience. Today, more schools are integrating GIS into their curricula, and more schools offer GIS courses and certificates than they did a few years ago. This means there are potentially more people competing for a GIS job with you, so what will set you apart from the others is your experience.

So get real-world experience, read what I wrote in my earlier post as it’s important to develop real-world skills that will set you apart from your competition.

In addition, build a portfolio of your work that you can take to interviews. My first portfolio consisted of printed 8.5 x 11 copies of maps that I had made, scripts I had written, and reports or documents I had developed. I placed these items in clear plastic sleeves made for a 3-hole binder and brought the binder with me to interviews. Later I made PDFs of my maps, reports and scripts and burned them to CDs that I would give to potential employers when interviewing – but I still brought my binder so I could show these items during the interview.

So create a portfolio and bring it with you to interviews. It provides a great way to show off your discuss your experience and show off your cartographic skills. These will set you apart from most of the competition that will just show up to an interview with a copy of their resume.

Auxiliary skills

These days everyone applying for a GIS job can use ArcGIS Desktop. Sorry but that skill alone doesn’t make you special anymore (it doesn’t make me special anymore either). So potential employers are going to be asking what else you can do.

Databases

Any GIS person worth their salt knows how to set up and manage a database. Whether it’s Microsoft Access, SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, or PostGreSQL, if you don’t know how to use a database, learn to.

If you are not familiar with databases, then learn Microsoft Access. It’s a good database system that’s easy to learn and use. Plus many organizations commonly use it and many people already have it on their computers – as it comes with many versions of Microsoft Office.

If you don’t have a copy of Microsoft Access and can’t justify buying one, Open Office Base offers many of the same features as Microsoft Access and can serve as a suitable replacement for learning about databases. You can download Open Office at: http://www.openoffice.org/

From there you can graduate to the workgroup and enterprise systems such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, PostGreSQL, etc. All of these database management systems offer free versions for development or personal use that you can download to get experience using them. See the links below for each software application:

Model Builder

There are many actions we routinely perform in GIS which can be manually repetitive. Consider the example where you are given a disk with 100 shapefiles that are in the WGS84 projection and you need to import them into your GIS data library (a geodatabase). To do this you’ll need to re-project them to the coordinate system you use (NAD 83, UTM Zone 11). You could do this manually in ArcCatalog or ArcMap but it would be better to construct a workflow that could automate the process and do it 100 times.

Model Builder is perfect for this kind of task. ModelBuilder is an application you use to create, edit, and manage workflows that string together sequences of geoprocessing tools, in which the tools feed the output of one tool into another tool as input. ModelBuilder is a visual programming language for building these workflows.

Why learn it? Model Builder is a key GIS Analysis skill because:

  • Performing actions like manually importing 100 shapefiles is tedious and not a good use of your time.
  • Complicated analyses often require a lot of geoprocessing actions and you’ll often find that you may need to repeat an analysis. If you need to run a complex analysis again and you didn’t build a model, you’ll have to re-do all your geoprocessing tasks manually and hope you took really good notes of your processing steps.
  • If you’re working with large datasets, geoprocessing tasks can take a long time. In this case, it’s best to construct a model to perform these tasks after hours instead of doing each task step by step (by hand) and waiting long periods for the output.
  • Models can be incorporated into ArcGIS Toolboxes and easily distributed to other users so they can quickly repeat an analysis.
  • Models can be uploaded to ArGIS Servers to enable processing of files on a server or in the cloud.
  • Finally, savvy employers know about Model Builder and it shows up as either a required or desired skill in job advertisements.

To get started learning Model Builder, visit the following links:

ArcGIS Server

If you are going after a GIS job in a large organization with an existing GIS program, there’s a chance that you’ll be asked about your experience with ESRI’s ArcGIS Server product. ArcGIS Server is a web server application that allows you to share GIS resources (maps, globes, tools, geoprocessing workflows, etc.) over the web. These resources are hosted on the ArcGIS Serve to facilitate sharing data that is centrally managed, supports multiple users, and contains the most up-to-date information.

ArcGIS Server skills are in demand these days and it’s a key skill to learn if you can. However, learning ArcGIS Server isn’t easy. Installing, managing and operating ArcGIS Server requires knowing a little about how to manage a file server and web server and active directory permissions.  Realistically the best way to learn about ArcGIS Server is to take a class. Many in-person and online programs offer a course in ArcGIS Server; ESRI’s Virtual Campus has courses in ArcGIS Server as well.

If you’re not familiar with ArcGIS Server, visit the links below to get a general introduction to ArcGIS Server and its capabilities.

If you can’t get experience working with ArcGIS Server, one thing you can do (in addition to reviewing the links above) is to register for a free personal account on www.arcgis.com. ArcGIS.com is a subscription based online platform for sharing geographic information and maps. ESRI offers a free personal account that provides limited access to features and 2 GB of storage space. With this account and a copy of ArcGIS you can upload data and maps to ArcGIS.com and experience a little bit of what it’s like to work with an ArcGIS Server from a user perspective.

In addition, reviewing the samples and information on the ArcGIS Server Javascript API provides a perspective on how to program web applications for ArcGIS Server.

Excel

Yeah, it’s not and ESRI product, but Microsoft Excel can be a critical component of your data scrubbing workflow. I use it often to view, manipulate and clean data before I import it into ArcGIS because it’s powerful, fast and can be used to make many data changes quickly and easily.

When learning GIS, we work with prepared datasets that have been cleaned and optimized to work in our exercises with minimal issues. In the real-world, data is messy; it contains a mixture of values in a variety of formats. Knowing how to quickly clean up a dataset is an essential GIS skill. So I use excel to change data from UPPERCASE to lowercase to replace portions of data with other values, to trim data, and to combine and split data. However, I rarely make these changes manually. Instead I use powerful functions in Excel that automate these corrections across rows and columns.

While Excel has many functions, I typically use only several for my data cleansing. So learn how to use functions in Excel; how to write them, copy and paste them. In particular, start with the following functions, as they are most commonly used to manipulate data:

  • Concatenate
  • Left
  • Right
  • Mid
  • Trim
  • Substitute
  • Replace
  • Upper
  • Lower

To learn more about Excel functions, simply search Google or Bing for “learning excel functions”. A good tutorial for getting started is also here: http://blogs.mccombs.utexas.edu/the-most/2009/05/07/learn-excel-functions/

Scripting

In my earlier post I recommended learning a scripting language because knowing how to write a script comes in handy when you need to scrub huge databases or perform actions like correcting addresses for better geocoding accuracy, reformatting data, exporting and importing large datasets, and other manually repetitive activities GIS people are routinely tasked with.

Back in 2009, I suggested that Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) was a good way to get started. Since that post ESRI has deprecated support for VBA in ArcGIS 10.x and VBA is not the preferred way to script in their latest product lines.

Today, scripting in ESRI is all about Python. Python is a free, cross-platform, open-source programming language that is widely used and supported in the open source and esri GIS environments.  It is become the scripting language of choice for geoprocessing users and ESRI has fully embraced Python for ArcGIS. So I would advise anyone in GIS who doesn’t know Python to learn Python. Here are some links to get started learning about Python in ArcGIS:

Finally, while ESRI may not support VBA anymore, VBA is still widely used in Microsoft’s Office product line though it’s being slowly replaced by Microsoft’s Visual Studio Tools for Applications: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc175562(v=vs.90).aspx

 

Reports for ArcGIS

In my previous post, I wrote about the virtues of learning Crystal Reports. Crystal Reports is a powerful reporting tool that can read databases and spreadsheets, perform queries, sort and summarize data and generate professional looking PDF or live reports. Crystal Reports used to be included with ArcGIS Desktop, however at ArcGIS 9.3, ESRI stopped including the full Crystal Reports product; and the Crystal Reports Wizard is no longer included in ArcGIS 10.x.

As a replacement, ESRI now offers a reporting application built into ArcGIS Desktop that provides much of the same functionality that Crystal Reports offered. However the reporting application cannot be accessed or used outside of ArcGIS Desktop and must be used from the ArcGIS Desktop user interface.

You may be wondering whether it is still important to learn Reports for ArcGIS. Yes, because it’s not always about the map; in fact, it often isn’t about a map at all. I know us GIS people got into GIS because we like to make great looking maps, but the mistake we make is thinking that everyone else likes maps too. When I started working in government GIS, I was amazed at how often I was asked to create a report showing the results of my analyses (for example, a report containing a table summarizing the number of acres of different vegetation types that will be impacted by a proposed development). No map; no polygons on a nice aerial photo – just a table of numbers representing the results of a geographic analysis. There was still a lot of cool GIS analysis that went into generating the report, but the end product wasn’t a map.

While the software may have changed, the need hasn’t  so I’ll continue to recommend learning how to design and create reports of your GIS analyses. Today, we would accomplish this with Reports for ArcGIS. So to learn how to use the integrated reporting tools, see the following links:

2013 Conclusion

While I’ve written this post within the context of obtaining skills you need to land a GIS job, these are equally appropriate skills for those already employed in GIS. The industry continues to change rapidly, and you can get rusty pretty fast if you’re not keeping up. Each new software version brings new features that offer new opportunities for learning a new skill or adding to our existing knowledge base.  For example, I recently learned how to write and deploy ArcObjects applications in ESRI’s new ad-in framework and plan to learn how to use the new Python ad-in framework in ArcGIS 10.1.

Learning these employable GIS skills is also a very good investment. GIS jobs are still ranked very high in job growth outlook – the Bureau of Labor Statistics lists an expected 35% growth in jobs for “Geographers” (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/geographers.htm). Whether you’re looking for your first GIS job or looking to move to a new organization, these skills will make you much more marketable than your typical competition.

Finally, I’ve tried to identify those skills that I view as important for obtaining and maintaining a GIS position.  I’ve also focused on skills a GIS Analyst or Specialist should know. If you’ve read this and can think of other important skills I didn’t mention, please leave a comment to benefit the larger community.

Thanks for reading.

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Learning GIS and Getting a GIS Job – Some Tips and Tricks

Note: I wrote this post in 2009 and much of the content below is still relevant in 2013. However, I have written an updated skills development post that may be of interest too:  Landing a GIS Job and GIS Skills Development in 2013

 

I’ve seen some forum posts recently from folks wanting to know how to learn GIS, and many of the responses have had fairly typical information. So, this got me thinking about my own path to learning GIS and the atypical ideas and skills I learned and developed along the way that helped me excel in the industry. I used to teach some GIS course at the University of California Riverside Extension; and many of these ideas are drawn from my lectures in the practical class I co-taught with a GIS colleague. So, here is a rather lengthy discussion of how I got into GIS, what I did to set myself above the pack and what recommendations I give to aspiring GIS students.

Getting Started
There are a variety of ways to get started learning GIS. You may be employed in a non-GIS field and are learning GIS as part of your job. Maybe you are switching careers or retraining yourself to find a new job in the growing geospatial industry. Perhaps you are a student who wants to learn GIS to support your field of study, or you are a student majoring in GIS or geography with aspirations of landing a job doing GIS.

Depending upon your goal, your pathway to get started learning GIS may vary. If you are a student intending to major in GIS or geography, your best bet would be to start at a community college or university where you can take accredited GIS courses that will apply to your major’s requirements. However, those seeking GIS skills to broaden their work-related knowledge or re-tool themselves for immediate employment may be better served by finding a professional certificate program in GIS at a local community college or university extension. These programs are usually non-accredited, which means that they will not likely count towards satisfying the requirements for a degree in GIS. However, professional GIS certificate programs are a great way to learn GIS quickly and gain readily employable skills to help you enter the marketplace. In addition, many professional certificate programs are taught by professionals working in the field, so you will get first-hand information about how GIS is used by the people who use it daily. These programs are also fantastic places to network with potential future employers.

My Experience
In my own career, I started learning GIS on my own without any training. Once I realized that I wanted to work with GIS as a career, I found a professional GIS certificate program and enrolled in classes. I was very fortunate to be in a region with a fantastic certificate program and excellent instructors from public and private industry. I took many classes to learn a variety of GIS topics, and I talked often with my instructors to get a feel for the industry and where the job potential was. I attended local and regional GIS User Groups to further network with peers and potential employers, see new product demonstrations, and learn tips and tricks that would help me in my GIS practice. I also read GIS industry magazines to learn how organizations were implementing GIS and get a sense of what direction the industry was moving. Finally I read ads for GIS jobs to see what employers were looking for and where the jobs were.

All of this helped me learn not only what minimum skills are essential, but what additional skills are valuable to employers. I quickly formed an idea of what skills make up a ‘great’ GIS, besides just knowing a lot about GIS. These other skills are those that provide a competitive advantage over others who just learned how to use a particular GIS software package such as ArcView.

The main skills that stood out were database management and application programming. Fortunately, I had some experience with programming before getting into GIS. In my previous jobs I wrote a few small Visual Basic programs to help automate certain tasks. Since I knew these skills would be extremely valuable to a GIS person, one of the things I did was find an opportunity to become a better programmer and database person while I was learning GIS.

So I took a job as a programmer for a start-up company. The job had nothing to do with GIS; and I was also struggling at first, because I’d never been employed as a full-time programmer. But it wasn’t too long before I was coding like a pro. The job also required me to learn SQL Server, so I was getting the database management experience I wanted as well. I was getting great programming and database management skills, so I wasn’t concerned about not working in GIS at that moment. I was learning GIS at night and on weekends in my certificate program classes, so I was making progress with my career goals. It was the combination of the programming skills I was learning on the job and the GIS knowledge I was learning in my classes that would pay off; and it did.

Within a year I was offered a job in government chiefly because of the connections I had made while networking with my instructors and at the local GIS user group. Working as a GIS person in government provided many opportunities to apply GIS to a variety of situations that involved crime mapping, land use planning, utilities, finance and others. In almost every case, the database management and programming skills I learned at my non-GIS jobs came in handy. From writing scripts to scrub and reformat data, to creating ad-hoc Microsoft Access databases to organize data for our GIS, these non-GIS skills helped the GIS team work faster. My colleagues who didn’t know how to write scripts or work with databases often did this work manually and talked about wanting to learn these other skills.

Today I’m a GIS consultant and ESRI Business Partner. I get to help agencies and organizations implement GIS in all kinds of environments and situations. The job is full of challenges as each client’s situation is different. I also continue to learn new skills. For example, I’m currently teaching myself to program in Microsoft Silverlight to see if it can help enhance our mapping applications.

So what are the take-home messages from my experience?
If you wan to learn GIS and you want to increase your chances of obtaining employment:

Find a class
Ideally I think in-class learning is more valuable than online training, so I would first recommend that you look for GIS classes offered by your local community college, university or extended university. Some regions also have non-profit organizations that offer technical classes to train displaced workers for new careers. Some of these groups offer GIS classes too. If you can’t find a class in your area, then look online. There are a number of online GIS classes offered by ESRI and other organizations:

ESRI Virtual Campus (http://training.esri.com/gateway/index.cfm)
List of GIS Schools (http://www.gis.com/education/formal.html)

Attend regional and local user groups
I can’t stress enough how important this is. Virtually everyone I know working in GIS got their first or subsequent job as a result of networking at a local or regional user group. Find one and attend them often. Ask questions, talk to people – they will become your colleagues and peers. If there isn’t a local or regional User Group in your area, start one. There are probably lots of GIS people working in your area that would love to attend a user group. It’s just no one has the time or wants to responsibility of organizing one. If you have the time and don’t mind calling people, this is a great way to make contacts in the GIS industry very quickly. Talk to your ESRI regional representatives and they can provide names of people you can contact about speaking, attending or helping. Many agencies can get the use of their meeting rooms for free. Most local vendors will jump at the chance to market their product to a room full of potential customers, so vendors can be helpful in filling presentation slots and getting the word out. With a little bit of tact you can usually get a vendor to sponsor snacks if they are presenting. Whether your group starts out as a formal event or an informal lunch with colleagues, get together with GIS people and network.

Network with GIS professionals and classmates
If you are fortunate to be in an area where you can attend in-class training, be sure to network with those in your classes. In my experience while attending classes, those of us that talked with each-other shared information about job openings and tricks we learned. Those who didn’t network with us didn’t get this information. Be sure your class peers know who you are and admire your knowledge. You could share tricks you’ve learned, tell them about upcoming user group meetings, etc. It will impress them and impress your instructors.

Get real-world experience
You might be thinking about the double-edged sword: You can’t get experience without getting a job and you can’t get a job because you don’t have experience. The fact is I’ve been on a lot of hiring committees for entry-level GIS positions, and there are always TONS of resumes from candidates whose only GIS experience consists of course work. There are a lot of people out there who have taken GIS classes. Most of those introductory classes teach people how to push buttons to ‘operate’ the software. As a prospective employer, we want to see a candidate who can ‘use’ the software.

This is an important distinction. From your coursework I have no doubt that you know how to operate the GIS software. What I can’t see from your coursework is whether you can think on you own and whether you have solved real problems, using real data (classroom data always works well) in the real world using GIS. Unless I can see experience like that, or unless you’ve stood out in some other way (refer to the networking and user group items above), I’m probably not going to take a chance on you.

To get that GIS job you have to get some real world experience. So how do you do that? You volunteer. If you have the requisite GIS skills you get from a couple of introductory classes, there are plenty of government agencies who will take you on as a volunteer intern and build upon your knowledge in exchange for some volunteer labor from you. So, you give up some free time by helping them, and they teach you to use GIS in the real world, with real data, to solve real problems. What does this give you? It gives you another network opportunity and demonstrable experience to discuss at an interview. You can also show off copies of your maps and analyses from the portfolio of work you’ll develop during your volunteer efforts. Plus if you’ve proven to be a good asset, a good boss will try their best to keep you around by hiring you. Otherwise, they will let you know about opportunities with other agencies. It’s not limited to government agencies too. Look around for local non-profit agencies that might need help.

Learn auxiliary skills
I’ll say it again: learning to use ArcGIS Desktop is good. But a lot of people who want to work in GIS learned to use ArcGIS Desktop. What else can you do?

Databases
Any GIS person worth their salt knows how to set up and manage a database. Whether it’s Microsoft Access, SQL Server, Oracle, mySQL, PostGRESQL, etc. if you don’t know how to use a database, learn to. These days everyone stores data in a database. It might not be well organized, but it’s in a database; and you’re going to have to know how to work with it to make it useful in the GIS. My recommendation is that you learn Microsoft Access. It’s a good database system that’s easy to learn and use. From there you can graduate to the workgroup and enterprise systems such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, mySQL, PostGRESQL, etc.

Scripting
Learn to program in a scripting language. Pick a scripting language such as Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), Python, or JavaScript and learn it. These scripting languages come in handy when you need to scrub huge databases to perform actions like correcting addresses for better geocoding accuracy, reformatting data, exporting and importing large datasets, and other fairly common activities GIS people get tasked with.

An easy way to start is learning Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). It’s included in ArcGIS Desktop and it’s embedded in all Microsoft Office products. With a copy of Microsoft Access and a solid knowledge of VBA, you can convert anything into a format readily useful in a GIS. I use VBA and Microsoft Access to reformat data all the time. My data usually ends up in SQL Server, but it’s far easier to prepare it using Microsoft Access and some VBA scripts. ESRI has some resources to learn VBA and there are many websites that provide VBA resources for working with Microsoft Access.

ESRI Virtual Campus VBA Classes
http://training.esri.com/gateway/index.cfm?fa=search.results&searchterm=VBA&softwaretype=All+Software&trainingformat=1%2C2&search=search

VBA Wikipedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_Basic_for_Applications

VBA is also your gateway to learning ArcObjects and object oriented programming for more advanced GIS development projects.

Crystal Reports
You know that CD that comes with ArcGIS Desktop that installs Crystal Reports? If you haven’t done so, install it. If you have installed it, play around with the Crystal Reports program. Make sure you figure out how to use the Crystal Reports report functions in ArcMap, but also play around with the core Crystal Reports program that you can launch without ArcMap. Crystal Reports is a powerful reporting tool that can read databases and spreadsheets, perform queries, sort and summarize data and generate nice looking reports.

Why learn this? Because one of the first lessons I learned working in GIS for government was that it’s not always about a map. In fact, it often isn’t about a map at all. Sure we GIS people got into GIS because we like to make pretty maps. But the mistake we make is in thinking that everyone else likes maps too. When I started working in government GIS, I was amazed at how often I was asked to create a report showing the results of my analyses. No map. No pretty aerial photo; just a table of numbers representing the results of a geographic question. Sure there was a lot of cool GIS analysis that went into generating the resulting table, but the deliverable product wasn’t a map. As you might guess, I often relied on Crystal Reports to generate that final product from the GIS analysis. I’m pretty sure you’ll find that as your analysis skills increase, the proportion of maps versus reports you generate will shift. So, learn Crystal Reports. You may find that in knowing it you’re valuable to non-GIS users as well. By learning Crystal Reports for GIS, I was able to help the finance department make a bunch of reports of data from the financial system. It had nothing to do with GIS, but I was pretty valuable to the team for my Crystal Reports skills.

In Conclusion
If you’re successful in getting a GIS job, you’re entering a great career at a time when GIS technology is advancing very rapidly. You’ve got to keep your knowledge up-to-date, so make sure you continue to learn new tools and techniques for working with GIS. Where can you do this? Most of the suggestions I’ve discussed are also appropriate for keeping your GIS skillset current. In addition, there are numerous online resources for learning about GIS techniques, and industry news. Social networking sites like Twitter offer the ability to tap into the thoughts of many great GIS people in real-time, while blogs provide in-dept articles about GIS topics (such as this one). In addition, nothing beats the software support forums. Chances are you are not the first person to encounter a problem or have a question about how to do something. The forums are your first line of support, use them. Along the way if you learn useful to the GIS community, share it and help others.