GIS Job Definitions

Caitlin Dempsey


What are the different types of geospatial job listings out there?  Listed here is the list of different GIS, which is an acronym for geographic information systems, and geospatial job types and what they mean.

The job titles are listed in alphabetical order.  

Knowledge, experience, and skillsets build with each rise in job levels for the GIS professional. The level of proficiency in any given geospatial skill will also vary depending on the level of the GIS job and the expectations of the employer.

Keep in mind that there is no uniform adoption of GIS job titles and the actual degree of experience and salary vary greatly.  The job descriptions below are meant to provide general guidelines.

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GIS Intern

This is the most entry level GIS job available.  Most GIS internships require concurrent enrollment in an accredited undergraduate or graduate level school.  Some GIS intern positions also accept recent college graduates or those working towards a certificate in GIS.

An internship by definition is an apprentice position.  This means that a rudimentary understanding of GIS and geographic knowledge is needed but hands on training is provided.  

GIS internship jobs offer a very low starting salary, most commonly ranging between the Federal minimum wage to $12/17 dollars an hour.

GIS Technician / Specialist

The GIS technician or GIS specialist job is the journey level position in GIS.

Most employers will require a bachelor’s degree in a related field (such as geography, Earth science, urban planning, public policy, or computer sciences) and at least 1-2 years of hands on experience (typically acquired during a GIS internship or volunteer position).  

A growing number of employers is also looking for staff that have a certification from a GIS certification institute such as the GISCI.

GIS technicians have a broad base of GIS knowledge which includes hands on experience with a desktop GIS software (either Esri’s ArcGIS or QGIS) and knowledge of GIS data types, GPS collection, relational database management systems (RDBMS), spatial analysis, and mapmaking.  Some web GIS knowledge may also be required.   GIS technicians should also have a knowledge of web coding languages such as HTML, CSS, and javascript.

GIS technicians should understand how to create and work with spatial data, manipulate those data sets, create both printed and digital maps, and be able to work within the SQL environment.

GIS technicians should also have excellent written and oral skills, be able to work independently (i.e. be able to accomplish GIS projects without needing direction from another person), and be able to work within office software (spreadsheet, word documents, and presentation software).

GIS Analyst

Analysts represent the mid-level GIS career position and focus on software development and scripting.  Analysts bring with them the same basic geographic knowledge of GIS technicians but with at least 3-5 years of experience.  Adding to this, most GIS analyst positions require some programming experience with a scripting language and a rudimentary knowledge of web coding.  

GIS analysts tend to more be focused on the development side of GIS than GIS technicians. GIS analysts create scripting customizations (mostly using Python and/or javascript) and might also focus on web mapping development.

GIS analysts also need to be skilled in data management, spatial analysis and statistics, remote sensing, and cartography. Keep in mind that the exact skill set will vary between employers.

GIS Analysts should know python, SQL, be familiar with a range of GIS desktop and web-based spatial analysis tools and software. A few examples are ArcGIS Pro, QGIS, Google Earth Engine, FME, and PostGIS. The expectations of skillset and a years of experience with geospatial software and mapping tools will vary by job.

GIS analyst positions often are listed under different titles depending on the industry.  Examples include Business Analyst, Associate Planner, and Retail Analyst.

GIS Developer

A GIS Developer’s role is heavily focused on scripting and coding. A GIS developer, ideally, will have the same skillsets as a GIS analyst but also have a more in depth knowledge of the common programming and scripting languages such as Python and SQL.

GIS analysts should have experience and skills in both front-end design languages and back-end.

GIS developers should have a background in a related geography field that also contains programming knowledge, or a degree computer science accompanied by a knowledge of geographic and cartographic concepts..

GIS developers are expected to be able to design and develop automated processes and work on web mapping applications.

GIS Coordinator or GIS Manager

A GIS coordinator or GIS manager typically has at least 5–6 years of experience in the field, depending on the company or agency. Some employers will require or at least heavily favor someone with a Master’s degree in a related field.

Since this position tends to oversee staff, GIS coordinators will also be required to have financial and project management experience. Depending on the size of the staff, this position may or may not also involved technical responsibilities.

Geographic Information Officer (GIO)

The geographic information officer is the geospatial counterpart to a Chief Information Officer (CIO).  A GIO is considered an executive position and can be found in organizations that have a large GIS group.  

The USGS was one of the first agencies to create a GIO position when it hired Karen Sidelis as its GIO in 2000.  

GIOs oversee the management and strategic direction of geospatial activities at agencies and companies with large mapping and GIS operations.  See: GIO – Geographic Information Officer.

This article about GIS job definitions was first published on December 1, 2012 and has since been updated.


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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.