There are certain skills that can really make you successful in your GIS career. Let’s start the countdown:
#8 Basic Programming Knowledge
Every GIS professional learns to use one basic software package or another along the way. Some are very powerful and have some amazing capabilities. But even with that, you may still find yourself in need of automating a process, performing complex analysis, or simply standardizing work spread across multiple departments or people. This is when some basic programming skills come in handy.
#7 Involvement in Professional Organizations
Professional organizations bring together people of similar careers, backgrounds, objectives, and professional challenges. These venues allow you to ask for help, contribute back to your industry, and stay abreast of new geospatial data and offerings.
#6 A Great Network
Learn to develop and appreciate your network. There are plenty of people out there with more experience than you and faced similar challenges along the way that would be willing to point you in the right direction. Or maybe you’ll find others in the same boat facing the same issues.
#5 Keep Learning
Those new complex tools and widgets you see today might be simplified and ubiquitous in a year or two. Getting exposure to those new offerings today helps you stay current and allows you to better adapt to industry changes as they happen tomorrow. Webinars are often free. Conferences come in all shapes and sizes, from the 10,000+ person Esri User Conference to the 20-30 person local sessions. Take a training session to learn how to code. Attend lightening talks to check out all those cool projects your fellow map geeks are involved in.
#4 Software-Specific Knowledge
Yes, you need to know how to use the GIS software – that’s where most of the work is done. But while knowing how to use the GIS software you have on hand is important, I believe you need to know more than just how to push buttons on one particular software. Esri has a great suite of offerings and has done a great job getting itself into school systems and GIS 101 classes. It’s the 800 pound gorilla that most people know. But there are so many options out there for other GIS software applications. Open source software has really taken off over the last decade and there are plenty of other commercial desktop options.Branch out, try other software. Not only do you expand your knowledge base, but you might just like something else better!
#3 Analytical and Critical Thinking
As a GIS professional, you will be faced with a wide variety of mapping requests and analytical issues. One day you’ll be working on right-of-way management for city streets, modelling storm surge the next day, and later combining datasets from multiple sources into one centralized catalog.
Some of that know-how comes with time and experience, but there’s something to be said for sitting down and charting out the steps you’ll need to address, the challenges along the way, and the approach you’re going to take.
Talk it out with a colleague and think about the challenges alongthe way. Your mind has to be able to think about every possible scenario in each step in the process. As you get involved in bigger projects, the workloads get more complicated and that critical thinking earlier in the planning process really starts to pay dividends.
#2 Project Management
The best part of what we do is the ability to be involved in so many different types of projects. And more often than not, many of those projects are happening at the same time. You will continually be juggling projects, managing stakeholder expectations, and working against various time constraints. And above all, communication and coordination are critical to the success of any project. Keep your stakeholders informed and up to date, meet your deadlines, and always delivery better than promised.
And the Number 1 skill needed to be a successful GIS professional…
#1 Sales Skills
Half of a GIS professional’s job is sales. You have a client request a small project, but maybe you believe there’s more to that request than originally thought. Maybe they don’t even know what they want. Maybe they don’t even know what is possible. Perhaps what they really need is completely different than what they’re asking for – maybe more complex, maybe much smaller.Your job is to talk to them and get to the root of their needs. Walk them through their options. Show them what you’ve done previously. Guide them towards solutions that may be a better fit.