Professional Education and Career Blog

The Growing Field of Geographic Information Systems

Geographic Information SystemsOne of the fastest growing fields in information technology is Geographic Information Systems (GIS). This field is the science of computer systems that capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage and present geographical or spatial data. The most obvious area would be things like storing map data, such as Google Maps. But the field is much broader than that, and with location information become more and more readily available with smart phones, the career prospects have been growing rapidly.

What is GIS?

The general field describes any information system that uses geographic data for information processing. GIS applications typically allow users to query the database to extract and analyze spatial information, edit data in maps, and present the data in various ways. People can use the data to compare locations of things to discover relationships, such as finding sites with environmental concerns.

A sub-specialty is Geographic Information Science, which is a specialty within GIS that researches concepts and algorithms underlying geographic data analysis and storage.

The Spread of GIS

These days GIS underpins many technologies that we take for granted. Like the previously mentioned Google Maps, GIS is used is used in many other industries. It has been especially growing in fields like advertising, where location data is used to predict what products people might be interested in. GIS also shows up in things like driving directions and social media (e.g., “check in”). Any aspect of someone’s life that involves geography or location is potentially affected by GIS technology.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, GIS growth will be particularly strong in cities with an established base of cartography and database technology, as well as federal Government agencies including U.S. Geological Survey, Army Corps of Engineers, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Forest Service.

To some extent, this field is augmenting or even replacing traditional cartographers. No map is drawn these days as simple images; it’s all about having a list of geographic features and data points, and generating the map images from that.

Career Prospects

The demand for GIS is growing. The U.S. government predicts Geographic Information System will be in high demand over the next decade, with annual salaries of $70,000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts growth of 35% a year, with a shortage of trained people to fill the jobs. Currently the geoservices industry is valued at $270 billion and employs over 500,000 people.

CartographyOne attractive feature of GIS careers is that many of the skills involved are transferable to many industry sectors, giving a broad base of job options and career choices.


Many schools have noticed the increased demand in GIS jobs, and thus are offering more degree programs oriented toward this field, such as a Bachelor of Science in Geographic Information Systems, as well as numerous graduate degrees offering a specialty in GIS.

There are many online options as well. One example is Penn State, who offers a “Master of Geographic Information Systems” through the Penn State Online World Campus. They are certainly not the only one, and many accredited institutions are offering programs. For professionals with a current degree in Business Information Systems and are looking to expand into a new specialty, pursuing a graduate degree in this rapidly growing area could be a great option.


GIS is everywhere these days, and can be a great career option for people who are detailed oriented, and enjoy working with “big data” to produce interesting results. With the predicted growth, someone who enters this field can be reasonably assured of a good career path.