Reasons Why You Should Learn GIS

Ally Fumo
Ally Fumo
Dec 15, 2020 · 6 min read

Geospatial technology is growing rapidly. This has resulted in a lot of new opportunities in far-ranging fields from the street lights in your city to using satellite imagery to observe changes on earth.

If you were ever on the fences, these are just a few reasons you should consider learning GIS.

Remote Work

One silver lining that is going to emerge when this pandemic cloud moves out is remote work.

Many organizations tested all benefits and limitations of remote and had to make necessary adjustments to ensure the continuation of their operations. Telecommuting has become a lifeline.

GIS professionals can, for the most part, work remotely 100% of the time. In this cloud era where people use Software as a Service (SaaS), you can remotely access all software you need and most documents you might need for your project on your company’s Electronic Document Manager(EDM). Alternatively, you could have your software installed on your computer/laptop and access all documents through your network.

In March, when the lockdowns started, transitioning from the office to working from home was the simplest thing I’ve had to do. Apart from a folder of the first project I was planning on working on, the only other thing I grabbed from the office was a monitor. I am accustomed to dual monitors at the office and only had one monitor at my place.

Furthermore, remote work is here to stay. A global study indicates that more than 20 percent of remote workforce work as effectively three to five days of the week as if working from the office. Another study, by the University of Chicago School of Economy, predicts that the percentage of the workforce working remotely will increase from 5 percent, pre-pandemic, to 22 percent, post-pandemic.

Application

Another good reason why you should learn GIS is its applications.

Global reliance on location intelligence is increasing at a very high rate. Many organizations turn to GIS for help in making spatially related decisions. Anything from what and where a problem is, monitoring changes, managing and responding to events, and even forecasting scenarios.

One of my articles touches a little bit on some fields in which GIS is being used. Another article went a little deeper and listed 1000 applications of GIS.

This is not something I knew about when I first got into GIS. It is, however, something I like to talk about whenever I get a chance.

Virtually every field can, and most likely does, use GIS. The only difference is the extent. Is it just for making simple communication maps or performing complex analyses. Making GIS a very nice thing to have in your toolbox.

Resources

A few years back, I took a short online course on Enterprise Resource Planning(ERP). It’s a class in the field of Data Science, one of the very lucrative fields. It’s the most expensive online class I’ve ever taken.

One of the obstacles I encountered was the lack of resources for practicing outside of the classroom.

Our instructor did give us limited access to his online Sandbox. Limited in the sense that it was terminated at the end of the course, and we only had ‘User’ privileges. To fully practice your new skills, you need ‘Admin’ access where you can build and break things.

An alternative to this was a monthly subscription to online Sandboxes, most of which were very expensive.

GIS has a wealth of online resources that are either free or very affordable.

ESRI, the world leader in GIS, has a lot of free and very affordable tutorials on their Training page. ESRI also offers evaluation copies of GIS software at a very affordable rate.

Youtube is another good source for GIS tutorials. These range from introductions, to the very advanced ones.

Besides ESRI, there are many free, open-sources GIS software that you can use to practice with. You can find this list here.

Many colleges and universities have collections of GIS data that you can download for free. Examples of these include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, PSU, the University of Texas at Austin, to name a few.

You can also download GIS data from many of the states’ Information Technology libraries. California Geoportal and Texas’ TNRIS are some good examples.

Another source is the US Census website (Tiger). This has one of the richest and well-organized collections of GIS data.

New Craft

You may just want to learn GIS as a new craft.

In today’s very competitive business world, being able to learn a new craft is one of the keys to success.

Learning a new skill has many benefits, including:

Learning a new skill opens doors to opportunities that were otherwise not available to you. This could be working in a new department in your company, getting into a brand new industry, have an extra stream of income from freelance work, or even working in a different country (when you learn a new language).

Technological advancement is one thing that’s not going to be slowing down any time soon. Learning a new skill is one way to keep you relevant at your job, your industry, or the workforce as a whole. Having an extra skill, like GIS, in your toolbox, plus your years of experience is likely to give you an edge over someone who’s just getting into the workforce.

People who embrace continuous learning tend to be very adaptable. Learning a new skill is risky and it takes you out of your comfort zone. Taking risks increases self-confidence and nurtures a growth mindset. This is the best way to grow as a person and as a professional.

One more benefit of learning a new skill is mental health. Learning a new skill, whether it’s GIS or anything else, gives your brain new experiences. Your brain gets trained to handle a variety of challenges. All this keeps neural pathways active.

Auxiliary Skills

As part of my GIS certificate program, I had to take several intro classes. Introduction to Database Management, AutoCAD, Programming, and Remote Sensing.

Depending on the line of work you choose, you might have to go a little deeper on some of these subjects. For example, my very first GIS job was with Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), where we were using aerial imagery to conduct natural resources inventory. This meant I had to dig a little deeper into Remote Sensing.

You might not have to set up a database from scratch, at least not at the beginning, but basic database knowledge is a must. Things like query definition, where you isolate just the data you want to work with instead of working with the entire database, is a required skill.

AutoCAD knowledge proved handy when I got into the oil and gas industry. Packages for many projects include some kind of AutoCAD drawings.

Learning an auxiliary skill opens you up to other areas that you might find more interesting than you thought. I am not a developer by any means, but I find it very satisfying when I can use a few lines of code to manipulate tens, thousands, or even tens of thousands of records.

Freelance Work

Freelance work is another reason you may want to consider learning GIS. Freelance work offers the flexibility of hours and the location where you work. It is also a good way to supplement your income or try out a new skill before deciding whether or not you want to go all in.

Sites like Fiverr and Upwork show a lot of GIS gigs charging rates up to $30/hr. Most of these gigs use data supplied by clients.

Conclusion

There has never been a better time to learn GIS. Whether you’re planning on embarking on a brand new career journey, you want to boost your resume or to start a side hustle, you will be entering the spatial technology world when it is advancing at a rapid rate and its demand ever so high.