How to become a GIS developer

Web GIS mapping

The industry of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has been around for about 30 years.   For most of this time, people have done data viewing, analysis, and cartography via desktop software.  But the popularity and power of web applications has changed the need.  Now people want to consume their map data via a website or smartphone rather than a printed map taped to the wall.  Like any data, the most popular form of GIS is consumed through the web.  Web GIS provides flexibility and scalability for different users in different locations to make the decisions they need such as:  where’s the traffic, what’s my house worth, and where’s the hotel I am booking. If you’re looking to apply yourself to a growing tech area, it’s easy to see that Web GIS is applicable to many industries.

GIS web developer skills

You are probably one of two types of people that look to be a GIS Web developer.  It could be a GIS analyst that wants to add software development skills.  Or it could be a computer science major that wants to learn about GIS databases and spatial concepts.  A GIS web developer typically works with government or private agencies to design, program, and maintain GIS applications. Here is a list of the most important web developing skills.  And it’s easier than ever to find learning tutorials and support.  We provided some links to these technologies within GIS project workflows.

  • Python: programming language for data analytics
  • HTML: standard markup language for structuring a web page
  • CSS: a mechanism for adding style to web documents
  • Javascript: text-based programming language 
  • AWS: cloud computing platform provided by Amazon
  • Esri ArcGIS suite:  geospatial objects, tools, and map services
  • Noteable mentions:  other open source option are Google Maps API, Leaflet, PostGIS

When you learn these skills you are able to put maps in apps.  And you don’t need a second degree to become proficient.  We know plenty of people in our industry that rolled up their sleeves by practicing on projects using this tech stack and became killer developers.

ArcGIS Developer

If you want to be in high demand, develop your skills as an ArcGIS Developer.  The most popular GIS software is made by Esri. Their ArcGIS suite of products serve enterprise needs for small and large organizations all around the world.   To be a successful developer you will want to learn ArcGIS Server which lets you generate web map services (WMS) that can be consumed via cloud applications.  Developers are able to distribute GIS content, such as map content, imagery, and custom displays to others through web map services. To customize the web interface developers need Javascript or Esri Arcade, which is a secure expression language used in the ArcGIS platform to create behaviors like custom popups.  

Web GIS applications

Web mapping applications can be seen in most disciplines:  emergency services, health, conservation, urban planning, and defense.  If you are new to the GIS field, see a wonderful list of a 1000 GIS applications that your skills could be used for.  All the business data you see on a Google Map is a result of some data and web programming. Engineers use Web GIS to plan capital improvement projects to build new roads, utilities, and public buildings. FEMA and local emergency operations centers require decision management through map applications for natural disasters to answer questions like: Where can vehicles travel, where can supplies be delivered, and where can people gather safely?  If you go into this area, it will be an interesting career as one day you might work on a site suitability app to map solar farm potential and the next project might be to collect public reporting of where street potholes are.  Never a dull day.  

GIS developer salaries 

GIS developers are in demand as there are not enough people learning this combination of skills. The GIS salaries of GIS developers usually range between $52K to $115K. You could be hired by a range of employers like US Forest Service, City of Denver, or Walgreens. As of there are over 26,000 GIS jobs available on Indeed, many of them needing GIS Developer skills (Indeed, January 2022). 

Indeed GIS developer salaries

Conclusion

There are more than 1000 applications of Web GIS in different industries, and this number is still increasing. The salary of a web GIS developer is also considerable because they are in high demand. Skills are attainable through several sources like an applied GIS certificate program with a blend of IT skills. To make yourself remarkable, do these three things:

  1. Learn key GIS technologies
  2. Apply them to pilot projects
  3. Network and connect with experts

Once you can accurately describe your development steps, you’ll be an attractive hire!

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