What does a GIS Technician do?

N. Madison
N. Madison

A geographic information system (GIS) technician works with maps and geographic data. He has the job of researching, gathering, analyzing, and adjusting geographic data and using it to create new maps, graphs, charts, and databases. His job involves using special programs and GIS equipment to convey geographic data in the most accurate manner possible. A person who becomes a GIS technician often works to design maps for the travel or education industry. He may also find his skills in demand with government agencies, science organizations, natural resource companies, and even some advertising businesses.

GIS technicians research and adjust geographic data to create new maps and charts.
GIS technicians research and adjust geographic data to create new maps and charts.

While maps can be drawn by hand or created using less-advanced tools, GIS technology provides a way to digitally integrate data from numerous sources into up-to-date, accurate maps. A GIS technician uses technology to input data from numerous sources, creating maps in digital format, and cross-referencing geographical data. With this vast amount of data available in digital form, people are often able to locate and identify geographical patterns that might be harder to note if hand-drawn maps were used.

A GIS technician may read geographical information from a map and enter it into data form.
A GIS technician may read geographical information from a map and enter it into data form.

In addition to mapping physical elements, a GIS technician may use other types of data to create a database or design a map. For example, a person in this field may gather political data to use in map preparation, and cultural information may be used for the same purpose. His or her research and data gathering is done with the goal of not only creating maps, but also helping people to understand the environment. In fact, a GIS technician's skills may even be used by environmentalists. For example, the data a GIS technician gathers and incorporates into a map, database, or chart may help environmentalists identify places that are faced with certain types of pollution or regions that are home to endangered species.

A person who wants to work in this field usually graduates from high school and earns a four-year college degree. While some colleges may offer GIS programs that world be appropriate for entering this field, an aspiring GIS technician may alternatively earn a degree in geography or computer science to prepare for this field. An individual may even get started in this career with a degree in engineering or environmental science as long as the educational program includes coursework in subjects such as GIS and historical geography. Some people may also seek related internships or earn master's degrees in preparation for a career in this field.

N. Madison
N. Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments


@MrMoody - I believe that they are more or less the same, with the exception that the GIS technician would be expected to become familiar with computer software.

Traditional cartography goes back thousands of years and was a tedious, hand drawn process. GIS nowadays seems to be primarily software driven.


@everetra - What makes a cartographer different from a GIS technician? It seems that GIS jobs are very similar to those of the traditional map maker.


@miriam98 - That sounds like it would have been a lot of fun. I think your experience, however fleeting, was excellent and is precisely what many employers are looking for: a computer programmer who has familiarity with mapping software.

I am beginning to see quite a few GIS technician jobs pop up in the local newspaper. It seems that people who have these skills are few and far between, yet demand appears to be increasing.

I can think of a number of industries that could use GIS technicians: map makers, GIS software (and hardware) companies and meteorological organizations to name a few. It’s my understanding that job growth for this kind of work is expected to continue at a steady clip for the next few years.


I used GIS map creation software at the last job I had. It wasn’t my official duty, but part and parcel of several things they had me do as a programmer analyst.

It was my job to gather geographic data from various sources and then feed it into the software and then overlay the telecommunications network map on top of it.

I then brought in statistical data that appeared as another layer on the map, displaying values like telephone call volume in various locations. After awhile I became really good at creating the maps and became the “go to” person for using this software.

I never did get too advanced with it, but it also had its own proprietary programming language modeled after BASIC. So if you wanted, you could build a completely automated mapping solution or create something that was interactive, like a game or something like that.

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