Photo by David Travis on Unsplash

Essential Skills for GIS Technicians

GIS technology is enjoying steady growth. According to a market research group study, global revenue generated by GIS will be worth $25.6 billion by 2030. This is owed, in part, to the advancement in cloud technology and surging demand for location-as-a-service solutions.

The growth attracts many people to the field. Especially people who want more than just collecting a paycheck. People who:

Many GIS professionals start as GIS Technicians and work their way up.


Whether you’ll be working with ESRI products or any other available GIS software, you need to be comfortable finding your way around. Navigating the interface, connecting to different data sources, and adding different data formats. The ability to customize your workspace to your liking is going to have a positive effect on your work efficiency.

There are a lot of resources from both ESRI and open source software to get you started.

Introduction to Programming

GIS uses programming languages in a variety of ways. From automating tasks, customizing existing models, to writing applications from scratch. A basic understanding of programming is a requirement to work in the GIS field.

Concepts of object-oriented programming and scripting (Python, VB) become very handy. Use script to performing simple tasks, for example, labeling features using multiple fields. Also, when you have someone else performing the not so simple tasks for you. You’ll at least know what they are talking about.

Databases and Queries

GIS uses data for visualization and analysis. Data used, in most cases, is organized and stored in spatial databases. Spatial databases are optimized to store and query spatial data.

You need to have a basic understanding of database models and data types. The basics of tables (fields, records) and the concept of primary and foreign keys.

Your most important database skill, however, will be to use SQL. You use SQL (Structured Query Language) to retrieve and manipulate data. Spend some time getting familiar with SELECT statements to retrieve data FROM tables using WHERE conditions. And simple data manipulation to INSERT/DELETE data and JOIN tables.


Depending on a project, you could go for months without having to make a map. Data integrity projects, for example, do not usually involve making maps. But as a GIS Technician, you need at least the basics of cartography. You will be expected to know how to make maps.

Most requests are likely to be simple maps, for a presentation, or something similar. Depending on your organization, exhibit quality maps may be a common thing.

You should know the difference between working in ‘Data-view’ and ‘Layout-view’. Symbolizing using categories, quantities, and single and multiple attributes. Working with legend, manipulating labels, working with multiple data frames and neatlines.

Neatlines are borders that separate different map elements.


Your ability to work as a part of a team will have a very high impact on your success. In GIS, just like in any other profession, big projects are completed by splitting them into smaller tasks. Your co-workers need to be able to rely on you to complete your assigned task on time. You should be ready to contribute to the success of your team by communicating your ideas professionally. You should also listen and respect when other team members express their ideas.

Working in a team will bring out awareness of your capabilities and maximize your strength. It will also enable you to learn faster by participating in brainstorming sessions.


If you’re seriously considering a career in GIS, these skills are more than enough to get your ‘foot in the door’ so to speak. Together with a lifelong learning attitude, you’re sure to find a bright and rewarding future in this field.

If you’re a current GIS professional and feel there’s a skill that should be added to this list, I’d like to hear from you.

Former GIS Analyst in Oil and Gas industry turned Copywriter.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store