A Career in GIS

GIS is a system used to manipulate and visualize geographic data. There are many applications ranging from environmental protection to emergency response. It is an incredibly helpful tool that allows users to “picture” data and further analyze it.

I recently spoke with Jennifer Kirby, a GIS Work Lead, at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Jennifer completed her bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Texas at Austin in Geography Earth Science. She shared what working at the TCEQ is like, information about her team, and advice for those interested in pursuing a career in the field. Jennifer started her career at the TCEQ as one of The Mickey Leland Environmental Internship recipients where her GIS skills were fostered in conjunction with her taking initiative to learn as much as she could. She now works on a team with four other people: two analysts and two developers. She describes the differences in roles wherein analysts are typically focused on creating maps and updating databases with SQL while developers tend to work on more custom projects rooted in JavaScript and Python.

An ideal entry level candidate is someone who can work independently and take initiative. It is also imperative to be flexible and adaptable on the job. Some other tips to keep in mind are remembering the importance of polishing up and gaining new skills, always practicing attention to detail in order to deliver accurate work, and maintaining a high standard with the goal of creating a quality product. For those considering a career in GIS, Jennifer has several recommendations.  She suggests taking advantage of Esri’s MOOC program. These are free skills-based online courses which allow the user to improve their geospatial technology abilities. Also, consider keeping up to date with ArcGIS Pro and honing python capabilities. One application of GIS is emergency management, so it may be helpful to look into FEMA courses as well.

GIS is a rapidly evolving tool that is being used more and more. For those fellow McGillians who are interested, there is  an introductory course, GEOG 201. This is a great way to get started. The software is also installed on computers in the GIC on the fifth floor of Burnside Hall.

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