Geographic information systems, or GIS, are software frameworks for capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying data related to positions on the Earth’s surface. Enabled by advances in satellite imagery as well as data science, GIS allows for the integration of many types of geospatial datasets such as buildings, vegetation, and natural resources. GIS applications have quickly become an important tool for a wide variety of industries that can benefit from the combination of data analysis with mapping.
For example, GIS tools are increasingly used in the agricultural sector to combine satellite imagery with data from remote sensors and farming equipment to improve yields through more precise decision-making around cultivation and harvesting. It is an important tool for environmental protection as well, allowing potential ecological hazards to be identified and even predicted in advance using artificial intelligence (AI), as well as informing water and wildlife conservation initiatives.
GIS approaches are also important for delivering insights about the man-made world, providing a common framework to bring together data about places, populations, and economies and discover patterns and relationships between them. For example, urban planners use GIS systems to examine how transportation networks in a city function and how to improve them to reduce congestion or support economic development. GIS systems are also invaluable tools for military and intelligence applications, as they can reveal critical insights about other countries’ activities - whether in peacetime or wartime.
Skills in using leading GIS software programs like Esri can be a major asset across a wide variety of careers. The ability to conduct geospatial data analysis that brings together information and mapping, as well as the ability to easily create data visualizations to display the resulting insights, is important to any industry where places and locations matter. Thus, GIS can help with careers in areas as diverse as farming, mining, transportation, law enforcement, and the utility sector.
One field that has come to rely heavily on the use of GIS is urban and regional planning, where professionals are responsible for formulating land use and zoning plans, designing transportation systems, and guiding infrastructure and economic development initiatives. GIS software is critical for integrating mapping information with a wide variety of relevant datasets such as population growth, transportation networks, and economic activity, providing important insights for planners. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, urban and regional planners earned a median annual salary of $74,350 in 2019, and these jobs are expected to grow much faster than average over the next decade due to accelerating demographic and environmental changes.
Definitely. Coursera is a popular way to learn about many topics in computer science and data science, including courses and Specializations spanning multiple courses focused on GIS specifically. Because you can learn remotely, Coursera also allows you to learn from top-ranked universities from around the world including University of California Davis, University of Toronto, and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in France. You can also build GIS skills by completing step-by-step tutorials with experienced instructors as part of Coursera’s Guided Projects.
Some skills and experience you may want to already have, before learning GIS, include critical thinking, research, map reading, and organizational skills. It also may be beneficial to have experience with quantitative data analysis, graphic design software, and computer programming. Math courses like trigonometry, geometry, calculus, and topology can be useful. You may also find that taking a statistics course to familiarize yourself with statistical thinking can be an asset.
Common career paths for people with a background in GIS often start with entry-level positions, such as CAD drafter, GIS technician, survey CAD technician, or land survey technician. They may advance their careers by assuming roles as a GIS analyst, geodesist, or cartographer. Senior positions include senior CAD designer, GIS developer, GIS coordinator, and GIS project manager. Some people with a background in GIS may work for a period of time to get on-the-job experience before opening their own firm.
Some topics related to GIS that you may want to study include data analysis and statistics. Other options are math courses like geometry, trigonometry, calculus, and discrete math. You can also learn how to use different graphic software programs as well as data visualization and data modeling. Geography, cartography, and meteorology also play a role in GIS practice. GIS has applications in a variety of fields, and you may choose to learn more about them if they interest you. They include farming, food security, agri-tourism, ranching, pollution, climate change, astronomy, architecture, aviation, banking, and transportation.
The types of places that hire people with a background in GIS include government agencies, engineering firms, utility companies, construction companies, and mining companies. People with a background in GIS may also find jobs in schools and consultancy companies. These places typically work within a range of industries, such as agriculture, construction, mining, military intelligence, health and epidemiology, and archaeology.
This FAQ content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.