GIS Career Path and Development

What is GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and how does one get involved in this type of career path? This has been a repeated question throughout my 10 years as a GIS Professional from all experiences and ages. Since the advanced technologies of GPS, navigation systems, and the popularity of map use; GIS has gained interest from the most uncommon populations.  Here are a few examples of inquiries I’ve had in the past year: parents ask about GIS career’s for their high school senior students, professionals within the industry (with various backgrounds) exposed to GIS workflows for the first time and asking how to learn GIS, friends considering changing their career paths to GIS, and college students inquiring what GIS skills they need to be considered as a GIS Professional in the Oil & Gas Industry.

GIS is very well defined in industries such as marketing/advertising, government, real estate, agriculture, environment, census bureau; and not as well defined in other industries such as Oil & Gas. Many Petroleum companies have yet to develop a GIS career path and/or define roles, job descriptions, and degree requirements. I’ve reached out to the PUG Steering Committee to gather what experience is ideal for a GIS Professional.

In this article, I will share a recommended guideline for High School/ College Students, current Professional growth, and those seeking a career change in GIS and the Oil & Gas Industry.

High School and College Students

Let’s begin with those who are in High School or current College students. Obviously there are specific majors that are recommended for those who would like to pursue a GIS career in the O&G Industry, such as: Petroleum Engineering, Earth Science, Geology, Geography, Computer Science, Mining, and Survey Engineering. Keep in mind, there are other aspects within the Petroleum Industry that are not mentioned above (i.e. IT, Business, Project Management, Human Resources, Environmental, Organizational Capability, etc.), however these are majors that compliment GIS and may steer you into the direction of GIS. An example would be the Land Department in O&G companies. Petroleum companies work with land leases, fees, sections, townships, etc. which are critical and spatially related. A Land Analyst does not necessarily need to major in the common fields of study, but understanding the fundamentals of O&G is definitely a benefit. I would recommend researching the different functions with the oil industry and the fundamentals of upstream, midstream, and downstream. Additional classes that strengthen experience for the O&G industry would be business, project management, organizational leadership, finance, development or coding, and data management/architecture.

CareertrackFig 1.0 This is one example of the Life Cycle business process, GIS can apply to each of the categories.

For a college student interested in pursuing a GIS career in the O&G industry, it is recommended to obtain a GIS degree or GIS Master’s Degree from an accredited college. This is not required, but suggested by the GIS Professionals and Managers from various Oil & Gas companies. Today, the availability of GIS degrees, both online and on campus, have grown considerably over the last 10 years.

Internships are also recommended and fantastic resume builders when demonstrating experience within the O&G Industry. Most major oil companies have paid internship programs and recruit at various Universities. Recruitment generally begins in the fall prior to the summer of hire. Visit the company website of your choice for internship opportunities and how to apply. It’s a great way to ‘get a foot in the door’ and decide if it’s the career for you. There are also various local and nonprofit GIS organizations that may need GIS volunteer work. This is a fantastic networking option and may lead you to additional opportunities.

Professionals in GIS

Often times, mid-career professionals recognize the power of GIS to improve their workflows and become eager to learn more develop their GIS skillset. So, how does a current professional gain experience to better perform GIS in their current position? Depending on the amount of GIS workload required of their position, a professional can explore various online tutorials, classes, GIS certificates, and/or leverage their companies training options. Training and certifications provide a deeper understanding of key GIS concepts and demonstrates a personal commitment that employers like to see.  ESRI provides online and instructor led training and also offers a GIS Technical Certification Program. Other online and instructor-led training companies within the O&G industry are TeachMeGIS and Exprodat. There is also the option of a GISP (GIS Professional) certificate offered through the GISCI (Geographic Information Systems Certification Institute.  This program is internationally-recognized and offers a method of demonstrating competence for professionals in the GIS profession.

In addition, most companies allow Professionals to volunteer and participate in external organizations related to their position. There are numerous local and global GIS organizations and user groups that can assist with gaining more knowledge and sharpening your GIS skills. The GIS Lounge is a fantastic source providing a list of various GIS organizations and User groups.

Lastly, work with your company to seek mentorship or knowledge sharing with functions heavily embedding in GIS teams. This is your opportunity, as a Professional, to choose your area of interest within the Petroleum Industry. Examples are IT GIS Analysts, Land Analyst, Geotechnician, Geologist, Earth Scientist, Geophysicist, etc.

Career Change

As GIS and mapping systems become integrated into the daily tasks of our world, more people are learning about GIS and interested in pursuing a GIS career. Of course, if a Petroleum Engineer wants to change their career to a GIS Analyst, it’s much easier than a Nurse wanting to become a GIS Analyst. If your current career is not related to IT or O&G, you will want to review the options listed above for college students.

Prior to a career change, it is necessary to have an understanding of the tool, be a current ArcMap user, and understand the value of geospatial science in both surface and subsurface oil and gas exploration, production, and data gathering. Building off your current degree is your best option and may require an online GIS degree or returning to school all together. Most do not want to return to school and the best advice I’ve gathered is to: leverage your companies GIS team through mentoring opportunities, research and understand the mapping products developed by your company, become a beta tester, integrate your domain experience, and focus on additional training.  Once you have developed the necessary GIS skillset, target entry-level and/or cross functional positions within your company.  A career change for anyone can be a difficult road and take a lot of your free time. GIS can be a broad topic, but there is much more to GIS than just a map.

GIS Position Types

Perform a search on GIS jobs and you will find many positions throughout the world and in all sectors, including different types of positions: GIS Developer, GIS Analyst, Geotechnician, GIS Architect, etc. Most GIS degrees focus on data analysis, geoprocessing, spatial statistics, and cartographic principles. From my experience, the majority of GIS positions are within IT and GIS Developers seem to be a sought out skillset for Petroleum and the overall industries.  These type of positions require experience and an understanding of the back-end of ArcGIS applications (Arc Server, SDE, html, etc.) including: data management, web publishing (ArcGIS portal), and custom development (Java, Objective C, C#, etc.).  While these skillsets are generally learned on the job, a degree or prior knowledge in Computer Science is a big help for understanding the back end processes of ArcGIS.

However, in the O&G industry, understanding the interface and spatial analysis side of ArcGIS is still a hot commodity. The main thing to remember if you are interested in pursuing a career in the O&G Industry is to understand or have experience with the different functions of the Petroleum Industry (mentioned above).

In summary, GIS is a growing discipline and can be applied in almost any career field. Although the Oil & Gas Industry has its ups and downs, it will never cease to exist and will always remain rich in GIS diversity.

Gina John, PUG Steering Committee -Resource Coordinator

The PUG would like to thank our sponsors for their support: BP, ConocoPhillips, Esri, GeoCortex by Latitude Geographics, LogicSolutions Group, TeachMeGIS, and Wipro.



One Comment on “GIS Career Path and Development

  1. Thanks Gina, have you seen Dan Goldberg’s survey posted on the PUG Online Linkedin Group (as opposed to this page)? I’ll post this link there too.

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