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#1
mbettik

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Hello all!
I am new to the forums and new to GIS. I just have a couple of quick questions.

I have a bachelors in finance, but no geography or GIS experience. I am very interested in obtaining a GIS certificate, from Penn State University, as a means of entering into the GIS field. The Certificate is completed entirely online.

My questions are:
Would a GIS certificate prepare me for an entry level GIS position?
Would the fact that the certificate is obtained online be frowned upon?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks!

#2
benbakelaar

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I have been considering taking this program as well, but I already have my undergraduate degree in Geography and I have some GIS experience. I work in the IT field for my day job, so I can't speak from direct work experience, but I do GIS consulting/projects on the side, and I have a few friends who work for the state department of forestry.

I do believe that the Penn State GIS program will prepare you for an entry-level GIS position, but those jobs are hard to come by, as most cash-strapped departments (a majority I would guess) allocate GIS tasks to someone already on staff, as is the case with the forestry dept. Also, I believe you are looking at a salary range around $30k starting, which is pretty rough after financing a Penn State degree (12 credits at $500+ per credit).

And you need to be willing to move to where the jobs are... A job forum I usually peek at from time to time is http://www.geosearch.com/. They send out weekly emails with all the new postings, but often they aren't even for entry-level GIS... more like entry level project management, i.e. sales or data compilation. What I'm saying is, you may not necessarily get to work with maps that much at an entry-level GIS position.

But others on the forum are far wiser and more experienced than me... so I would defer to their opinions.

#3
paul

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My questions are:
Would a GIS certificate prepare me for an entry level GIS position?
Would the fact that the certificate is obtained online be frowned upon?


I am neither old nor wise, but here are my experiences in working in the world of GIS. My day job is at a small GIS consulting firm. We do anything from map production, to remote sensing, spatial analysis, and setting up enterprise GIS's. I don't think any of us have a GIS certificate, or even a college degree in geography. I have a B.S. and M.S. in geology, took two GIS courses in grad school, and now I do this full-time (and love it!). Several others who have worked here had similar "non-GIS" educational backgrounds. I met a guy at a conference once who had a degree in philosophy, but somehow got into GIS full-time. His background in logic made him a natural at python scripting and general GIS problem solving. He was awesome. When we make a hire at entry-level, our primary criteria are: 1)ability to solve problems, a quick mind; 2) ability to learn quickly on the fly; 3) patience

GIS changes so fast, simply being a good learner will help you keep abreast, and will take you farther than your background education. I graduated 4 years ago, and most of my GIS coursework is now obsolete (ArcINFO workstation, anyone?). I think most GIS skills are learned on the job, and no amount of schooling, online or in class, will prepare you for EVERY situation you will encounter.

All that being said, background education doesn't hurt! :) When making hires, having something like a GIS certificate could set you apart from other candidates, and show that you are serious about GIS. And we certainly wouldn't look down upon an online certification. But when it comes down to it, most jobs are more about knowing the right people than having the right background/education.

#4
supercooper

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Whoa Paul, you and I are very alike. I too have both MS and BS degrees in Geology and now do GIS full-time. I never took a single GIS class in school, but started using GIS to make maps for my thesis, and realized it was fun and I was pretty good at it. Then I got my first job in it and here I am. I am pretty much a GIS programmer now, and as far as GIS/programming is concerned, I have learned it all on the job and in a few training courses. That said, I agree with Paul that most of it is learned on the job (diving into the software and code is the best way to learn in my opinion), although there are plenty of core principles that can be learned in the classroom. I also believe that formal education, however, cannot hurt and indeed can give you an edge on other candidates. It can also lead to other things. If I had not went to get my MS, I wouldnt be sitting here now typing this....and I wouldnt have the good job that I do.

Just my 2 cents. Hope it helps.

#5
Rob

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i agree with all and will add the following. to learn software it is best to just jump in and go, either on the job or in spare time at home or you school's computer lab. In regard to GIS, there are books you can buy with compilmentary licenses and you can easily 'learn' ArcView in a week. While you'll learn the "how" to do things, you will not necessarily learn the "why" of what you are doing, and that aspect is just as important. I don't know about the Penn St. program, but if this is something that really interests you, I don't think learning some of the theory behind GIS is such a bad thing. In my experiences, those who spend the time learning, studying, and understanding the theories that support a solid GIS or cartographic education are the ones who are best prepared to suceed in the long run.

Anyone can learn software, but do you know how to properly use it?

#6
araki5

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One thing i knew when i got my BA in ECON was that it was tough finding a job in Economics. So I went back to school and finished my GIS Cert at one of my local Junir colleges.
When I got my first "real" GIS job(intern with CAL-EPA) you learn a lot just by doing it at work. So, in your case, Penn State offers the licenses pretty cheaply, and with the extensions too. So I would do the coursework and do the exercises at home and learn it like you would anything else. I would say that I have learned just as much from ESRI Discussion Forums and Cartotalk as from any of the classes I took at college.

I certainly believe that a GIS Cert gets the competitive edge for a job in GIS.

BTW - I am thinking of doing the Penn State MSCI in GIS. But ouch - it's $$$$
Randy Long
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Raster is Faster, but Vector is Corrector.

#7
David T

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BTW - I am thinking of doing the Penn State MSCI in GIS. But ouch - it's $$$$


I, too, have been considering getting the MSCI in GIS from Penn State. Last check it was $18,000 for the three year program. Seems a bit pricey, but, a good education doesn't come cheap.

The MSCI from Penn State is not an academic program, so you can't put those credits toward a Ph.D.

I have a BA in Geography, and it has served me just fine. The experience I have doing what I do has more than made up (in the eyes of my employer) for the lack of a Masters degree. If I wanted to stay within the Federal Government, I'm better served by that experience than by my degree. (The degree would have gotten me to my current 'rank' one year quicker than I achieved my rank).

You have to ask yourself - why get the degree? What are you going to use it for? Is it for continuing education? Is it for better job opportunities? Those are all valid reasons to obtain it.

For myself, I'm considering the degree because I would like to be able to teach at the local community colleges. They seem to be look for instructors all the time, and, in California, I'm not eligible to teach with only a BA. I need that Masters to teach. I've verified that the degree program from Penn State would enable me to teach locally.

As it's not a pressing issue - I don't *have* to teach, and rather enjoy being 'off work' at night (which is when I'd be teaching), I'm okay right now (i.e, I'm enjoying my day job). But, teaching combined with doing consulting work / projects has a certain appeal as well.
David Toney, GISP
GIS Manager
United States Marine Corps
West Coast Installations

#8
Maisie

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I am halfway through the Penn State Certificate in GIS program (which I'm taking to update my Illustrator-based cartography experience).

It seems that a lot of the people in the class have learned GIS on the job and are in the program for the creds (and to fill in the gaps in their knowledge). True beginners are definitely outnumbered.

The 1-year, 4-class certificate can be applied to the GIS Master's program, so I figure I can decide later if I want to continue. I'm also hoping the certificate will get me a fulltime job---then I'll just have my future employer pay the rest of the tuition!

#9
ELeFevre

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I think one the most important aspects of finding a job in GIS is proving to your potential employer that the field actually interests you. Sounds crazy, eh? There are so many people trying to enter the field - all with certificates and degrees - you have to be able to differentiate yourself from the herd. A great way to do this is to create a well designed cartographic portfolio of your GIS projects. Pay a cartographer to polish your output if you don't have the time or ambition to learn the fundamentals of cartographic/graphic design. A portfolio will seperate you from the unemployed flock, guaranteed. You need to show what you can do, visually. Creating a list (resume) of academic degrees along with all of the applications and crazy programing languages you know really doesnt say much...except that you are an average unemployed computer geek looking for a pay-check among thousands of others just like you. I sware to god that 99% of the GIS/Cart resumes I've seen are all the same boring list of qualifications with no portfolio to speak of. It's shocking. What employeers look for is someone different, well rounded, and has a personality and energy level that complements the work environment. Employers also like examples of your work that they can hold. A well designed web portfolio won't hurt either. Hire a web designer if you can't do it yourself.


If you are thinking about getting a certificate, I would seriously evaluate the program (I'm not sold on online programs) no matter who's offering and opt for heading to the classroom instead. Sorry. I don't believe anything can replace an actual classroom of peers with a "live" instructor who holds you accountable for being present (despite the weather!), participation, assignments, et cetera. If you're an average student looking for a career, why bother with a certificate? Just buy the books from ESRI and network like mad....because ultimately networking is as important as any degree. If you plan on being in the top of your class and you have a genuine interest in the geospatial sciences, then head to the classroom and fight for the top spot by working your $%^ off. At the same time, create a few impressive side projects at home. Do this and you will have a much better chance at finding a job...with or without a degree.

One more thing, if you're a student and you're hanging around Cartotalk on regular basis, you're on the right track!



#10
Claude

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Yeah, as an occasional employer - someone with talent and heart shines a lot more than someone wih a lot of certifications. Ultimately, you need someone that you can stand being around all day for 5 days a week and you can always train someone. Erin's advice about a web portfolio is definitely sound. Although as a person who will eventually be back on the job market someday...I'm getting a GIS certificate to round out my resume. Like many of you, my education is in a different field.
In a nutshell, if you get a lucky break or if you are one hell of a motivated self-starter type you don't need a degree but as they say... "trust in Allah, but tie your camel"
Platts, a div. of McGraw-Hill
www.maps.platts.com


#11
Maisie

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I agree completely with everything you say, except:
>Pay a cartographer to polish your output if you don't have the time or ambition to learn the fundamentals of cartographic/graphic design.<

In my opinion this is an essential skill for anyone who wants to call themselves a mapmaker.

Martha Tyzenhouse,
Mapmaker

#12
ELeFevre

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I agree completely with everything you say, except:
>Pay a cartographer to polish your output if you don't have the time or ambition to learn the fundamentals of cartographic/graphic design.<

In my opinion this is an essential skill for anyone who wants to call themselves a mapmaker.

Martha Tyzenhouse,
Mapmaker



Martha,
I hear what you're saying. However, most GIS programs focus on database creation/design, programming, project management, layer creation, et cetera, not cartography. Visual communication is rarely a part of the curriculum.



#13
synergy

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Hi All,

I am a total newby to that list, so please bear with me.
When you say "GIS Certificate", are you thinking about a course on a specific level or an assortment of courses, or an ESRI standardized test or course?

Thanks!

#14
natcase

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I agree completely with everything you say, except:
>Pay a cartographer to polish your output if you don't have the time or ambition to learn the fundamentals of cartographic/graphic design.<

In my opinion this is an essential skill for anyone who wants to call themselves a mapmaker.

Martha Tyzenhouse,
Mapmaker



Martha,
I hear what you're saying. However, most GIS programs focus on database creation/design, programming, project management, layer creation, et cetera, not cartography. Visual communication is rarely a part of the curriculum.


So hire a cartographer to tutor/critique your work, and do it yourself... Your prospective employer will be displeased if you pass off someone else's design skills as your own, and then can't actually deliver. I'd be peeved, anyway...

Nat Case
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maphead.blogspot.com



#15
ELeFevre

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So hire a cartographer to tutor/critique your work, and do it yourself... Your prospective employer will be displeased if you pass off someone else's design skills as your own, and then can't actually deliver. I'd be peeved, anyway...



Who said anything about "passing off someone else's design as your own"?

When you create a map do you always develop the base map data? Probably not. That's why you source the data/work. What's the difference in this situation? My response was based on the assumption of professional honesty. If someone came to me with a project that they put together in a GIS and then cared enough about presentation to bring in a pro (or hire one of the many local carto tutors out there) to help communicate the message, I would consider that person to be thorough, not deceptive.






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