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Did your GIS education let you down?

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#1
universalplanet

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I don't know if this is the right spot for this question, but thought it was the most appropriate.

How many of you feel letdown by your GIS education during school?

For example, all I learned in my GIS courses was how to do basic geoprocessing and make maps. I learned nothing of the network applications, file management, IMS, programming languages, etc.

This caused me to lose my job because I just didn't know how to do the non-GIS stuff that one must do to be a well-rounded GIS person in this time.

I thought I finally found a job that I could do and I couldn't even do that. Now, I have no idea what I will do because I have a "not the right skills/fit" termination on my record and every GIS job that I see posted wants one to be extremely proficient in the programming languages and networking side of the GIS field.

All I can do is use the programs and not much else. I have neither the money nor time to go back to school.

What should I do?

#2
jrat

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There are alot of free tutorials out there to show you how to use python and other languages. ESRI offers free seminars online that can show you the concepts of how things work. Use ESRI Resource center to learn how tools work. It might take some time to wade through the help but there is alot of good usefull information there. Check youtube for demonstration of how to do tasks. surf the communities and forums for different soft ware, Qgis, gis stack exchange, ect. When looking for tutorial for programming don't get too worried about the GIS aspect at first, just run the tutorial like anyone else learning the language. Best of luck, the information is out there to get started teaching yourself.

This one really helped me. It is a nice cross language primer for programming.
Learning to program

#3
Hans van der Maarel

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This caused me to lose my job because I just didn't know how to do the non-GIS stuff that one must do to be a well-rounded GIS person in this time.


Can you be a bit more specific as to what non-GIS stuff we're talking about? Is it something that you can teach yourself (or take a class in or something to that effect)?

My education, "Geo-Informatics" as it was called, was a specialisation of the Geodesy track and covered (apart from basic Geodesy and Photogrammetry) subjects like GIS, cartography, printing techniques, design and layout, project management, business administration,presentation techniques, physical and social geography. Not all to the same extent of course, but I thought it was good that were at least exposed to some of the stuff that didn't have anything to do with GIS, but would inevitably come up in employment.
Hans van der Maarel - Cartotalk Editor
Red Geographics
Email: hans@redgeographics.com / Twitter: @redgeographics

#4
Anthony Robinson

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In addition to other free resources, I'd recommend you check out Penn State's online open educational courseware:

open.ems.psu.edu/courseware

A lot of folks are returning to school part-time to enhance GIS skills at universities like Penn State and U. Southern California. Both schools offer online programs for GIS professionals.


Cheers,

-Anthony

#5
Bryan Swindell

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GIS is indeed a 'big tent.' Folks seem to come into the field through at least a dozen different disciplines. I don't view GIS as a single, well-defined career. Instead, we wear many hats. I'm sure many on this forum would agree that being successful in GIS is very much a self-directed process, with lots of self-training, as jrat pointed out.

I just finished a MS in Earth Sciences with a focus on Geography. My thesis is still warm from the print shop, but I'm already lining up (free) online courses and tutorials to broaden my skillset. I'm also working on my GISP application. All this, and I've been working in GIS for more than a decade!

My advice (and I do this a lot): cruise the GIS job postings and make lists of the skills that are in demand. Then go out and find resources to get you those skills, and build a portfolio (or a website!) to show potential employers. You don't have to be an expert right away; just gain some familiarity with them. GIS really is a field for self-starters, and many university programs are just too rigid and behind-the-times to make students 'job ready' right after graduation.

I'm sure many other members here will have some great things to add. Thanks for posting!

#6
James Hines

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Was it a requirement when you applied for a job that you needed to know advanced GIS techniques? Was the job request clear on the job description?

If you applied & got the job honestly in my opinion I believe that if you were hired by company X then that company instead of letting you go should take on the responsibility to help you get the right training through courses & on the job training that will meet there criteria. There are too many companies that expect you to have the perfect skill set, so we are seeing an increasing jobless population because the market favors the employer. Sadly it seems that employers demand that you spend countless thousands of dollars on education so that they can hire you after you get over the catch 22 position of obtaining job experience & having good credit.

"There is much beauty that we fail to see through our own eyes teeming with life forms that give us that perception of our reality.  Leaves on the trees blowing gently in the wind, or scarily, the waves pounding through high surf, or lightly on a warm summer’s day; that opportunity to sit or swim in the water on a white beach.   That comfort to shout, “The universal conscious do you hear me?  I am alive, guide me dear logos towards the path of rightnesses.”  Earned what has been kept, no longer to be absorbed into a life filled with cold damn winds and  that stubborn fog clouding  my vision with nothing but darkness."


#7
karas

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I went to school for a geography BA and MS before ArcGIS 8 even existed (ArcView 3 was new!) so I've had to roll with the punches for a long time. I'm also mostly an analyst/cartographer with a little bit of web GIS skills learned on the fly. Pretty much everything I know I learned on the job. That is really all you can do - teach yourself or perhaps enroll in an online course as others suggested.

I know if I ever wanted to find a new job, it would be difficult to find something to match my skill set because I just haven't had to learn any hard core programming. It seems a lot of employers want a jack of all trades in regards to GIS rather than someone who specializes in a certain area. I'm sure it's cheaper for them that way.

I'm rather surprised you were let go instead of given a chance to take some training courses. Good luck to you.

#8
Gretchen Peterson

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It's too bad you find yourself without the requisite skills soon after graduating from a GIS program. Your program ought to be made aware of their deficiencies so that they can better train students in the future. In the meantime, take comfort in the fact that GIS is one of those fields where you have to continuously self-educate anyway, so you might as well start now. The good part of this is that it makes GIS a difficult profession and thus well-paid and much sought-after. The downside is that it is a difficult profession.

As mentioned, self-educate via online sources, books, and tutorials. Many GISers learn by doing projects on their own time. As an example, Don Meltz (see http://donmeltz.com/...ag/geosandbox/) taught himself the map stack by setting up a GeoSandbox. I imagine a large part of his goals for that project were to keep himself current.

#9
geoburge

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I'm currently a graduate student seeking my MS in GIS. I've found a massive disconnect between faculty focus and employer desired skills. I've spent that last year and a half learning Python, C# and varied skills but have received varied responses from faculty. When I ask why our program does not focus on some of these skills, I am told that those are commercially desired skills but not a focus for the academic setting (which blows me away.)

All that said, all the aforementioned statements are on the money. There is so much in the way of tutorials and training available online. Every bit of programming and database management I've learned on my own and to I feel the focus on self-learning has improved me as a person all around. I recommend starting with a high-level language like Python because it's a lot easier for a beginner. Some resources:

www.diveintopython.net

or books I found helpful when starting out:

Python Programming for the Absolute Beginner
Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python

And the following recently came out for Python and ArcGIS:

A Python Primer for ArcGIS

Once you start getting one language down, you'll find learning others gets much easier but it will take a while to get that first one down. It took me a while to get confident with Python and programming in general but it was worth it.

#10
ELeFevre

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Sorry but I think it's unrealistic to expect any program to teach anything beyond core geospatial concepts and techniques. There’s just too much technology out there and it differs from industry to industry. No one uses GIS as a way to learn Python. A GIS is used to help answer very specific questions within a topic. My advice is to focus on a subject that interests you and then learn the applicable technologies. It's important to know the most widely used languages and what not, but if you don't know the subject matter you're working with Python isn't going to help.



#11
GISRox

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Like others have already mentioned, the degree is just a stepping stone or perhaps a way to open a door to a career. Most everyone I know in GIS is involved in a wide variety of tasks from general IT support to database development and programming. Virtually none of these skills are taught in standard GIS programs at university. To pick up these skills, you need to be highly self motivated and devote personal time to picking up and acquiring new skills. It also helps to find an employer that will send you to courses and/or pay for additional schooling.

To be really succesful in the GIS field, you need to be curious and have a desire to continually learn new technologies. I've never felt let down by my degree(Geology). It has opened numerous opportunities for me over the years and I'm glad to have the education.



#12
James Hines

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To pick up these skills, you need to be highly self motivated and devote personal time to picking up and acquiring new skills.


There are many specialized geographers as I will call them that encounter road blocks despite being highly self motivated to achieve success in this field. However the physiological impact of taking one step forward & two steps back can have an impact on the individuals perspective of reality. The main problem is identifying what blocks the individual has & why the problems exist.

In the case of the mind set it's a mater of negativity vs positive thinking, & if the individual in question is thinking negative it's harder to identify those road blocks as the person becomes lost, not knowing what to do. If the person is positive its easier but still hard to find the solution & forge on despite these road blocks. However & depending on the vibrations of the individual success is achievable, but the person must accept that progress maybe slow & they may end up working in something completely opposite of their training for quite some time. The task if the individual is serious about their chosen career is to find ways to update their skill set despite cost, & to get experience even if it's only freelance.

Freelance despite the feelings of many employers is better then no experience at all.

It also helps to find an employer that will send you to courses and/or pay for additional schooling.

Fewer & fewer employers train their workers on the job, it comes to cost, & that is because top executives need their pockets filled, the more spent on training by companies the less the CEO's (Service to Self) make.

To be really succesful in the GIS field, you need to be curious and have a desire to continually learn new technologies. I've never felt let down by my degree(Geology). It has opened numerous opportunities for me over the years and I'm glad to have the education.


There are colleges that train students in two year associates degree programs, (at-least in Canada they do). From what I have researched in the United States getting a Cartography accreditation requires a four year geography degree. From reading job advertisements it looks as though if you have GIS education many employers are demanding that you have a skill specific to the industry of the company you are applying for. Let us say that a forestry company wants a GIS Technician you are expected to have a degree along with that GIS certification that fits with that company. It's not always just programming it is also an industry that sees GIS as a secondary occupation or an additional skill to complement what you are hired for.

"There is much beauty that we fail to see through our own eyes teeming with life forms that give us that perception of our reality.  Leaves on the trees blowing gently in the wind, or scarily, the waves pounding through high surf, or lightly on a warm summer’s day; that opportunity to sit or swim in the water on a white beach.   That comfort to shout, “The universal conscious do you hear me?  I am alive, guide me dear logos towards the path of rightnesses.”  Earned what has been kept, no longer to be absorbed into a life filled with cold damn winds and  that stubborn fog clouding  my vision with nothing but darkness."


#13
Anthony Robinson

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Sorry but I think it's unrealistic to expect any program to teach anything beyond core geospatial concepts and techniques. There’s just too much technology out there and it differs from industry to industry. No one uses GIS as a way to learn Python. A GIS is used to help answer very specific questions within a topic. My advice is to focus on a subject that interests you and then learn the applicable technologies. It's important to know the most widely used languages and what not, but if you don't know the subject matter you're working with Python isn't going to help.


At Penn State we have a course on programming python with ArcGIS. It's another course we offer as an open educational resource, too, so it's possible for motivated individuals to run through that course themselves if so desired. A lot of our MGIS students learn Python in the context of ArcGIS this way.

Courses at the intersection of programming and GIS are among our most popular online offerings right now, and its an area in which we will continue to grow in the near future. Most academic institutions prefer to stay the course on tried and true topics, but the GIS world is one in which even the fundamental system design concepts are constantly changing. The analytical methods may not be changing as rapidly, but there's a huge amount of diversity now in terms of the application domains in which GIS is now applied.

I think in the future you will be seeing more, not less focus on context specific applications, techniques courses using specific relevant technologies and design patterns (we just launched a course on Cloud GIS, for example, working with Esri and Amazon to develop something that actually makes sense for a GIS professional to learn - not an easy task).

A key ongoing challenge is to support professionals with learning opportunities that are flexible and can be tailored to individual interests. In my view, this means less reliance on dogmatic concepts of Geography/GIS (e.g. everyone must take a boring, one-size-fits-all curriculum of GIS 1, GIS 2, Remote Sensing 1, and so on). It also means that those of us who work in higher education need to more fully tackle the problem of motivating and encouraging busy professionals to set aside time and enhance their skills. Self-mastery works for some people, but a larger group of folks needs some incentive, assistance, and collaboration in order to effectively and efficiently learn new skills.




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