GIS is not a profession (and other less controversial observations) 5

Today I did a Q&A with the Early Careers Network of the AGI.

Much of it was fairly uncontroversial stuff about career plans in GI and some trends. My main focus was on choosing a good employer that provides opportunities, career progression and growth rather than being too worried about how much GI you were going to do.

Somehow I slipped in the proposition that GI was not a profession and the future would be about people apply geographic awareness rather than doing GI, could upset a few people but there you go. I am red hot with a spreadsheet and formulae (I’ve been using the damn things for over 30 years) as are many people who work in business management or finance but we don’t call ourselves Spreadsheet Professionals – it’s just a tool that we use.

If you have got an hour to while away you might watch this but if you are more than 5 years into your career I wouldn’t bother. The post on GIS careers by Thierry Gregorius which I mention early on is here, it’s a lot shorter than the video.


5 thoughts on “GIS is not a profession (and other less controversial observations)

  • Kenneth Field, geo-professional

    Ahh, my dear friend you’ve done it now. While I agree that GIS in its own right isn’t a profession there are many aspects of the work of and in ‘geo’ that I would strongly argue do support it as a profession. Being professional simply means you are qualified, engaged in and (hopefully) experienced. You have some authority and expertise – a skill set that differentiates you from someone who might be seen as an amateur in the same space. That person may get involved in a non-paid sense, perhaps just as a hobby. Both are valid and useful and contribute to the fabric of ‘geo’. Perhaps more than many areas of endeavor, professionals sit with and work alongside non-professionals and that has certainly been a trend that’s characterised ‘geo’ over the last decade of democratisation, the neo-geos and the emancipation of data.

    For what it’s worth I see the role of the professional as providing guidance and assurance on the quality of analysis and communication where geo is a core component. Sure, some from outside the traditional professional path may very well come along and have equal or more valid perspectives but the chances of someone without a geographical background getting it right are less. They perform more spurious analyses and make poorer maps in general terms. Their interpretations are often narrow, shallow or wrong.

    I wrote a little blog on the AGI web site a while ago ( which was a shortened version of the larger one on my own blog ( that discussed this idea relative to cartography.

    Remember, you’re rather unique in that you have involved yourself deeply in the ‘profession’ and have been keen to learn and grow your skillset and appreciation for geo. Many others don’t and without a profession to guide, we’re left with geo-anarchy. We embody a profession with a small p but it’s important nevertheless.

    • Andrew

      Hi Steven, Ken,

      I agree that GIS is not a profession (its a tool), nor is GI (its data). But I think GEO (IE Geography) is. To be a geographer you need to be able to:

      Analyse and evaluate the location based relationships between real world things
      Apply location analysis to link seemingly unrelated (non-geographic) things
      Understand how to represent real world things in data

      These are surprising rare skills that seem to be generally undervalued but which are growing in importance.


    • Kristin

      I do feel the need to respond to Ken, in that I have found my background being totally bereft of any geo to be an asset. I could see things in a different way and, having managed many non english speakers in a busy shop floor environment, was practised at cutting through tech and in speak like a hot knife through butter. Yes, the odds are less, but I would have to say that my GI career happened hard and fast, and being a non geo gave me a viewpoint that most didnt have, and my history of another successful career in plastics gave me confidence in that viewpoint. So dont knock those of us who cant read maps very well

    • steven Post author

      OK, let’s slice some salami
      I admit to deliberately selecting a provocative headline based upon an also intentionally provocative statement in my otherwise pretty uncontentious advice on careers using GIS skills.
      Unless I misquoted myself (which is a possibility of course) I said that GIS was not a profession, I did not say that practitioners should not be professional. I was, after all, talking to an audience of people who were early in their career and as far as I knew had some kind of further or higher educational qualification.
      I think there is a subtle difference between being professional and your job being described as being a profession.

      › ​any ​type of ​work that ​needs ​special ​training or a ​particular ​skill, often one that is ​respected because it ​involves a high ​level of ​education:
      He ​left the ​teaching profession in 1965 to ​start his own ​business.
      The ​report ​notes that 40 ​percent of ​lawyers ​entering the profession are women.
      Teaching as a profession is very ​underpaid.
      He’s a ​doctor by profession.

      As opposed to

      the professions
      › ​jobs that need ​special ​training and ​skill, such as being a ​doctor or ​lawyer, but not ​work in ​business or ​industry


      Wikipedia defines a Profession as

      A profession arises when any trade or occupation transforms itself through “the development of formal qualifications based upon education, apprenticeship, and examinations, the emergence of regulatory bodies with powers to admit and discipline members, and some degree of monopoly rights

      Let the debate continue 🙂

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