GIS Specialist

Geographic information systems (GIS) specialists use specialised computer programs and software to create maps. The world of cartography (map-making) has undergone significant changes in the last decade, mostly revolving around the emerging technology of GIS, a type of software that can combine socio-economic, demographic, political and environmental data. GIS specialists use this software to create maps or graphs.

Geographical information systems combine social, economic and topographical data that is used for a variety of purposes including flood defence planning, healthcare, road traffic management, market research etc.  GIS specialists consult with users to identify the needs of their project and determine the necessary applications. They conduct research and locate any existing databases that may help with the project. They gather and analyse data and determine how best to display it using GIS software.

The data they collect may come from a number of different types of sources, such as aerial photographs, existing maps, satellite photography and field analysis. They apply their knowledge of spatial feature representations to design appropriate databases. They often use digitizers or direct inputs to enter and coordinate information about the land. They are also responsible for maintaining the various GIS equipment, including plotters, digitisers, colour printers and video cameras.

A GIS specialist creates geographic maps containing political borders, transportation networks and environmental resources by using computer software programs. He/she is responsible for developing and maintaining geographic, political and environmental databases that are pertinent to the region. The specialist must design and update GIS databases using various mathematical techniques, such as coordinate geometry and real analysis.

GIS specialists usually work in clean, well-lit and well-ventilated offices. They generally work in their own cubicle equipped with computers and automated mapping equipment. Some GIS professionals do fieldwork to collect data.

Useful qualities are strong problem-solving, project management, analytical, organisational, time management, interpersonal, leadership and communication skills.


• government agencies
• utility companies
• architectural engineering firms
• urban planners
• natural resource management companies
• self employment as a consultant


Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, North-West University, University of Cape Town, University of Johannesburg, University of Pretoria, University of Stellenbosch, University of the Free State

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