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What does a GIS Developer do?

By Lindsey Rivas
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A GIS developer is a software engineer who organizes and executes the activities needed to design and build applications to support Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data. Using computer programming, he creates enhancements to existing GIS software, such as web-based applications, that are customized to his clients' requests. A GIS Developer will also often provide technical support to the application users, including diagnosing and fixing problems with the programs. In addition to the software responsibilities, he maintains the hardware components of GIS technology like computers, Global Positioning System (GPS) units, and digitizers.

This type of developer is generally employed by a corporation or government, but designs custom applications depending on his clients' needs. For example, suppose a retail store wants to know the optimal location to open a new store. A GIS developer could create a custom application to collect data about that company's customers, and the data could then be analyzed using GIS software to find a solution to the retail store's dilemma.

There are several qualifications that a person would need in order to perform the tasks necessary to be a GIS developer. Most employers look for a college degree with emphasis in GIS and computer science. It is necessary to have computer programming expertise, preferably with multiple platforms and programming languages. A developer would also need to have experience using GIS software and knowledge of field data collection techniques used for the software. Additionally, he should have experience with database management systems and using Structured Query Language (SQL).

The function of a GIS developer is typically different from that of a GIS analyst or a GIS technician. An analyst will ensure that the application enhancements work as they are designed to do by the GIS developer. He provides GIS support for projects needing cartographic and data management skills along with performing quality control on mapped data. A technician uses GIS software with field data and remote sensing data to create maps, develop databases, and perform spatial analysis. Both the analyst and technician rely on the developer to build the applications and tools that they use to carry out their job duties.

Geographic Information Systems, or GIS, refers to a set of computer applications and software that lets the user work with data that is tied to a specific location on the earth. GIS combines databases with digital cartography so that aspatial data can be represented spatially or geographically. The applications allow the user to collect data, perform queries using SQL, edit and analyze the data, and create maps. The technology is often used for land-use planning, environmental management, and business marketing, but it can be applied to almost any field.

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Discussion Comments

By Logicfest — On Jan 26, 2014

This is a growing field, too More and more uses are being found for solid GIS data and good people are needed to get that data to the people who can use it.

Here's an example. In my area, the county government has just recently made GIS available to any citizen wanting to access it on a computer. The local mapping was overlayed with information about who owns each lot, assessed value and the like. That was all well and good, but what about accessing that data on a mobile device? Someone was needed to write apps for iPhone and Android.

The point is, that information is handy as can be and access to it is popular. There's clearly a demand out there for GIS developers, so looking into that career might not be a bad idea.

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