How to Become a GIS Developer

Statistics show that the GIS market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 12.8% during the 2021-2028 period. This growth is attributed to a number of factors such as increased data availability, technological advancements, and increased demand for GIS solutions etc. There are many fields within the GIS industry that one can focus on. Today, we look at how you can become a GIS developer or even advance your skills as a GIS developer.

As the demand for GIS developers continues to rise, the need to combine skills from different fields is vital. Programming skills are not the only required skills for a GIS developer. With the development of technology, other horizons have opened up. These include AI, ML, IoT and many more. Today, GIS is more of an integrated industry. In order to get to a GIS developer, it’s good to start with the basics. Learn the basics of GIS and what it entails. You can do that using resources such as the GIS courses available online.

What are the required GIS developer skills?

When it comes to GIS skills, the skills vary from specific roles within the industry. There is so much information on what a GIS developer should know or shouldn’t. There are also posts and articles on how one can become a GIS developer. The list below details the top general skills that GIS developers can focus on.

  • Communication – Every developer needs to be able to communicate effectively with both technical and non-technical audiences. This includes the ability to explain complex concepts clearly and concisely.
  • Data Analysis & Visualization – Developers need to be able to visualize spatial data in a clear and concise way. This includes the ability to create maps, charts, and other data visualizations
  • Programming –  GIS developers need to be proficient in programming languages such as Python, Java, R, and SQL. These languages are used to create and modify GIS applications.
  • Critical thinking – One should be able to think critically about problems and come up with creative solutions.
  • Problem-Solving – This is the ability to solve problems using GIS technology. This includes the ability to identify problems, gather data, and develop solutions.
  • Teamwork – In most cases, developers often work on projects as a team. They need to be able to collaborate with others and work towards a common goal.
  • Adaptability – With the constantly evolving GIS industry, a developer needs to be able to adapt to new technologies and trends.

Apart from the skills above, GIS developers also require hands-on technical skills. These skills will vary from one role to another.

how to become a gis developer

An overview of skill requirements for developers

We can categorize GIS developers into several groups. These groups are specific to certain tasks or roles within the industry.

Categories of GIS Developers

  • Web GIS Developers – These developers focus on developing web GIS applications. The common languages used by web GIS developers include Python, Ruby, JavaScript and PHP. This category has the most number of developers within the industry.
  • Desktop GIS Developers – GIS developers in this category are responsible for the development of desktop GIS applications. They utilize languages such as Java, C++ and .NET
  • Mobile GIS Developers – Mobile developers develop mobile GIS applications. The languages used by this group include Kotlin, Swift and React Native.
  • Spatial Data Analysts – Compared to the three categories above, spatial data analysts use technical skills to derive insights from spatial data. They use languages such as R, Python and SQL
  • GIS Educators – Last but not least, we have the GIS educators. These are developers working to deliver GIS development courses. It can be online or even in colleges. This is the category with the least number of developers.

The list contains the top categories. There are so many other categories that one can consider.

An Ongoing Learning Session (by Pexels)

Top GIS Sectors and Industries

With the proliferation of GIS technology among industries, some industries have shown great potential in the applications of GIS. These industries can be summarized into three broad sectors;

  • Government: Government agencies are increasingly using GIS to make better decisions about planning, development, and resource management.
    • Plan for new developments: Government agencies can use GIS to map out areas suitable for new development, such as commercial areas, residential areas, and industrial areas. This information can help government agencies make decisions about where to approve new development projects.
    • Manage natural resources: Agencies can use GIS to track the use of natural resources, such as water, land, and forests. This information can help them manage these resources more effectively and prevent over-use.
    • Respond to disasters: Agencies are using GIS to map out areas affected by disasters, such as floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes. This information can help them coordinate relief efforts and provide assistance to those affected.
  • Business: Businesses are using GIS to improve their operations, such as tracking inventory, managing fleets, and analyzing customer data.
    • Track inventory: Businesses can use GIS to track the location of inventory, such as products in warehouses or vehicles on the road.
    • Manage fleets: Businesses use GIS to track the location of vehicles, such as delivery trucks or taxis. This information helps them improve the efficiency of their fleets and reduce costs.
    • Analyze customer data: Businesses use GIS to analyze customer data, such as purchase history and demographics. This information can help them target their marketing efforts and improve customer service.
  • Non-profit: Non-profit organizations are using GIS to address social and environmental issues, such as poverty, hunger, and climate change.
    • Identify areas of need: Non-profit organizations can use GIS to identify areas where there are high levels of poverty, hunger, or environmental degradation. This information can help them target their resources and make a bigger impact.
    • Track progress: GIS can be used to track their progress over time. This information can help them see what is working and what needs to be improved.
    • Advocate for change: Non-profit organizations can use GIS to advocate for change at the local, state, and federal levels. This information can help them raise awareness of important issues and build support for their work.

Technology has accelerated innovation within the industry, leading to advanced tools and solutions. Most top GIS companies in the world have invested heavily in innovating solutions for their users.

Roles of GIS Developers

Irrespective of the category of GIS developers, GIS job duties can vary depending on the specific role and the company they work for. Most GIS developer jobs overlap in role requirements.

GIS developer roles can be summarized into;

  • Developing and maintaining GIS software applications
  • Training users on GIS software and solutions
  • Designing and implementing GIS data models
  • Integrating GIS data with other data sources
  • Developing GIS user interfaces
  • Testing and debugging GIS software
  • Providing technical support to GIS users

How do I become a GIS developer?

Who is a GIS developer? What do they do? How can I be a GIS developer? How can I better my GIS development skills?

I have received these great questions on social media and email. Some of the answers to these questions are provided above. For the process and what you are supposed to do, let me answer them in detail. I have also answered this question through a recorded session.

becoming a GIS developer

Tentative process for a GIS developer

1. Learning the Basics of GIS

For you to get through the journey of becoming a GIS developer, you have to get the basics right. The basics of GIS offer an opportunity to understand the “night-gritty” of the industry. These involve;

  • GIS software
  • Principles of GIS
  • Spatial data
  • Spatial data types/formats
  • GIS workflow

You can learn about basics either at school, by taking online courses, reading books, blogs or even attending workshops. Most of these modes of learning are free and are loaded with quality material.

Once you have the basics, you understand the applications of GIS in various fields. Through the basics, you kind of open a “Pandora’s box”. Do you become a spatial data analyst, a developer etc? There is much to do. Today we stick to becoming a GIS developer

2. Develop Programming skills

Many GIS users have asked whether they should learn GIS programming. The simple answer I give is, It depends. This is because not everyone can code. In this case, what do you do? To acquire programming skills, you need to understand what you want to do or become. Is it Web, desktop, mobile, or analyst? This is because every category as seen above, has different requirements.

There are programming languages that are multidisciplinary and are advantageous when it comes to GIS careers. For example, you can use Python for desktop GIS, web GIS and data analysis.

GIS developers need to be able to program in languages such as Python, R, Java, Ruby and SQL (choose one based on your specialization). You can develop your programming skills by taking online courses, reading books, or working on coding projects. Self-paced learning is the best when it comes to programming.

Also, you can learn GIS databases for spatial data storage. There are many options such as PostgreSQL/PostGIS, SpatiaLite, Oracle Spatial and many more. For GIS-specific programming, you will also be required to learn various mapping libraries such as Leaflet and OpenLayers. These will help you in displaying maps for your applications. For spatial data analysts, you will focus on libraries such as Numpy, Matplotlib, GDAL, geopandas etc

3. Develop application/Get Experience

The best way to get experience as a GIS developer is to work on projects. You can find GIS projects to work on by volunteering your services to nonprofit organizations, interning with companies that use GIS, or starting your own GIS consulting business. Also, you can contribute to open-source projects.

You can also get experience by working on personal projects. You can find a team of like-minded individuals and form user groups to work on projects and learn from each other. At this stage, networks are very important. Ensure you build a good portfolio of your projects for future reference. A portfolio is a great way to showcase your skills and experience to potential clients/employers. Your portfolio should include examples of your work, such as GIS projects you have worked on, presentations you have given, and articles you have written. You can network with other GIS professionals also. This can be done by attending industry events, joining online forums, and connecting with people on platforms such as LinkedIn.

4. Work as a GIS Developer

The ultimate goal of this process is to be able to contribute to the industry through your work. With the different steps and achievements, landing GIS developer jobs can be easy in most cases. At this level, both technical and non-technical skills(listed above) are required. You are also required to build strong networks for growth within the industry.

There are several ways in which you can work as a GIS developer. These include; a job at a company, consulting business, selling custom solutions, selling technical services (educators) etc

Users working

Also, due to the rapid changes in the industry, you have to continuously learn about software, solutions, workflow, libraries etc. The Internet can help you in getting these updates right on your PC or mobile devices.


Overall, this process can take weeks, months or even years. The processes vary from one person to another. To hack this process, there are several tips I would like to share;

  • Be passionate about GIS. GIS is a complex and ever-evolving field. If you are not passionate about it, it will be difficult to succeed as a GIS developer.
  • Be persistent. It may take some time to find a job as a GIS developer. Don’t give up if you don’t get your dream job right away. Keep applying for jobs and networking with other GIS professionals.
  • Be willing to learn. The field of GIS is constantly changing. Be willing to learn new skills and technologies to stay ahead of the curve.

If you have any questions, let me know!


  • Love this article and was just what I was looking for! I’m in the Tech space but have an ultimate goal of becoming a GIS developer. Glad I found your website!


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Wanjohi Kibui

Passionate about harnessing the power of geospatial technology to create innovative solutions, I'm a GIS Consultant and Developer dedicated to building cutting-edge geospatial applications. With a keen eye for spatial analysis and a knack for problem-solving, I specialize in crafting solutions that seamlessly integrate technology and geography.

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