How I became a GIS Developer in 142 easy steps

The road to my current career as a GIS Developer has not been a straight one. It’s actually closer to a traveling salesman problem. But everything I’ve done has provided that next step on my career path.


On my first day of college, I had never heard of GIS, and had no inkling of what a GIS Developer was. I started off my college education chasing a computer science degree because I loved video games. Unfortunately, long nights on CS projects and long nights playing StarCraft didn’t mix, so I had to find an easier path. I ended up graduating with a Biology degree.

I know what you’re thinking. How could Biology be easier? Well, I had a high school biology teacher that made Ivy League college courses look easy. I can still remember all the insect orders we had to collect for our bug collection. Between that and the right AP courses, switching majors was a breeze.


After receiving my B.A. in Biology, I thought I wanted to be a teacher. I had tutored through high school and felt a rush when it finally “clicked” for someone. Eventually, I hired on as a substitute teacher, and later became a science teacher. I taught middle school earth science for a semester, where I realized middle school teachers have a special calling (and I had a wrong number). I also taught a couple years at the high school level, but frankly I was too undisciplined to properly discipline others.

Sewer Inspector

Sewer Manhole Cover
How did working with this help me become a GIS Developer?
That’s when another job opportunity popped up like an overflowing manhole. The city I lived in needed a pretreatment coordinator, or as I liked to call it, a sewer inspector. It involved inspecting and testing waste water from industries and restaurants, entities that could mess up a sewer line or the whole treatment plant with whatever they flush down the drain. Thanks to my science-based background and my numerous connections, I got the job.

The lessons from my teaching job actually helped me with my sewer inspector job. I learned Like teaching, I now had to keep my industries in line with the rules and regulations of the state. I had to teach them right from wrong, and tailor individual plans for them based off of their business needs. I also learned that simple rewards go a long way, when I started a “Clean Pipes” award for restaurants who had no grease violations each year.

GIS Coordinator

I was beginning to think I would make a career of sampling from sewer lines, when I heard those fateful words:

So, I hear you’re good with computers…

The city I worked for wanted to start a Geographic Information System program. It was a little pet project for the building department, and they needed somebody with some computer skills for the job. Now, I thought pretty savvy with computers. I could make Excel do some mind-bending stuff, and even thought I was half-way decent with Microsoft Access. I think God laughed at me a little bit as I stepped away from my biology-related job and back into the world of computers.

Today: GIS Developer

It was nearly 8 years ago when I started my career in GIS. I’ve moved on from government employee to private sector employee. My problem solving skills and my fascination with Project Euler helped me land a role as a GIS Developer. My days of teaching and working with the government have helped me relate with clients and other teammates, getting to the root of what they need. Working with pitiful budgets and outdated tech in government fostered my love of FOSS projects. My past jobs have definitely helped me get to where I am today.

Moral of the Story

If you’re a college student who’s freaking out about what you’re going to do for the rest of your life, stop. A steady career ladder that you climb to reach the top is an old wives tale from a bygone era. Don’t worry that you’ve locked yourself into a soulless profession for the rest of your life. Careers are a choose-your-own-adventure story, where you can pick and switch careers as needed, and you can learn lifelong lessons from any job, even while sniffing sewer manholes.

2 thoughts on “How I became a GIS Developer in 142 easy steps

  1. That’s a really great stuff….GeoCoin..haha, I have undying love into being a GISdeveloper too…got my hands dirty on py and js. But am yet to get to the point, considering am a 3rd undergrad in GIS & RS.
    Nice post….keep it up!

  2. Keep up the good work, Jamie. It’s a fun and weird field, full of people ready to support you. I’ve never seen a field so helpful.

    I can see a lot of python applying directly to remote sensing. I’m not so sure about JavaScript and remote sensing, but my work doesn’t send me very deep into RS.

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