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.

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science 
Recommended subjects: Geography

What to Study

Degree: BSc or BEng in engineering, forestry, geography, physical sciences or a related discipline, specialising in computer science, e.g.
BSc (Geomatics) in Geoinformatics; BSc double major degree, GIS together with any other science / agriculture course.
GIS features strongly in many undergraduate and postgraduate programmes such as master’s.

Postgraduate: MSc, followed by doctoral degree.
Honours and master’s in GIS.
GIS offered at Honours and master’s level.
It is important for GIS specialists to keep up with new technology and practices in the field through extension course.

Please consult the South African Council for Professional and Technical Surveyors (PLATO) for qualifications that are recognised as the required academic qualification to allow registration. Graduates with one of the listed qualifications only need to submit their degrees and record of practical experience to apply for the law exam and registration.

Persons with other relevant qualifications will need to submit all their academic records including curricula and lecture hours for each particular course to PLATO for consideration.



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

Further Information

Geo-Information Society of South Africa

South African Geomatics Institute
P O Box 201446
Durban North, 4016
Tel: (031) 563-9481

The South African Council for Professional and Technical Surveyors (PLATO)
Unit 3, Building 2
Bruma Boulevard Office Park
20 Zulberg Close
Bruma, Johannesburg
Tel: (011) 626-1040

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

Study GeoInformatics at Stellenbosch University

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