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GISP Certification – What Is It and Do You Need It?

When working onsite, I am sometimes asked by clients about my GISP certification.  My clients are often on the fence as to whether to pursue it.  Hopefully, this opinionated blog post will shed some light.

What is a GISP Certification?

Figure 1.  GISCI Logo GISP CertificationA GISP Certification is acquired from the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI).  Its purpose is to provide “the geographic information system (GIS) community with an internationally-recognized, complete certification program”.  There are currently over 6,000 people that have completed the application process which includes ethics, education, experience, and contributions.  Since July 1, 2015, applicants are required to pass an exam.

My Personal History that Led Me to GISP Certification

In 2005, my supervisor came into my office, and asked if I had heard of the GISP Certification.  I said that I had, and would rather stand on my work experience than a piece of paper.  He suggested that it was a good idea and fronted the cash (currently $450), because it might give the engineering company in which I was employed a competitive advantage.  

I agreed to pursue certification.  At the time of my application, there was no requirement for test.  It was a point-based system…..so many points for a degree, so many points for work experience, etc.  I found the process of assembling the required information painful.  That being said, I should have been more organized and had the information readily available.  

After a week or so of putting the information together, I mailed off the application.  It was approved within a few weeks and received a certificate for the wall.

Has GISP Certification Helped my Career?

Not really.  It has definitely been because of my good looks. :-)  All joking aside....Since working for the local civil engineering firm, I have worked for two great GIS companies.  Neither of these companies required certification nor did they seem impressed by my GISP at the end of my name.  To be 100% honest, the skills required in the last 10 years have been significantly more difficult to acquire than the qualifications to get certification.  

My definition of GIS has always been as follows:

The combination of spatial and non-spatial data within a common medium.

While I was decent at the spatial component, ten years ago I was basically ignorant of the non-spatial component.  By non-spatial, I mean enterprise databases utilizing Oracle and SQL Server.  I thought Microsoft Access was an acceptable database platform for my clients through deployments of Personal Geodatabases (PGDB).  

There are so many facets to GIS as follows:

  • Database Administration
  • GIS Administration
  • Programming
  • Digitizing/Data Entry
  • GPS Data Collection
  • Map Making

It is my opinion that it is impossible to be an expert in all facets of GIS, and one blanket certification implying that can be misleading.  Although I can personally do certain aspects of database administration, I am by no means a DBA.  This is why SSP has Oracle experts like Jeff Buturff and Chris Dimeo on staff.

Potential Employment Prospects Enhancement

An argument that I have heard is that a GISP Certification enhances the hiring potential or annual pay.  I personally have not seen an increase in annual pay because of my certification, but can’t really argue against it.  I suspect that it would depend upon the nature/type of GIS position and company whether reimbursement is enhanced.  

For the purpose of this blog post I did a precious little non-scientific research.  I got on the GIS Jobs Clearinghouse.  Of the most recent 25 jobs listed, only 1 required/requested GISP certification.  I went onto Monster.com and did a search for “GISP” and received 90 positions while receiving 1000+ positions for the search of “GIS”.  

Another certification that my peers have acquired is the PMP (Project Management).  I did a search on Monster.com and received 1000+ positions.  This quantity of positions cannot be overlooked if looking for certifications to pursue.

Conclusion: Do You Need GISP Certification?

Even though I don’t believe it has helped my career, I am glad that I acquired the GISP certification.  As proof, I have upgraded twice since acquisition and will probably renew again in 2020.  

If I was a younger employee looking to enhance my career, I would take every advantage possible to make my name stand out.  A GISP certification is one of them.  That being said…..There is no substitute for quality work experience.  Working at SSP is a great place to start!

Brian A. Higgins, GISP

Author Information

  • Brian Higgins

    Brian Higgins is a Senior Consultant at the Utility & Telecommunications GIS consulting company SSP Innovations in Centennial, Colorado.  He is a certified Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP) with 22 years of experience in the design and development of GIS systems for the management of municipal infrastructure.

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