GIS Industry Certification, The Debate Continues - Some Community Input - GIS News
GIS Industry Certification, The Debate Continues - Some Community Input
The topic of GIS industry certification seems to has come to light once again recently. This topic is always a hot one, often dividing long time, old schoolers, academics, contractors, and students with varying opinions.
Honestly, my thoughts are that the GIS technology, potential applications and uses, the users, etc... are so broad and to some extent, gone mainstream, that the idea of certifying anyone as a professional is less likely to take off as every year passes and the industry and its professionals evolve.

Recently, the GISCI ( added a little fuel to the fire in this debate by announcing they are considering the addition of a testing component (uhoh... here we go again!)... From the recent announcement, The GIS Certification Institute (GISCI) has made public a proposal to update requirements for GIS Professional (GISP) certification. Key among the proposed updates is the addition of a required examination. Note, GISCI Board of Directors will consider comments received between February 1 and February 28, 2011 - see details
Coming at us from another angle, Esri is also adding some fuel to the debate, albeit from a platform specific proposal (a very different matter really) with the addition of technical competency testing and certification - personally, I'm all for this and think it's a great idea! Starting January 17, 2011, Esri software users can sign up to take the Esri Technical Certification Program examinations. See more
I've asked a couple of industry veterans, and contributing experts (although they are not "certified" experts) to offer up their opinion on the topic.

Comment from Bill Dollins, Senior Vice President, Zekiah Technologies, Inc.

I am not a GISP. I chose not to grandfather and continue to choose not to apply primarily the because the need for, nor the value of, the certification has ever been evident to me. As a business owner, the GISP has never conveyed any information to me about what an applicant can do. Additionally, I know too many expert analysts and developers without a GISP to assume that a person who is certified is more qualified than someone who isn’t. That said, I think an exam requirement could be a step in the right direction. Combined with the portfolio requirement, it can establish some baseline rigor, assuming the exam is sufficiently challenging. In this regard, I look to the PMP certification (which I am pursuing). It has an experience requirement and a very challenging exam. The combination of an experience requirement with an exam can be a good buffer against the "paper certification" problem that plagued network administration in the 90s. Of course, there are PMP "boot camps" that prepare candidates for the exam but the people I know who have done them all say they are intense and rewarding. I do take issue with the recommendation of "Option 2" in the GISCI proposed examination requirement in that I do not think grandfathering should be an option. I think existing GISPs should need to take the exam to maintain certification. Otherwise, the value of the GISP will still be murky. In any case, I would never like to see the GISP become a requirement for hiring or staffing contracts.

Comment from Gretchen N. Peterson, Peterson GIS

Certification is mostly for those people who are just getting into the profession and need to prove themselves to prospective employers, current bosses, and clients. There might be a small contingent of people who use certification as a means to prove their entire department’s abilities within a larger organization as well. With those thoughts in mind, certification is a perfectly reasonable method of providing this proof, whether it is by examination or by an independent verification of education and experience, it doesn’t matter.
Regarding the exam in particular, it doesn’t, at first glance, seem to be the appropriate method because the geospatial body of knowledge is so varied depending on niche. However, there are definitely fundamental concepts that could be tested for and expected of everyone who wants certification. The fear from the already-established establishment is that we, too, will have to go take exams. That’s simply not true if the main purpose of certification is to prove yourself. In that case, the established professionals do not need this.
In the end, it doesn’t matter whether it is education and experience based or whether it is exam-based. They are both means to the same end. The first allows for a more varied background knowledge while the second is a strict interpretation of what it means to be a GIS professional. What does matter is that the GISCI keep the continued contributions to the profession and ethics portion of the certification.

Comments From The Community (See GISuser LinkedIn Group)

Additionally, a long running discussion has been taking place via the GISuser LinkedIn Group where almost 10,000 professionals take part. Some interesting comments from those individuals, from both sides of the fence, have been provided below... enjoy the debate!


Why should anyone be required to become "certified," after already done more advanced work than a certificate program will ever offer, at an accredited university, specifically to work in the field? What is the NEED
GISP or MS-GIS? An MS-GIS would be the most worthwhile, in my opinion. Quit looking for a shortcut for a real education.

Of all my qualifications, I believe my two degrees and years of experience mean much more than any certifications. I am also quite suspicious of ALL the certifications as being mostly a way for folks to grab your hard earned money or force you into using a particular brand of software.

I more than qualify for the GISP; I have even filled out ALLLL the paperwork...twice. Twice I could not do it. If the GISP sold itself on community involvement and years being involved with geo-spatial activities I would be all for it

ASPRS Certified Mapping Scientist has its own issues though. Namely, that 39% of the exam is relevant only to remote sensing and surveying, while only 23% of the exam deals with GIS. And there is no study guide whatsoever and you cannot get any sample questions. That pretty much means you are throwing away your $400 non-refundable fee if you do not actively work in cadastral mapping, engineering surveying, or photogrammetry.

The GISP strikes me as being focused on the way GIS has traditionally been done using traditional software and vendors. There's nothing wrong with that, but it does makes me wonder where a user like myself, someone using less of the traditional software in favor of open source and other technologies, fits in the GISP application process and continuing education requirements



No one has once mentione the Code of Ethics in this entire discussion yet that may be the very thing that sets GISP apart. We all public commit to a standard code of conduct. To me, that is the soul of the certification

Let's put our energies to task in transforming GISP from a piece of paper on the wall that nobody really cares about to something that holds meaning, value, and confidence that the 'GISP' has skills & knowledge setting them appart as a desirable asset in any organization

The bottom line a GISP certification, or any other certification for that matter, only means whatever the person(s) possessing it makes it mean. My GISP means something. It means something to me. I stand behind it, and how others perceive this title has been greatly impacted the way I "wear" it. I didn't didn't apply for it so I could have another acronym behind my name. I didn't apply for it because I knew it would help me get a job. I didn't apply for it because I thought it would make me stand out from the crowd.

I like the setup of the current GISCI certification process. Inevitably an exam is coming, and I'm completely fine with that and welcome the challenge. I only hope they do not do away with the service, education, and most importantly the contribution components

I am like other group members, where I am in a situation where the term GIS is not known, therefore a GISP would be one of those line items speed read through. I think more and more companies outside of the Insurance sector are seeing the benefits of this knowledge, but the catch on track is still under construction.

The value of the GISP certification is only as high as the community makes it. Perception is the key. A definition was established for a group of people to be considered as belonging to a profession. The GISP organization helps qualify us as a legitimate profession regardless of everyone being a member or not. For that fact alone, the certification has value and should be supported.