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Shifting gears – how to make a career change into the GIS field

Nanet Pagsanjan | May 2022

Have you ever considered moving from a job that you dedicated eight years to? Imagine, eight years of learning, ironing out the kinks, making a job yours and making the ascent up that corporate ladder.

Then, you wake up one day and think it might be time for a completely different role.

Twenty-something Matthew Schulze didn’t quite experience that epiphany. It was more that Matt knew he had to change jobs and was ready to pivot to a different career but needed an opportunity to present itself.

The opportunity was just around the corner.

Matt’s formal foray into GIS began in 2021 when a friend mentioned a cadet GIS administrator job opportunity with Onneer, a company specialising in ArcGIS software and integrating systems into existing ArcGIS systems.

Matt was the aquatics manager of a fitness centre at the time at the top of his pay and skill level.

He knew what he wanted in his next role.

“I was ready to make a change and career-progression and learning was always going to be a deal-clincher,” Matt said.

But it was a risk. What if he didn’t like the job, or realised that ArcGIS, GIS and the sciences just weren’t for him? Let’s also not forget, he was also giving up a managerial role.

“I’ve always liked the concept of GIS, and I had a feeling I’d enjoy it, so it wasn’t too much of a leap for me,” Matt said.

It helped that at a young age Matt was surrounded by computers and emerging technology because his dad worked in the IT industry. This naturally developed his interest in computing and technology, so much so that he always knew he wanted to work in one of these spaces, but some early career choices stymied any curiosity to research this idea further.

So, when Matt was offered an opportunity to chat with one of Onneer’s movers and shakers, he researched ArcGIS and started playing with a trial version of ArcGIS Online before embarking on some training.

“I didn’t have any GIS experience and played with the app till my fingers were numb from keyboard work.

“I can’t say for sure, but I think these decisions may have been the difference between success and failure with my application,” he said.

Fast forwarded nine months later and Matt is finally part of an industry which uses his interests in computing and tech and GIS.

“GIS has exceeded all expectations—there is so much more to GIS than I ever originally thought.

“I’m now taking information from around the world and transforming it into a map which can be used to communicate big ideas and affect significant changes.

“It’s very exciting to be part of something that can affect the lives of so many people,” Matt said.

He's grateful for this opportunity and is keen to pay his good fortune forward by giving anyone who’s experiencing a career crossroads some sage advice.

“A full-blown change of industry is daunting, and I’d be lying if I said the learning curve wasn’t a challenge.

“But if you’re someone looking for a new challenge that will develop transferable skills to almost any other industry, you’ve found it.

‘I’d recommend if you’re still unsure, send an email to someone in the industry to answer any questions you may have because there is no better time to start building momentum toward a rewarding career in GIS,” Matt said.

Matt’s journey, while protracted does have a chronological and logical flow to it.

First and foremost, before making the move to a GIS career you need to do some research. Matt understood the concept of GIS, so you need to find out broadly, the capability of a GIS system and the technology behind it because a there are many many GIS-related roles. These include roles such as analysts, data scientists, administrators, programmers, developers, and operators amongst others.

It's also important to note that Matt went the extra mile by trialling ArcGIS Online and doing some training towards its application.

This is crucial because Matt was likely competing against people with demonstrated experience ofArcGIS experience. Doing what he did demonstrated that even without prior experience, he was a great candidate because of his ‘get up and go’, a character trait that isn’t easy to teach.

And lastly, if at first you don’t succeed, persist.