Trying to get to the GISP of the matter

Few topics seem to have geospatial people on Twitter drawing battle lines more than the GISP. I’m sure it goes without saying to many reading this that the topic came up again last week and was the subject of some pointed discussion.

I have been quite critical and skeptical of the GISP in the past, a point of view that I voiced in a very similar Twitter discussion in perhaps April or May 2009. At the time I said that I felt that in the absence of an exam, the GISP’s value was very much in doubt for me. Looking at the GISP through the eyes of a manager, I said that it was at best an extremely minor factor in making hiring decisions and that experience and education would always trump the GISP in evaluating a candidate’s background. I also felt that after working in GIS for ten years, that the GISP would likely have little benefit to me as a means of establishing or certifying my level of experience, nor would it do much for me in terms of career advancement.

My opinion has morphed since then into what I would call “indifferent skepticism”, which I’ll explain a bit more later. I even began the process of applying for the GISP in July 2009, but have yet to finish since many other things I consider to be more important, both personal and professional, seem to be consuming my time. My main motivation for applying, something I still plan to do, is that in my field of local government I have noticed that a significant percentage of my counterparts across my state have their GISPs. These are people for whom I have nothing but respect and admiration, and whose relationships have been immensely valuable to me as a GIS practitioner working in local government. If these people see enough value in the GISP to get theirs, I thought that perhaps I needed to take a step back and rethink the issue.

Whether my anecdotal observation is a sign that the GISP is gaining traction amongst GIS practitioners working in local government is still an unanswered question for me, but it has me thinking that it may only be a matter of time before the GISP could become a factor in hiring decisions, at least at management levels. It is not at all unusual in local government for H.R. staff unfamiliar with GIS, much less the GISP, to make hiring decisions for management level positions. I can quite easily see why such H.R. staff might come to think that because the last person holding a particular GIS management position held the GISP, that the certification is a necessary requirement for the position and for working in GIS, or at least is a very desirable quality in an applicant. That being said, I have not seen any job postings,save for one or two, that explicitly require a GISP, but it is my understanding that this is happening with more frequency in parts of North America, particularly in the public sector in British Columbia.

As for just what this notion of “indifferent skepticism” is, I’ll be the first to admit that it sounds self-contradictory, but I can’t think of any other way  to express my ambivalence about the GISP. “Skepticism” comes from the fact that many of my doubts and questions regarding the GISP’s value haven’t necessarily diminished, but the “indifferent” portion is due to the fact that although I’m still not convinced the GISP is as advantageous as some of its proponents argue, I also don’t see it as particularly harmful. Perhaps it could be useful to someone relatively new to the field in establishing deeper professional credibility, but of course anyone thinking about it from that perspective would do well to look at some of the criticism leveled against the GISP before putting too many eggs in that basket. At the very least, having a GISP can’t hurt when balanced with other compelling attributes in a geospatial professional’s background.

One theme in the Twitter debate I found interesting was that several people have allowing their GISPs to lapse because they feel they are well enough established enough in their career where the certification does not lend them any additional advantage. Re-certification may be the pudding where we’ll find the proof of the GISP’s value to those in the profession. If many GISPs decide not to renew once their original certifications expire, GISP proponents should probably be asking themselves some questions about the current structure of the certification. Conversely, a healthy number of renewals combined with some growth may be a sign of increased acceptance and value within the field. With many original certifications coming due now or in the very near future, we may have some idea soon enough.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *