Candid Observations about the GISP Credential, From the Inside and Out

June 12, 2019
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T minus 23 years: Phew, done with grad school. Earned the degree I’ll need to teach and research, or something. What I really like doing is this mapping stuff. At least I won’t have to take any more tests. 

T minus 15 years: Overheard a conversation with some friends at a conference about this new GIS credential program. Know about it? Me neither. Sounds like they’re still figuring it out. 

T minus 13 years: Maybe it’s time to look into this GISP thing some more. A couple of colleagues said it wasn’t too difficult to organize the documents they’d needed. Can’t hurt to get it and I’m curious to know more about the process. 

T minus 12 years: I hear they’re now designing a test that people will have to take in the future, unless you apply now and are grandfathered in. (Or grandmothered, right?) I need to get this figured out now and skip the test, thank you. (That was one benefit of having started with GIS in the early 1990s. Remember when we used to have to type things in at the command line? Remember when you could test for dangles by telling the program to display them in red, and then you could “kill” them and build clean topology? Those were the days.) 

T minus 11 years: Wow, really? The deadline to grandfather in is really this December 31? Like December of this year? As in, a few months from now? Ugh, work is really busy. Hmmm. Maybe they’ll extend it. 

T minus 10 years, 11 months: Bummer. 

T minus 5 years: Yea, I know, I keep thinking about it. I mean, I don’t really need it for my actual day job right now but a few of my students have asked me about it. Not sure what to tell them. Are they aspiring to be a GIS analyst? GIS manager? GIS coordinator? What do the job descriptions say? Are they learning what they need to know? Do I know what they need to know? Do I know what I need to know? Did I ever tell you about when we had to write AML code to get a map to print? 

T minus 2 years: This is silly. Just get the damn thing. You know you’re curious. You haven’t taken a standardized test since the late 1980s but you weren’t scared of them then. Be bold! Be proud! You’ve got this! I create a new folder on my computer called “GISP” and do an online search for test prep materials. Download a mishmash of things. Make a mental note to start reading them. 

T minus 1 year, 10 months: Create an account on the GISCI website and start the portfolio documentation process. Try to remember the conferences I’ve been to, the webinars I’veattended, the papers and articles I’ve written, the classes and workshops I’ve taught — many more than I need right now. Gently kick myself for not having gotten organized to do the grandfathering thing years ago. Wipe up the spilt milk and get over it.

T minus 1 year: I really ought to study one of these days. Almost 45% of the exam is on “Design Aspects & Data Modeling” and “Data Manipulation.” I haven’t been asked questions about those topics in a long time, though I “do” those things with my students and for my own occasional projects. If you do something, you should be able to pick a correct answer from a multiple-choice test, right? Right? Except, let’s be real, I don’t do those things every day. For every hour in a class that I spend on schemas, domains, and user permissions, I spend another hour encouraging my students to remember, “What did you name it and where did you save it?” Hmmm. This is going to be interesting. 

T minus 7 months: Mention to a colleague that I am planning to pursue my GISP. He is the top GIS executive in a nearby county and is amused that I am putting myself through the process. Says that they don’t go out of their way to hire anyone because of having this credential, though it doesn’t count against the person if they do. Well I should hope not! He concurs that it does demonstrate at least a basic amount of knowledge around a breadth of GIS topics. That’s what a credential is — external evidence that one has satisfied a minimum set of standards to be considered suitable or suited for something. He’s reserving judgement about what else the credential may one day represent or offer. We figure the profession and its practitioners own the process and the outcome, so it can set its standards high and follow through. 

T minus 4 months: Take a few hours on a snowy Saturday afternoon to finally complete the portfolio, then prepare to pay a healthy sum of money to submit it for review. Gulp. That’s a lot of money for something that’s not a necessary condition for my employment. Experience a powerful sense of disinclination. Doubt my commitment. Question my motivations. Listen to the voice in my head that says I know I want to prove to myself that I can do this. Hit the submit button. 

T minus 3 months: Woo-hoo, my portfolio was approved. One significant hurdle left. Now it’s really time to study for the exam. Stop by my office to grab a few books about things I may or may not once have known. I stack them neatly and with great anticipation in a pile next to my reading chair. If I make the stack tall enough, it can double as a resting place for coffee mugs.

T minus 6 weeks: Get sucked down a few internet rabbit holes for my search on “Should I get the GISP.” Wow, there are some bitter people out there! Sometimes I envision a GISP plate being balanced and spun about on the tip of a pole. There’s a lot of GIS that we think could fit on to that plate and the process to sample from it can come from anyone in the restaurant, from any professional discipline that might somehow intersect with GIS. Know too much from one side of the plate and don’t know (or care) about the other portions, there’s a good chance it’ll tip the wrong way. Is there enough steadiness with GIS to have it be a meaningfully full and balanced plate? Will a demand for broadly-trained GIS professionals be enduring enough to warrant having knowledge across all parts of the plate? Sideline skeptics need not be silenced, but more people with skin in the game should get involved too. It’s a big tent with space for many voices to make this the best it could be.

T minus 3 weeks: If I review material for 30 minutes every day from here out, I can still fit in about 10 more hours of studying before the test. That will be enough at this point. 

T minus 2 weeks: Well, that didn’t work. If I review material for 20 minutes every day from here out, I can still fit in about 5more hours of studying before the test. That will have to be enough at this point.

T minus 8 days: Manage to carefully read and take notes from several consecutive chapters in a current and well-regarded GIS textbook. Focus on the content that I haven’t dealt with in a long time, much of which also happens to be the stuff that changes most rapidly in this dynamic field of ours. The test is taking place in the days right before the absolute busiest time of my work year but there is no good time. Just get it done.

T minus 4 days: Need to mow the lawn. Need to study. It’s going to rain later today. The yard is big and the grass is long. I mow. My mind wanders to GIS. Push the mower up the fields and across the records. Stop (in a cell) and dig out clippings from the mower vent. If I were in a raster cell, what would the resolution be to have this pixel be considered grass? What commercial satellites could detect how many weeds were in this pixel? What temporal resolution would I need to capture the explosion of dandelions in the last few days? If I classify the whole dang yard into two raster categories of grass and dandelions, what would its table look like if I compressed it with run-length encoding? I struggle to push the mower up the steep slope on the side of the house. Does this show up on a DEM? Forget about the whole slope, I’ll just cut a few swaths across. Like contour lines. A line on a map joining points of equal elevation. . But not truly all equal. I’ll set my mowing standards low, to allow for a high proportion of the lines’ predicted values to be 50 percent plus or minus from its stated value, based on my contour interval. I pause to pick up a small stick and throw it towards the fire pit. It misses. I throw another. It too misses and falls far away from the first one. I have been neither precise nor accurate. I later recount to my husband all that I have reviewed. For both of our sakes, he hopes this process ends soon. 

T minus 1 day: We’re invited to a friend’s home for dinner. I can’t go, I say, I have to wake up early in the morning and drive an hour away to take a long test. Bring your flash cards, they say, we’ll quiz you. Flash cards? Someone should make a set as a study aide. Union! Intersect! Merge! Dissolve! Geoid! Ellipsoid! Spheroid! Datums! Conformal! Conic! Equal Interval! Quantile! What a fun social evening that would have been! (Insert rolling eyes emoji here). 

T plus 1 day: Don’t know results yet. Driving home from the 4-hour exam I had small waves of confidence when I think about a question that I know I must have gotten right, countered with small waves in the other direction when I remember having no clue and laughing out loud (quietly, testing in progress). I had some time at the end of the exam to review my responses. A little exhilarating, a lot exhausting, mixed in with a healthy dose of self-questioning.  

T plus 10 days: Still don’t know results. The more time that passes, I’m increasingly uncertain which way the plate will tip. It was a worthwhile part of the process to be reassured about what I do know. I learned some new things along the studying path, and, sure enough, confirmed for myself that there’s plenty that I don’t know well. Going forward I’m better prepared to coach the students who might want to pursue this on their own. This geospatial credential is definitely not needed for everyone, but I feel even more strongly that if we care about this profession and want to promote it for the long haul, engaging with this one piece of the professionalism process is one small and worthwhile personal step to take.

P.S. Directions Magazine is pleased to share the news that Diana Sinton did indeed pass the exam and will proudly join the ranks of fellow GISP holders worldwide.


You might be interested in:

Podcast: What You Need to Know about GISP Certification - Requirements, Benefits and Study Tips

GIS Jobs: Current Industry Expectations

GIS Jobs of Today series 

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