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How much can you earn in the Geospatial Industry?

Are you considering a career in the geospatial industry? Wondering if you’re making enough money for your age and experience level? Want to know if a startup is better for your career in the long run or a job at one of the biggies? And how much money can you actually make in the geospatial industry?

We took a deep dive into more than 3,500 salary postings by top geospatial companies and startups on Glassdoor, and came up with the answers for you. Read on!

Average salary

According to our research, the average annual income in the location industry is $83,530. If you are gunning for positions like a Specialist or an Engineer, you can expect to make between $54,000-89,500, depending upon your seniority level. The salaries do go up significantly as you gain more years of professional experience. Domain experts, such as Lead Specialists or System Architects, can take home more than $115,000 annually.

If we had to break down the numbers in terms of the various departments you could explore in the geospatial industry, software development comes out to be the clear winner, even at an entry-level position. Working in the marketing department of a location company could also be a good option if you want to start making a decent living early in your career. However, hardcore engineers can rejoice knowing technical prowess will fetch better salaries than marketing skills once you reach an Expert or Managerial level.

When looking at median salaries according to the geography, there are no surprises. Typically, working in a large city translates into more opportunities as well as higher compensation levels. This rule, however, is not etched in stone. We can observe more and more people working remotely and getting paid well too!

Startup or corporation?

Startups offer more competitive compensation than legacy geospatial companies such as TomTom, Trimble, HERE, Esri or Hexagon. On an average, you can earn 36% more in a startup than in a big corporation. And this difference is particularly significant for Geospatial/GIS engineers; startups pay them a whopping 57% more than large organizations.

Final Words

Our research confirms what we had already suspected: Working in the geospatial industry is overall a good career choice, and not only for engineers. Focusing on software development will surely give you the best start. But if you’re a geospatial engineer, you might want to join a startup, especially in the early stages of your career (take a look at our #TheNextGeo series about the coolest geo startups) because large geospatial companies start paying well only when you reach the senior specialist experience level.

Want to learn more about which geospatial company pays the best? Stay tuned for another report from this series!

Methodology 

We have analyzed top 15 geospatial startups and companies for which data on salaries where available. Each record has been categorized by department:

{GIS, software, sales, marketing, admin}

and by grade:

{entry, junior specialist, specialist, senior specialist, expert, manager, director}

Our analysis does not take in to account the age of the data available, so the actual results can be somewhat underestimated. The overall distribution of the records according to categories, as visible below, seems to represent the overall organizational structure of companies of various sizes fairly well.

And this is how the geographic distribution of these records looks like:

Are you a GIS professional? Do you agree with our findings? Let us know in the comments below!

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Esri and Winning

How much winning is enough? Have you been winning so much that you’re tired of winning now?

I ask because last month I gave a talk (PDF Download) to the regional GIS association in Manitoba, about open source and open data. My talk included a few points that warned about the downsides of being beholden to a single software vendor, and it included some information about the software available in the open source geospatial ecosystem.

In a testament to the full-spectrum dominance of Esri, the audience was almost entirely made up of Esri customers. The event was sponsored by Esri. Esri had a table at the back of the room. Before giving my talk, I made a little joke about the fact that my talk would in fact include some digs at Esri (though I left the most pointed ones on the cutting room floor).

People seemed to like the talk. They laughed at my jokes. They nodded in the right places.

Among the points I made:

  • Single-vendor dominance in our field is narrowing the understanding of “what is possible” amongst practitioners in that ecosystem.
  • Maintaining a single-vendor policy dramatically reduces negotiating power with that vendor.
  • Maintaining a single-vendor policy progressively de-skills your staff, as they become dependant on a single set of tooling.
  • Practitioners have higher market value when they learn more than just the tools of one vendor, so self-interest dictates learning tools outside the single-vendor ecosystem.
  • Point’n’click GIS tools from Esri have widened access to GIS, which is a good thing, but driven down the market value of practitioners who limit themselves to those tools.

None of these points is unique to Esri – they are true of any situation where a single tool has driven competitors off the field, whether it be Adobe graphics tools or Autodesk CAD tools or Microsoft office automation tools.

Nor are any of these points indicative of any sort of ill will or malign intent on the part of Esri – they are just the systemic effects of market dominance. It is not contingent on Esri to change their behaviour or limit their success; it’s contingent on practitioners and managers to recognize the negative aspects of the situation and react accordingly.

And yet.

Despite the fact that almost all the people in the room were already their customers, that no new business would be endangered by my message, that all the students would still be taught their tools, that all the employers would still include them in job requirements, that people would continue to use the very words they choose to describe basic functions of our profession …

Despite all that, the Esri representative still went to the president of the association, complained to her about the content of my talk, and asked her to ensure that nothing I would say in my afternoon technical talk would be objectionable to himself. (In the event, I made some nasty jokes about Oracle, nobody complained.)

For some of these people, no amount of winning is enough, no position of dominance is safe, no amount of market leverage is sufficient.

It’s sad and it’s dangerous.

I was reminded of this last week, meeting an old friend in Australia and learning that he’d been blackballed out of a job for recommending software that wasn’t Esri software. Esri took away his livelihood for insufficient fealty.

This is the danger of dominance.

When the local Esri rep has a better relationship with your boss than you do, do you advocate for using alternative tools? You could be limiting or even potentially jeapardizing your career.

When Esri has locked up the local geospatial software market, do you bid an RFP with an alternative open tool set? You could lose your Esri partnership agreement and with it your ability to bid any other local contracts. Esri will make your situation clear to you.

This is the danger of dominance.

A market with only one vendor is not a market. There’s a name for it, and there’s laws against it. And yet, our profession glories in it. We celebrate “GIS day”, a marketing creation of our dominant vendor. Our publicly funded colleges and universities teach whole curricula using only Esri tools.

And we, as a profession, do not protest. We smile and nod. We accept our “free” or “discounted” trainings from Esri (comes with our site license!) and our “free” or “discounted” tickets to the Esri user conference. If we are particularly oblivious, we wonder why those open source folks never come around to market their tools to us.

We have met the enemy, and he is us.

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