Money Verse Maps

Jan 19, 2018

Talk to any GISer at some point as had a friend or colleague who has left Spatial to go to “normal” IT. We’re all like, “but but but but, what about the MAPS…THE MAPS.” They usually mumbled some response about more growth potential, or just sick of fighting with GIS software projections. We nodded, shook hands and then stopped paying attention to them on twitter.

There is a reason for this, a very concrete reason. Based on data from Indeed a GIS Developer has a mean salary of about 86,000 dollars a year. While a “standard” Developer with a similar skillsets annual salary is around 95,000 dollars a year. Why is this? GIS Developers aren’t that different from Developers. We all deal with server issues, weird security crap and having to keep on top of multiple languages and understanding. In some ways dealing with geospatial data is harder. I mean, we spend so much time dealing with the data to get into a “presentable” state. All data people do this, but it seems more pronounced on spatial projects opposed to other projects. Of course #YMMV.

I mean sure, its only 9,000 bucks a year, and a bunch of you starting out your career would say “Wow, I’d be happy with either of those.” Over 10 years, the normal Developer will make about 90K more than the GIS developer. That’s a house downpayment, student loan payoff, or a mid line Porsche.

Why is this. I mean, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So, I decided to look at the people who employ the most GIS people around, ESRI. I decided to take a look at their salaries, and to see where this might go. I took a bunch of screenshots so people wouldn’t be yelling at me for bias. Lets start with Glass Door data.

ESRI Developer:




This mirrors (within 5%) the Indeed data. So there is something here, the mean ESRI GIS developer salary matches what we already know. Lets take a closer look. Lets do a comparison.

ESRI is private firm so my data about demographics and revenue will be from secondary sources, mostly Forbes. ESRI is about 3500 people with a yearly revenue of about 1.5 Billion dollars. While they are considered to be an IT company, they are really a data visualization company, who deals in server and desktop software to display data in a graphical format.

Tableau, which is a publicly traded company, so I can get primary resources. Tableau is about 3200 people, with a yearly revenue of about 1 billion dollars. While they are considered to be an IT company, they are really a data visualization company, who deals in server and desktop software to display data in a graphical format.

<narrator> He did not cut and paste that. He typed it out like a fool.

Lets look at average salaries across the companies. The data from this section is from Paysa, which aggregates salaries a number or websites, so they have the largest salary data pool, that is accessible for free.





Umm, wow. Okay, most of ESRI is in Redlands, and Tableau is mostly out of Seattle, so lets do a quick COLA computation to bring this into scope. So according to, the average ESRI Salary in Seattle should be 134K, which is still 60K less or about a third less than the Tableau employee.

Okay, lets narrow our scope a bit. While I couldn’t find “Developer” in the Paysa data, I did find “Software Engineer.” For the purposes of this blog entry we’ll use that as the parallel. Searching for the average salary for a Software Engineer in Seattle for both ESRI and Tableau, so as not to do a half ass COLA comparison.





So, we have about a 15% disparity between the ESRI and Tableau salaries for Software Engineers in Seattle.

Same type of company, same type of products, same client base- 15% difference in salary.

I looked for data on Boundless and other GISy firms, but most are too small or specialized to get a large swath of data.


When I started this blog entry I didn’t know where it was going to take me, and its far from being a completely sound study. It does beg the question though, when the defacto leader of the spatial industry tends to pay their people 15% below market value what influence does that have on overall salaries of the industry as a whole.

In the end, salary negotiations are all up to you. You should have an idea of your market value, and know how to get the best salary for your position. But, GIS Developers and Engineers, you are not worth 15% less than another Developer. If anything, you are worth more because you have an understanding of a specialized area. Have you ever seen a JavaScript Slinger deal with projections — yeah that, that right there.

The purpose of this blog entry was to make the GIS community AWARE that this is a thing. So when you go into salary negotiations, know you’re behind the 8 ball, and its up to you to prove that you are worth that 15% that a normal Developer would get for the same job. But hey, you get to play with maps.