I am biased when it comes to advice about GIS careers. I think students should first pursue an undergraduate degree in a STEM discipline and apply for jobs in that field. Good degree choices are Geosciences, Biosciences, Computer Science, Engineering, Chemistry, Physics. If you complete your degree and are still drawn to GIS, then seek out GIS jobs in your field (or wherever you have a foot in the door). With that in mind, here are some things to consider.
1.) Take an Introduction to GIS course at a 4-year college or university (300 level).
Look for textbooks by Price, Chang, Jensen & Jensen, or Bolstad.
2.) Take an Advanced GIS course that utilizes Spatial Analyst, ModelBuilder, and GPS data. Look for a course that teaches you to create, manipulate, and analyze different types of data.
3.) Take an Introduction to Remote Sensing course. Use ENVI and learn to process multispectral, hyperspectral, radar, and LiDAR imagery. Build your photo interpretation skills.
5.) Take a course in Database Design and maintenance (something beyond Access).
6.) Seek out a Multi-week Field Experience or Internship focused on GPS, or some other geospatial technology. Learn how to collect digital data in the field, process it, and resolve the issues that arise. Real-world experience is the point. Any discipline will work: Geology, Hydrology, Geophysics, Biology, Anthropology, Transportation, Land Surveying, Surface Mining, Oil & Gas, Soils, Land Use Planning, Emergency Response, Politics, etc.
7.) Learn to make maps for print and the web with Adobe Illustrator from layers created in ArcGIS, QuantumGIS, or GRASS. Cartography – especially cartographic revision – in ArcGIS alone is pretty miserable. AI is the better tool for mapmaking.
9.) The Future of GIS is Online. Seek out ways to deliver maps and data to clients via apps, the Cloud, and online services. Web programming experience is a good idea. Many cool apps are emerging.
10.) Stay Connected to others in the GIS community through conferences and societies. GIS means different things to different people. Gain perspective on who’s doing what. GIS in the real world bears faint resemblance to your GIS textbooks.
11.) Or forget all this lousy advice. Find something technical and immerse yourself in it. Don’t fret about being well-rounded or well-rested or regularly-showered. Just go for it: Work hard, avoid debt, and see what happens. Create something great and tell people about it. Good things will happen.