Switching career from web application to GIS developer?

As someone who came from a software dev background into GIS, the concepts aren't rocket science. Whichever platform you choose to work under will have its own API that you'll learn. The more involved concepts like projections and datums are such a small part of it, when you hit them, you just find a book/person and learn what you need.

From what I can see, there's a major skill shortage in GIS developers, so take your development skills, and apply for GIS development jobs. Chances are they're not getting great applications anyway, so if you can prove you're a fast learner, you may find that you're a very attractive option.

I maintain that for working as a GIS software developer, those developers who learn GIS are far stronger than those GIS people who learn to program.

I didn't know a thing about GIS before I was hired...not officially. My background for wanting to work with GIS is that I've always been working with maps, as a scout and as a soldier...but truth be told I haven't used much of that knowledge in practise. The most important part I've been using is some nerdy knowledge I caught in school sometime about the difference between geographic and projected coordinatesystems.

I have had my job since October 2009 and it was pure luck that I saw the opening, I was looking for a job in another city but boom there it was :) There interview had nothing to do with GIS, cause as eldac writes, they have learned that it's easier to teach a developer GIS than it is the other way around.

If you're an experienced programmer, just get a good set of open-source tools and some free data. Create some small fun apps with them, and after you know the basics you can have a better idea on what you need to learn.

Open source tools:

  • Python or other scripting language you're comfortable with
  • PostgreSQL and PostGIS (databases that easily store geospatial data)
  • QGIs (for viewing geospatial files and databases)

All of these are available as Ubuntu packages and Windows installers.

Good data sources to begin with:

  • US TIGER\Census data
  • Open street map data.

After you've conquered the basics, try to focus on some field. If you're into web development, creating map tiles using mapnik is the next reasonable step. If you're in the cellular business, try developing for your favorite platform, and so on.