Congratulations to our October Alumni of the Month, Derek Skilling! He graduated from the Masters of Professional Studies in GIS program in 2015 and now works for Jacobs Engineering as a Geospatial Web Developer. 


What is a recent project that you have worked on that you have drawn on skills from the MPS program?

When I came on board with Jacobs I was put in charge of migrating our ArcGIS for Flex web application from Adobe Flex to ESRI’s JavaScript API. My background in GIS was mildly focused on programming up until the MPS program. About 75% of my knowledge used to migrate the application, widgets, and setup a successful web application came from my studies in the MPS program.

How have the skills you have learned in the MPS program helped you progress in your career?

My career was analyst position after analyst position, until I got tired of doing analyst-type work. I was always good at learning on my own, so I was capable of doing more than tasks my supervisors delegated to me. I decided to start the UMD Graduate Degree for GIS and started to apply the things I learned in each class, immediately. Soon, I found myself leaving the GIS Analyst position for a Deployed Geospatial Intelligence Analyst because of my desire for something different. I focused heavily on Remote Sensing classes and Programming classes. These classes helped me excel in the Deployed GIA position and in my current Geospatial Developer position.

What drew you to the MPS GIS program at Maryland?

The simple answer would be the number of courses they offered that pertained to programming. I know that at the time UMD had the most classes because I counted and compared to all in-state schools that offered GIS, as well as some high-profile programs out of state.

What advice can you give current and prospective students about the MPS program? ​

My advice would be to get really good at either Remote Sensing or Programming. Not because I did it, but because the market for GIS is a very niche market, so it’s smart to follow the money. The money is in the Utilities, Defense, Aerospace, and Intelligence fields. In my experience, it is within those industries you will find the highest paying, most marketable jobs are in Programming.

What recommendations would you make to current students for career and academic success after graduation?

I would say that you should be prepared to be overworked and underpaid, but that’s called ‘paying your dues’. In all seriousness, though, you should go above and beyond what’s expected. I could still be sitting in my GIS Analyst position, making my 50k/year, doing the same thing every day. I decided that wasn’t good enough and decided to acquire skills that allowed me to complete tasks that were meant for someone with a higher pay grade.

What are some of your hobbies/interests? 

This isn’t going to make sense at all, but I’m a programmer on the weekdays and a motocross rider on the weekends. I’ve always loved the sport, I watched a lot of my friends race when I was younger, and I couldn’t afford a nice enough bike to race. Now I can, and I love it! I also love the mountains.  I try to go skiing twice a year, but last year I went big and went to Killington Vermont for a warmup, then I went for a week out in British Columbia at Whistler Blackhomb Ski Resort. It was amazing! I also used to play college lacrosse at Salisbury University. I love watching both men’s and women’s’ college lacrosse, and I know UMD had a big year!

Anything else you'd like to add?

Feel free to reach out on social media, LinkedIn, email, etc. Networking is important.

Derek Skilling