How To Become A Cartographer
Career Video: Cartographer
A cartographer is a mapmaker. Cartographers don’t just make maps for navigation, though. Cartographers can be involved in building and planning projects, predicting weather and topographical trends, and creating educational tools. Cartographers gather information through various methods. They can use aerial photographs, satellite images, surveys, and other technology to assist their work.
Cartographers collect and analyze scientific and mathematic data to chart a various structures—natural or manmade. Natural forms include ocean beds, coastlines, mountains, rainforests, deserts, and plains. Human constructed forms can include bridges, barriers, dams, highways, and mountain passes.
Cartographers should exhibit certain skills and qualities to be effective:
- Graphic design and drawing skills
- Excellent spatial reasoning and vision
- Good color vision
- Detail oriented
- Organized and accurate
- Time and deadline oriented
- Aptitude for geography and topographical features
- Knowledgeable of specific computer software programs
Why Become A Cartographer
Cartographers have an important job, because they continuously collect new information and update maps. They are responsible for making sure pedestrians can find new bike paths, driving routes, and other methods of transportation. They can also help government agencies and private industries understand how to best develop building projects. Without cartographers, many people would not be aware of new landmarks or ways to travel.
Some cartographers choose to specialize. A photogrammetrist’s work is similar to a cartographer’s, except they create models of the Earth’s surface. They use the same tools as cartographers, as well as light-imaging detection and ranging (LIDAR). From land surveys, photographs, and other data, they create 3D maps with layers that represent the Earth’s surface.
A geographic information specialist (GIS) is a cartographer who uses geographic information system (GIS) technology. GIS technology gathers, integrates, and analyzes data and helps these specialists make specific maps. These maps can be used to inform engineers and decision makers about the environment, development, marketing strategies, and land use.
Cartographer Work Environment
About one third of all cartographers work for architectural and engineering agencies. Local government agencies employ about 25 percent of all cartographers. A small percentage work as managers or consultants in scientific and technical firms.
Much of a cartographer’s work is done in an office setting. Their job involves computers, so the majority of their time is spent with this technology. It is possible for a cartographer, or other specialist, to work in the field. They may conduct land surveys or visit areas in which they need to map. Cartographers can work as climatologists, surveyors, educators, researchers, GIS analysts, programmetrists, and cartographers (map-makers).
The majority of cartographers work full time. They average about 41 hours per week, which is fewer hours than the average for all occupations. Although they may work limited hours, their salary is ranked in the 9th percentile.
The median annual salary for a cartographer is $62,750 (May 2016). Cartographers can expect to make a similar amount of money regardless of their setting or industry. Salaries may increase for cartographers who become established in a prominent architectural or consulting firm. Specialists can expect to make a higher salary, although there are fewer opportunities for work and more educational requirements.
Washington, Nevada, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio can provide cartographers with the best salary, when adjusted for the cost of living. Cartographers working in Montana, Indiana, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Vermont, Tennessee, and Georgia can expect to make the least, when adjusted for the cost of living. Becoming a GIS may yield salaries as high as $109,000 per year. Job opportunities may be limited, because there are fewer positions for these specialists.
Cartographer Career Outlook
Cartographers and other specialists have an excellent job outlook. Between 2014 and 2024, this field is expected to grow 29 percent, which is far above the average for all other occupations. Due to increased population and development, maps will need constant updating. The government will probably be the fastest growing industry for cartographers, especially in land-use planning and development. Technology will also spur growth in this field. Not only are more tools available, but map systems for cell phones, cars, planes, and other GPS systems will require support.
A downside to this growing trend is that not many cartographer jobs exist. As of 2015, there were only 13,100 employed cartographers, making it a mid-sized occupation. Again, the need for improved navigation may increase the number of positions available for cartographers and similar occupations.
Most cartographers will need at least a bachelor’s degree to find a job. Graduate degrees can lead to advancement and specialized positions.
Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree. Most employers will seek individuals with at least a bachelor’s degree. Common degrees for this career are cartography, geography, surveying, geomatics, and other relevant programs. Geomatics is a good path, because it encompasses the important aspects of cartography, such as the use of science, engineering, math, and GIS data collection. It is essential that aspiring cartographers be computer literate.
If you want to specialize and become a photogrammetrist, make sure to take courses that teach you how to use LIDAR technology, remote sensing, and image processing.
Step 2: Obtain the appropriate licenses and certificates for work. Although the government does not require cartographers to have a license to practice cartography, it may be necessary to become licensed in order to conduct land surveys. License requirements vary by state and applicants must pass an exam. Specific licenses also exist for photogrammetrists, and these also vary by state.
Certification can help improve your chances for employment and advancement. The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) offers certification for those who meet certain requirements and pass an exam.
Step 2: Earn a master’s degree. Few jobs will require a master’s degree for this career. But a master’s degree in cartography, geography, or GIS may help you obtain employment at more prestigious firms. Some cartographers who pursue advanced degrees may choose to work as researchers. This type of research may try to understand the best means of urban and housing development, or the effects of climate on the Earth’s features.