Cartographer

wiltb1Why is this work important/how does it apply to every day life for most people?
Maps surround us. We use them daily to get to a meeting across town, to understand results of political races, what the weather will be. In recent years, we see them all over the news and social media. As a map reader it’s important that we understand that a map is authored. This means that someone makes decisions about what and how data are shown on a map. We should be aware of all of these decisions, so we can fully evaluate the veracity of a map.

When/how did you know you wanted to be a cartographer?
I love converting complex data to an easy-to-read graphic. I’ve always been drawn to this, and at it’s heart this is what cartography is. Cartography adds the extra complexity of where things happen.

What is the coolest thing about your job?
I get to (virtually) visit any place in the world with each map that I make. Not only do I get to go anywhere, I also get to explore any range of topics. One day I might be working on the trade of hazardous waste, the next day, I might be exploring demographic information, and even the next day, I might be looking at historic pollen records that show how species have changed over time. Another day, I might be in Asia examining farming practices, or indigenous people of New Zealand. I might not know what topic or region I will be studying when my day begins.

What is your favorite thing about maps?
Only one thing? When it comes to the process of making maps, I enjoy the design process of making a map, experimenting with different representations. When it comes to working with clients, I enjoy the “a-ha” moment when a researcher has been studying a subject for many years, and they see the map, and suddenly they say, “Oh, now it makes so much more sense.” The map can bring a topic to life in a way that words can’t always achieve.

wiltb2How have maps and the way people use them changed in the past 20 years? Are maps still important and why?
Wow, maps have changed so much. In the last decade maps have changed from mostly printed maps to a combination of printed maps and maps available on the computer — many of them interactive. Interactive maps allow the readers of the map to “dig” into the data further, or represent it differently. Often the reader of the map can look at more data below the surface of an interactive map. Additionally, more tools are available for people to use maps to do their own analysis. That is, software and technology have made it more accessible for more people to explore spatial data. There has been a move in cartography and geographic information sciences to open data, open technology and to offer documentation that allows more people to work with spatial information.

What is a typical day like for you?
It is different everyday. Many cartographers work at a computer for the majority of the day, working with data in some way. This might include more of what you would expect from a graphic designer. Or, it might be more of what you would think of for someone working with statistics. Additionally, a lot of cartography requires research, both through internet searching and using the library. Readers of maps put a lot of faith in maps, so we need to be sure that everything is absolutely as correct as possible. This requires very careful editing, often with a colleague who is responsible for that task.

What kind of training does it take to do your job?
You can major in geography and cartography or geographic information systems in college. This training prepares you to think spatially, to understand the importance that place plays in how or why things happen. You can go on to earn advanced degrees in our field, too. Some people receive training in computer science, or design.

What are some challenges you face in your work?
I train students to become cartographers. Some of the biggest challenges are keeping up with the changes in staff, because there is a constant turnover of students who need to be brought up to speed in order to take on new projects with the speed and accuracy required for our field.

What do you like to do when you are not working?
I am an avid reader, I especially like to read books about leadership and creativity. I am a full-time graduate student, working on a degree in industrial and organizational psychology. I am the Executive Director of the North American Cartographic Information Society. I like to spend time on the weekends getting outside with my family and our Bernese Mountain Dog.

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