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If you are planning on driving from New York to Los Angeles, chances are you will need a road map. If you are interested in the proximity between Europe and Asia, consulting a map or an atlas will help answer some of your questions. Cartographers are map makers who prepare and revise maps and charts of land, air routes, sea floors and marine navigation routes. They compile and research geographic, political and cultural information to prepare maps of all types of areas. Cartographers measure, map and chart the Earths surface, which involves everything from geographical research and data compilation to actual map production.

Cartographers must decide upon what information is important and how to convey it clearly and accurately. They will usually create a rough draft to present to clients to make sure they are on the right track. Once all compulsory information has been compiled the cartographer will figure out how to use it and what will actually appear on the map. They may research old maps, use aerial photographs or satellite images in order to distinguish between oceans and rivers, highways and country lanes, power lines and underground pipelines and anything else important and relevant to the production of the map. When all of this information has been figured out, the cartographer will design the final copy and oversee the printing process to make sure its free from errors.

When drawing a map they must also analyze and interpret spatial data such as latitude, longitude, elevation and distance and non-spatial data, such as population density, land use patterns, annual precipitation levels and demographic characteristics. Cartographers traditionally used pencils to sketch maps but these days, they use computer systems such as GPS and GIS and other information provided by geodetic surveys, aerial photographs and satellite data. Therefore, the work of cartographers is changing because of these rapid advancements in technology -- a new type of mapping scientist has emerged!

These maps are generally used for a number of purposes; like travel guides, education, oil, gas and mineral exploration, government records, economic and scientific studies and promotional advertising. Cartographers strive to create maps that are both visually appealing and accurate. They must pay close attention to details for maps with errors can mess people up. For example, if a name is spelled incorrectly or a highway route is inaccurate, this could disrupt the driving plans of people who bought the map for directions.

Cartographers in large companies usually work with a team of surveyors, photogrammetrists, engineers and others, working on projects together. Those who work in smaller companies tend to meet with clients, contractors and other professionals. In accordance with rapidly changing technology, cartographers are required to update their computer and general knowledge skills.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Cartographers have an aptitude for mathematics, including the ability to think visually about geometric forms. They use complex drawing instruments and highly advanced GIS programs, therefore they must have good technical and artistic drawing skills. They should have an eye for details and be able to edit their work for mistakes.

Cartographers should be knowledgeable in topographical features, infrastructure and boundaries. They should be able to work and communicate with a number of different workers and also work independently.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Study aerial photographs and satellite images
  • Study ground surveys and reports to get information
  • Plan map format and design and compile required data from aerial photographs, survey notes, records, reports and other maps
  • Plan the layout and content of maps
  • Make detailed drawings, often using a computer-aided design package
  • Alter the drawings where necessary
  • Make computer models of land areas
  • Generate maps and related graphs and charts using digital mapping techniques, computer interactive graphics, traditional drafting methods and computer or traditional scribing tools
  • Inspect final compositions to ensure completeness and accuracy
  • Cartographers spend the majority of their time in offices, working over draft tables or on the computer. They rarely visit the sites they are mapping, which is very important for potential cartographers to know. Most cartographers work standard eight-hour days or 40-hour workweeks. Evening and weekend work is rare, except when important deadlines approach. Those who are self-employed usually have less regulated schedules and their work depends on how many clients they have.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Cartographers work in the public and private sectors. They are employed by all levels of government, private mapping companies, computer software companies and other related establishments. Cartographers with master's degrees of PhDs may also teach at the postsecondary level.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for cartographers? Since boundary lines are constantly changing and countries change names, there will always be jobs for cartographers. Experienced cartographers could translate their artistic and computer skills into graphic design careers or illustrating careers.

Some may consider going into engineering technology, doing survey work and technical field work. Those with years of experience and education could also teach cartography at a community college or university.

  Educational Paths  
To get a job as a cartographer, a diploma in cartography or cartographic technology (cartography diplomas usually take three years to complete) is compulsory. It is also possible to take courses related to cartography from the geography departments of many colleges. Some school programs offer internships, which are valuable in helping gain experience and make contacts. A background in computer science is useful, since most cartographers today use advanced computer-mapping programs.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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