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Cartographer Job Description, Career as a Cartographer, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: College

Salary: Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Cartographers are part of a larger occupational group called mapping scientists. They collect geographic information from aerial photographs and survey data and use this information to prepare maps, charts, and drawings of large areas of the earth's surface.

Cartographers must be skillful in reading and understanding detailed photographs and drawings. They must also know how to use manual and computerized drafting instruments, photogrammetric techniques, mathematical formulas, and precision stereoplotting equipment. Above all, cartographers must be able to render accurate representations of the data they have collected.

Cartographic supervisors design maps and coordinate the mapmaking process. Cartographic drafters provide the details of natural and man-made structures. Mosaicists sequence photographic prints to form a photographic mosaic of the geographic area. Photogrammetrists prepare original maps to scale by measuring and interpreting aerial photographs and by using mathematical formulas and analytical processes.

Newer technologies are changing the way cartographers work. These technologies include Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which are computerized data banks of spatial data. One result of the newer technology is the birth of a new type of cartographer—the geographic information specialist—who focuses on the collection and analysis of geographic spatial information by combining mapmaking and surveying functions.

Education and Training Requirements

A bachelor's degree in engineering or in a physical science is a requirement for a career in cartography. Courses in surveying and measurements, drafting, and mathematics are recommended. Computer training is essential. Some fieldwork may also be required. Cartographers must be precise and accurate, have good interpersonal skills, and be able to visualize objects, distances, sizes, and other abstract forms.

Getting the Job

Most cartographers are hired after completing a bachelor's degree program. A portfolio of completed maps may also be required. Entering the field as a cartographic technician after completing a two-year specialized postsecondary school training program is possible. After gaining experience and further training, a technician can become a cartographer.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

After gaining experience and consistently producing high-quality work, a cartographer can become a supervisor. By acquiring additional skills and training, an individual can move into one of the specialized areas of cartography.

The employment of cartographers is expected to grow as fast as the average through the year 2014. The best opportunities will be for those who have experience in newer technologies such as GPS (global positioning system) and GIS. Most job openings will result from workers retiring or leaving the occupation.

Working Conditions

Cartographers usually work thirty-five to forty hours a week and rarely visit the locations they are mapping. They spend most of their time in an office, surrounded by drafting tables, computer mapping systems, and other specialized equipment. Their work is systematic and detail oriented, requiring patience and accuracy. Some cartographers, called project cartographers, work on a short-term freelance basis.

Where to Go for More Information

American Congress on Surveying and Mapping
6 Montgomery Ave., Ste. 403
Gaithersburg, MD 20879
(202) 632-9716

International Map Trade Association
2629 Manhattan Ave., PMB 281
Hermosa Beach, CA 90254-2447
(310) 376-7731

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries for cartographers vary considerably depending on the employer and the experience of the cartographer. Cartographers who work for the federal government earn an average of $67,989 per year, depending on their qualifications. Cartographers in the private sector earn a median annual income of $46,080 per year.

Additional topics

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