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Getting Started in Cartography


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#1
Michael

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Hi all,

I'm trying to start a career in cartography and so far I'm having trouble getting my foot in the door. I'm sort of a "late bloomer" to the field: I'm 26 and have a Bachelor's in Business. After a couple years working IT support-type jobs, I decided to go back to my first love, maps, and completed Penn State's Online certificate program in GIS (a series of 4 courses learning ArcGIS 9). I currently work for a digital mapping data company, but I'm not doing anywhere near the kind of cartographic work that could build experience. So...I've sort of hit a wall and would like some advice on how to proceed next. Several things that I've been looking at:

(1) Just getting my feet wet. I'm not having much luck applying to interships, as I'm not a current student (sometimes I read that as "too old," perhaps:), or lack a portfolio of work (I do have the work I completed for Penn State).

(2) Going back to school. Should I start over again (so to speak) and get a Bachelor's in Cartography/Geography? Or perhaps proceed with a Masters in GIS? Is it safe to assume that a career in cartography begins with a good knowledge of GIS?

(3) Different job markets. I'm in Orange County, CA right now and there don't seem to be an abundance of GIS jobs in Southern California, and I'm underqualified for the openings that exist. I've considered moving, but this could also go back to more schooling.

Sorry if this is a long post. I came across this forum while doing an internet search and it looked like a good place to talk to some professionals already in the industry:) Thanks for you help.

-Michael

#2
benbakelaar

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Hi Michael, my advice is to hang out on this board, regularly participate in discussions, and work on some side projects in your spare time to boost your skills. If you really want to get into the cartographic aspect of mapmaking, it seems like you need to go into business for yourself or work for a small firm (many people on this board run 1-10 person carto shops).

As for salaried GIS positions, I think you just have to be willing to move to where the openings are. One thing about being underqualified - don't assume you are, wait for them to tell you, because you never know the quality of candidates they've been interviewing, and they may be willing to train on the job based on your personality. I would hire a nice guy willing to learn over a highly-qualified jerk any day :)

Finally, you're opening a can of worms comparing cartography to GIS :) There is a whole spectrum of opinions on this, from the old-school cartographers who used linotype and exacto blades to produce maps, to the "newbs" like me who approach the whole field from a GIS perspective. Personally, I agree with the people who will recommend you don't bother going back to school (right now).

#3
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Hi all,

I'm trying to start a career in cartography and so far I'm having trouble getting my foot in the door. I'm sort of a "late bloomer" to the field: I'm 26 and have a Bachelor's in Business. After a couple years working IT support-type jobs, I decided to go back to my first love, maps, and completed Penn State's Online certificate program in GIS (a series of 4 courses learning ArcGIS 9). I currently work for a digital mapping data company, but I'm not doing anywhere near the kind of cartographic work that could build experience. So...I've sort of hit a wall and would like some advice on how to proceed next. Several things that I've been looking at:

(1) Just getting my feet wet. I'm not having much luck applying to interships, as I'm not a current student (sometimes I read that as "too old," perhaps:), or lack a portfolio of work (I do have the work I completed for Penn State).

(2) Going back to school. Should I start over again (so to speak) and get a Bachelor's in Cartography/Geography? Or perhaps proceed with a Masters in GIS? Is it safe to assume that a career in cartography begins with a good knowledge of GIS?

(3) Different job markets. I'm in Orange County, CA right now and there don't seem to be an abundance of GIS jobs in Southern California, and I'm underqualified for the openings that exist. I've considered moving, but this could also go back to more schooling.

Sorry if this is a long post. I came across this forum while doing an internet search and it looked like a good place to talk to some professionals already in the industry:) Thanks for you help.

-Michael



Micheal,

Do you have a resume with a few examples of your work? If you're interested in a position as a cartographer, and you already have a degree, I would start building a portfolio in your spare time and apply for a position where one is available. Also, spend as much time as you can around this place.



#4
Nick Springer

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Michael,

As Ben alluded to it really depends on what you personally mean by "cartography." Do you want to become a very skilled GIS person that can slice and dice data, and produce concise clear maps? Or do you want to be more of a "design" cartographer that is interested more in the map form and function than the technical side of the data (not that we aren't concerned about data accuracy ;) )?

P.S. to everyone else: I'm not trying to start a cartographic dichotomy debate, just trying to help figure out where Michael is leaning.

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Owner: Springer Cartographics LLC


#5
Michael

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Thanks for the all the input :) By "cartography," I mean more the design/visual aspects of making maps, more so than the slicing/dicing of data. But, from my understanding so far, some data "maintenance" is an important part of mapmaking (?) To get to the point, I feel like I've done enough of the slicing/dicing and would like to do more of the designing, it's just a matter of finding the tools I need to learn (besides Arc, that is).

#6
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To get to the point, I feel like I've done enough of the slicing/dicing and would like to do more of the designing, it's just a matter of finding the tools I need to learn (besides Arc, that is).



Then in the immortal words of NIKE (whomever he/she is) "Just Do IT!"

Pick a subject or place or theme and make a map, invest yourself in it, research it, love it, get passionate about it and learn. And then do it again, and again, take your spare time and use it to learn what cartography really is about: BLOOD, SWEAT and TEARS!!!!! It's really not about specific tools but rather about techniques and process and developing an eye for what works and what doesn't.

That is the only way you will really learn and build up a portfolio. Post your finished works here and we will brutally tear it apart and you will cry yourself to sleep and rise the next day to start again. And when you have grown as a cartographer you will join our ranks and take part in our petty subculture and you yourself may one day be annointed with the title of ultimate contributor.


mg

#7
Rob

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That is the only way you will really learn and build up a portfolio. Post your finished works here and we will brutally tear it apart and you will cry yourself to sleep and rise the next day to start again. And when you have grown as a cartographer you will join our ranks and take part in our petty subculture and you yourself may one day be annointed with the title of ultimate contributor.


ROTFLMAO!!!

michael, welcome. couldn't agree with martin more about just finding something and mapping it; you won't learn until you crank out mistakes. As for the "tools" you need to learn: i think most around these parts process/compile in a GIS and then export to AI/PS for design work, with everyone having their own peculiar workflow. Generally speaking. So learning the adobe products is also a great place to start.

Good luck,

Rob

#8
CHART

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Thanks for the all the input :) By "cartography," I mean more the design/visual aspects of making maps, more so than the slicing/dicing of data. But, from my understanding so far, some data "maintenance" is an important part of mapmaking (?) To get to the point, I feel like I've done enough of the slicing/dicing and would like to do more of the designing, it's just a matter of finding the tools I need to learn (besides Arc, that is).


Welcome!

I like the just do-it-get-dirty approach.

Others might comment, but preparing data (slicing and dicing) I believe represents a larger bulk of work in the mapping industry at large (geomatics) then the design aspect related to cartography (the representation of the data). This is propably why your are doing what you are doing. My approach would to keep your income job and work into the design aspect of things on your own time until you can get a job which will allow you to do SOME design work. Let's be realistic, the percentage of work related to design is small in our industry and probably not on a upward curve either. But since I joined this forum I have been learning about design after spending 25 years on the data preparation side of things. Like you, I have been wanting to get into the map design (graphics) aspect since the day I started in the industry but never really got around to it full time (got to pay the bills). This forum is a excellent stepping stone for me to acquire additional knowledge and hopfully do more of what I want. Some contributers are world class cartographers. Read (and contribute).
Chart

#9
MapMedia

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Hey Michael and welcome. You bring up a great debate, which I think you are benefiting from.

You want to make maps for a living, right? Jump into it - but do it methodically: buy books, find mentors, and start pumping out finsihed maps, one after another. Learning Adobe Illy and Photoshop are vital. As much as I have admiration from anyone who has achieved a graduate certificate in cartography/geography, I have equally met self taught cartographers.

One technique I will share with you is to make a small collection of maps you admire (not NG atlas maps of course!), and, starting with the easiest one, do your very best to reproduce it from scratch. You will learn along the way.

In the meantime, with a small portfolio of maps and GIS work, I think you could be quite competitive in the OC job market. My experience in the GIS field in Cali is that there are tons of great positions, esp in SoCal. Working in a GIS dept might be a great way to learn the craft and grow professionally. Have you connected with the people at Orange County's watersheds program? They produce decent maps for their environmental programs. Also, CH2MHILL and other consulting firms have a diversity of projects, so serving a GIS analyst / mapper would expose you to a lot of different mapping challenges.

And definetely stay active on this forum!

Chris

#10
Martin Gamache

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One technique I will share with you is to make a small collection of maps you admire (not NG atlas maps of course!), and, starting with the easiest one, do your very best to reproduce it from scratch. You will learn along the way.


Chris,

This is an excellent suggestion. I would say that this is where guidance is useful to make sure that one picks the best examples to use as one's models. To the untrained eye many maps look alike and it can be hard to discern the gems. This partly explains why so many "bad" maps are published out there. If one chooses a bad map to imitate....

Looking back on what I thought were great maps when I first started out compared to the standards I now hold up, they are somewhat different. This is where having a good mentor/ teacher is crucial and where this board serves a good purpose.

We can help shape the future of this profession by:

1. Identifying the great examples of genres of mapping that exist out there. So when someone like Michael comes along and says, I'm trying to make a map showing x,y,z...we can point them to the best examples of that type of map for them to use as a model. Clearly we won't all agree on what "the" best map is, but we can certainly get consensus on a set of them.

2. Not being afraid to speak out against bad stuff when we see it and be willing and able to spend some time explaining why.

Michael, on this note I would recommend you pick up a copy of The Atlas of Oregon. IMO this is the single best book you can own as a cartographer. There is a vast amount of great maps and mapping techniques illustrated within its pages. The cartographers involved in its creation are all very talented and reputable. If you are interested in Animated maps you can get the digital version of the Atlas. This Atlas can serve as both a set of references for excellent mapping, as well as a cookbook of techniques, methods, and aesthetics that are proven to work well. There are many others out there but this should be a part of your basic library if you love maps and want to learn how to make them well.

It is in print (for now) and not too expensive.

m

#11
Michael

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Great suggestions. I've thought all along I need to "get down and dirty," it's just a matter of finding some direction. I have been digging through the posts on this forum and found cartography books to buy, and now software I need to learn, so I think I've found a good place to start. Thanks again!

#12
Mike H

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In the style of "learn by doing" I suggest picking a project that you can slowly work on, as Martin said, as a labor of love (and/or blood, sweat and tears). Many of us were in your position at one time. For me, I began by making free maps to gain experience and build a portfolio. A geography degree from Penn State didn't hurt, but a degree alone has no relevance on the personal talent that makes a good cartographer. I worked with non-profits developing simple 8.5 x 11 or tabloid sized maps for local organizations I enjoyed supporting - and they enjoyed having a map maker around. Local historical societies, Rails-to-Trails, land conservation groups, farmers markets, organic farm coalitions - all of these have "mappable data" and an audience. You'll build a network of folks who appreciate your work, begin a portfolio, and hopefully have fun doing it.

If that process proves rewarding, emotionally, to you - then more the opportunity to begin freelancing or find fulltime employment in map design and production will follow.

I always consider mapmaking a craft, analagous to a trade in the arts, and what we need, regardless of education, is an apprenticeship of sorts in the real world. Opportunities abound, you just need to look for them.

this board is great support group to bounce ideas off as you get started.

m.
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#13
David T

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In the style of "learn by doing" I suggest picking a project that you can slowly work on, as Martin said, as a labor of love (and/or blood, sweat and tears). Many of us were in your position at one time. For me, I began by making free maps to gain experience and build a portfolio. A geography degree from Penn State didn't hurt, but a degree alone has no relevance on the personal talent that makes a good cartographer. I worked with non-profits developing simple 8.5 x 11 or tabloid sized maps for local organizations I enjoyed supporting - and they enjoyed having a map maker around. Local historical societies, Rails-to-Trails, land conservation groups, farmers markets, organic farm coalitions - all of these have "mappable data" and an audience. You'll build a network of folks who appreciate your work, begin a portfolio, and hopefully have fun doing it.


Mike - those are great ideas, that I hadn't thought of. I've done that sort of work in the past, partly for fun, and partly to help out. But it was just one or two maps, here and there. Never thought to add them to my own portfolio, or hype up that I've done that sort of thing.

To add to that - there's a restaurant in town that I love. It is a Mom & Pop type place. They have a photocopied flyer / menu that they give out. I noticed they had a poorly done map, that was cut and pasted from one of the online map guys.

They knew me as a regular, and I went to them one day and asked if I could redo the map, for free. In exchange, I could put my phone number and business name on there (I did this under my 'MapAParty.com' name).

They were happy to do the exchange. They've been quite happy with the map. I had to redo the map, though - I wasn't getting any calls for the business, but I was getting plenty of calls for the restaurant! :blink: Oh well...know your audience, I guess. :lol:

But, the idea is a good one. There are plenty of places that are happy to use your services, allow you to hone your craft, and allow you to donate your time. Whether it's your favorite restaurant, or a local charity (animal shelters, etc), historical societies, or other groups mentioned above, that's a great idea. Certainly a way to build that portfolio!
David Toney, GISP
GIS Manager
United States Marine Corps
West Coast Installations

#14
jessz

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Somebody mentioned the Atlas of Oregon as a good reference. Do you have author/publisher/etc. info for that?
Thanks

#15
Martin Gamache

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Somebody mentioned the Atlas of Oregon as a good reference. Do you have author/publisher/etc. info for that?
Thanks


http://www.amazon.co...m...TF8&s=books




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