Get This Job: Cartographer

Think map-making is an obsolete skill? Think again.
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Think map-making is an obsolete skill? Think again.
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Today's cartographers rely on satellites, not compasses, to do their job. (Photo by Rob/Flickr)

Some are calling it the new golden age of cartography: Map-making hasn’t been this relevant since Columbus landed in the New World 500 years ago. The advent of digital geographic data and our desire to pinpoint our precise location anytime, anywhere have made this old-school profession suddenly very modern. GPS units and computer software have replaced pencils and drawing compasses, and the smartphone has become an unabridged pocket atlas, while our daily reliance on maps has exploded.

Demand for new and updated mobile, web-based, and interactive maps will drive a 20 percent growth in the market for cartographers and photogrammetrists (who take measurements from photographs for maps) in the next decade. Mappers earn $61,000 per year—with a bachelor’s degree in geography or a related field required.

The downside: Cartographers spend plenty of time indoors. AMC cartographer Larry Garland spends hours behind his desk, sifting through data and creating digital maps for the club’s guidebooks. But on field days, he hikes throughout the Northeast, logging notes and data points with an ultraprecise 8-pound GPS system for up to a week at a time. He’s trekked thousands of trail miles in nearly 20 years with the AMC. “You put your heart and soul into the map,” Garland says.

Pay $61,000 Prerequisites Bachelor’s degree Perks Never get lost again Problems Desk time Prospects 14,500 jobs by 2022 (+20%)