Is becoming a cartographer right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do cartographers do?
Career Satisfaction
Are cartographers happy with their careers?
What are cartographers like?

Still unsure if becoming a cartographer is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a cartographer or another similar career!

Described by our users as being “shockingly accurate”, you might discover careers you haven’t thought of before.

How to become a Cartographer

To become a cartographer in the United States, you typically need a combination of education, skills, and practical experience. Here is a detailed overview of the steps involved in pursuing a career as a cartographer:

  • Obtain a Bachelor's Degree: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Cartography, Geography, Geomatics, Surveying Engineering, or a related field. Look for programs accredited by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) or those that offer courses in GIS, remote sensing, and cartographic principles. Coursework may include map design, spatial analysis, data collection, GIS software, and geodetic concepts.
  • Gain Technical Skills: Develop proficiency in using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software, remote sensing tools, and digital mapping technologies. Acquire knowledge of cartographic principles, map projection systems, and spatial analysis techniques. Familiarize yourself with data collection methods, such as GPS and aerial imagery interpretation.
  • Gain Fieldwork Experience: Seek opportunities to gain hands-on experience in the field. Look for internships, co-op programs, or entry-level positions that involve data collection, map production, or GIS analysis. This experience will enhance your practical skills and provide valuable insights into real-world cartographic applications.
  • Pursue Professional Certifications: Consider obtaining professional certifications to demonstrate your expertise and enhance your career prospects (see below).
  • Continued Education and Professional Development: Stay updated with advancements in cartography, GIS, and remote sensing by attending workshops, conferences, and webinars. Join professional associations like the International Cartographic Association (ICA), National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC), or the American Association of Geographers (AAG). These organizations provide access to networking opportunities, publications, and resources for professional development.
  • Consider Advanced Degrees: Pursuing a master's degree or higher in cartography, GIS, or a related field can provide advanced knowledge and open doors to specialized positions or research opportunities. It may also enhance your chances of advancing into leadership roles within the field.
  • Build a Portfolio: Assemble a portfolio showcasing your best cartographic projects, including maps you have created, GIS analyses you have conducted, and any other relevant work samples. A strong portfolio will demonstrate your skills, creativity, and ability to communicate complex information effectively.
  • Job Search and Networking: Search for job openings in government agencies, private companies, research institutions, and consulting firms that require cartographic expertise. Utilize professional networking platforms, attend industry conferences, and connect with professionals in the field to expand your job opportunities.

There are several certifications available for cartographers that can enhance their professional credentials and demonstrate their expertise in the field.

  • Certified Cartographic Technician (CCT): Offered by the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS), the CCT certification is designed for individuals with a strong foundation in cartographic principles and techniques. It validates their knowledge and skills in map design, data compilation, symbolization, and cartographic production.
  • Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP): The GIS Certification Institute (GISCI) offers the GISP certification, which recognizes professionals skilled in geospatial technologies, including cartography. This certification validates expertise in GIS software, data analysis, map production, and spatial data management.
  • Certified Mapping Scientist - Remote Sensing (CMS-RS): Also provided by ASPRS, the CMS-RS certification is aimed at professionals specializing in remote sensing and its applications in cartography. It demonstrates proficiency in satellite imagery interpretation, digital image processing, and the integration of remote sensing data into cartographic products.
  • Esri Technical Certification: Esri, a leading GIS software provider, offers a range of technical certifications that include cartographic components. These certifications validate proficiency in using Esri software, such as ArcGIS, for cartographic design, map production, spatial analysis, and data visualization.

There are several professional associations in the United States that cater to the needs of cartographers and provide resources, networking opportunities, and professional development.

  • International Cartographic Association (ICA): The ICA is the world's leading organization for cartography and brings together cartographers and professionals involved in mapping from around the globe. It promotes the exchange of knowledge, research, and best practices in cartography.
  • North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS): NACIS is a professional society for cartographers, map librarians, GIS specialists, and others interested in the field of cartography. It organizes an annual conference, publishes the journal "Cartographic Perspectives," and provides a platform for networking and collaboration.
  • American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS): While primarily focused on photogrammetry and remote sensing, ASPRS also caters to the cartographic community. It offers resources, publications, and conferences that cover various aspects of mapping, including cartographic design and production.
  • National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC): NSGIC is an organization that represents state and regional Geographic Information System (GIS) professionals, including cartographers. It facilitates collaboration, information exchange, and advocacy for GIS and mapping-related issues at the state and national levels.
  • Society of Cartographers (SOC): The Society of Cartographers is a UK-based organization, but it has members from around the world, including the United States. The SOC promotes the art, science, and practice of cartography and hosts conferences, workshops, and competitions.
  • Cartography and Geographic Information Society (CaGIS): CaGIS is an organization dedicated to advancing the field of cartography and geographic information science. It sponsors conferences, publishes the journal "Cartography and Geographic Information Science," and provides networking opportunities for cartographers and GIS professionals.

Workshops, Conferences, and Webinars
There are several workshops, conferences, and webinars held in the United States that cater to cartographers and provide valuable learning and networking opportunities.

  • Esri User Conference: Organized by Esri, a leading provider of GIS software, the Esri User Conference is a major gathering of GIS professionals, including cartographers. The event offers workshops, presentations, and networking opportunities to learn about the latest developments in GIS technology, cartographic design, and spatial analysis.
  • North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS) Annual Meeting: NACIS holds an annual meeting that brings together cartographers, map librarians, and GIS specialists. The conference features presentations, workshops, and discussions on various cartographic topics, including map design, data visualization, and new technologies.
  • International Cartographic Conference (ICC): The ICC is a biennial conference organized by the International Cartographic Association (ICA). While the conference location varies each year, it provides a platform for cartographers worldwide to present their research, share insights, and discuss emerging trends in cartography.
  • American Association of Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting: The AAG Annual Meeting is a premier event for geographers, including cartographers, GIS professionals, and spatial scientists. It features a wide range of sessions, workshops, and presentations covering diverse topics related to mapping, spatial analysis, and geospatial technologies.
  • State and Regional GIS User Group Meetings: Many states and regions have their own GIS user group meetings and conferences that include cartographic-focused sessions. These events provide opportunities to learn about local mapping initiatives, share experiences, and network with professionals in the area.
  • Online Webinars and Training: Numerous organizations, including Esri, NACIS, and professional associations, offer online webinars and training sessions specifically tailored for cartographers. These webinars cover topics such as map design principles, advanced cartographic techniques, GIS software tutorials, and emerging trends in the field.