I Want Your Job: Cartographer

'It's a huge annual trawl of revision'


Iain MacDonald, 37, is a cartographer at Collins Geo, the geographical division of HarperCollins publishers, which produces maps and atlases.

What do you actually do?

I'm an information editor, which means that I collect information to produce updated maps and atlases every year. Over a period of several months, I collect information on any new roads, tourist attractions, ferry routes, and any motorways or bypasses that have been built in the previous year, to make sure that the new atlas is up-to-date. It's a huge annual trawl of revision. I send out masses of questionnaires to councils in order to find out about new road schemes, or whether there's a new museum or football stadium opening in their area.

What's your working schedule like?

I'm in the office 35 hours a week, mostly from 8am until 4pm, although I finish at 1pm on Fridays. Because the atlases come out once a year, our work is pretty seasonal – from October until February, we start sending letters to local councils, and by February, we try to have all the details tied up so the atlases are ready to hit the shops. I spend a lot of time doing online research, going through press clippings, and chasing up requests for information with reminder phone calls and emails.

What's the best thing about it?

My favourite part of the job is being able to take information from a very dry database source, and present it in a way that people can access easily. It's great when the atlases come out – seeing your revisions is very satisfying. We also do other quirky little projects, which can be fun – for example, we once produced a ghost-hunter's atlas with information on where to find the best haunted houses.

What skills do you need to do the job well?

You've got to be computer literate and logical, with excellent spatial awareness. We use computer software to add and record revision points to maps, and all editorial changes to atlases are made using computer technology. There's still a lot of filing and paperwork, so you have to be organised and patient. You also need good personal and communication skills. We occasionally get members of the public contacting us to say things are wrong, when actually they're using an out-of-date atlas; or truckers who've taken a wrong turn shouting at us down their mobile phones. You have to be firm, persuasive and polite.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to become a cartographer?

You should be interested in geography and the environment around you. Try to get a degree in a related subject, such as geography, surveying and mapping sciences, or geographical information science. Some universities offer modules in cartography as part of a degree, so it's worth doing some research before choosing a course. Once you've graduated, you could write to map makers to see whether they need freelance work.

Are there any downsides?

It can be a bit tedious and repetitive, because a lot of the job involves data entry and research. It's also frustrating when people waste your time by not replying to phone calls and requests for information.

What's the salary and career path like?

I started on about £10,000 a year back in 1994, but nowadays, a typical starting salary might be around £16,000 to £17,000 a year. You could look for a job within a large government department such as the Ordnance Survey, the Ministry of Defence or the Department for Transport; in a local authority's planning department or for a university; or work for a map publisher.

For more information on training and careers as a cartographer, visit the British Cartographic Society at www.cartography. org.uk; or the Society of Cartographers at www.soc.org.uk.

Suggested Topics
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Nursery Nurse

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: Nursery Nurse Leeds November start...

EBD LSA required - Vale of Glamorgan

£60 - £65 per day + plus free travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The J...

EBD Teacher - Food Technology Specialist

£100 - £181 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: The JobTo plan and deliver all ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?