Education Plus

How to be a cartographer

In February, 2014 Siddharth Hande, an environmental activist held a workshop for IIT students that had them sit up and listen to with interest. During the time allotted to him Hande was their Social Scientist Guide to map and map-making. A geo-spatial analyst and researcher in Urban Studies and New Media, Hande promotes citizen cartography – people making maps of their immediate neighbourhoods. He believes maps are not impartial reference objects (not merely physical/political/polar), but “instruments of communication, persuasion, and power.” Like paintings, they express a point of view, by connecting us to a world of property lines, voting rights and enterprise zones, they embody and project the interests of their creators [Dennis Wood, The Power of Maps]. Participants carried home guidelines to survey methods using GPS and paper-mapping, analysis and visualization with QGIS and web-mapping – how to publish maps online and tips on using Google maps.

Can one make a career in cartography? Yes, says Professor Jagannathan, HOD, Geography, Madras University. “Students have to learn cartographic grammar and do laboratory work to get high-level skills in digital-mapping including web maps.” Basic qualifications needed are excellent computer/mathematical/design skills, spatial awareness, ability to analyse information from different sources, logical approach, a high level of accuracy and attention to detail. Hands-on experience is necessary and most successful modern-day cartographers are at least partially self-taught.

As for academic qualifications, you could get a B.Sc Geography, M.Sc Geography, M.Sc Applied Geography, M.Sc Spatial Information Technology, M.Sc Cartography, M.Sc Geographic Information System, M.Sc Remote Sensing, M.Sc Geoinformatics, M.Tech Geoinformatics, P.G.Diploma in GIS, Cartography, Surveying and mapping/topographic/earth sciences or urban and land studies before applying for jobs.

“Cartography is an interesting career because it is a true blend of art, science, and technology,” says the Professor. “Making professional-quality maps requires strong education in geography with a focus on cartography and remote sensing, mathematics through basic calculus and statistics, introductory computer science including programming and database management, and basic graphic design.” With a UG degree, you could serve as a Junior Cartographer, mapping assistant or a GIS/Cartographic assistant. Excellent opportunities in government/NGO/International institutions await those with a PG. After completing PhD, you can apply for top-level jobs like Geomatics consultant, research fellow, post-doctoral fellow, GIS analyst/co-ordinator, mapping scientist/Professors/ Technical Support Analyst and a host of similar positions like GIS sales manager, Internet Product Software Engineer and Applications Programmer.

Go for it, says the professor. Mapping business could grow by 30% annually, geoinformatics is a growing field and a special type of IT. It will solve all spatial problems – from those of villages to those of the highest level of policy-makers, of NGOs, industries, higher education. It is a field that employs advanced digital technology tools like QGIS, Inkscape, GIMP, Scribus, colorbrewer. These save time and gift you with beautiful, well-composed maps. Cutting-edge digital technology is used in Geographical Information Systems, web mapping technology, spatial database, photogrammetry, remote-sensing, GPS, geo-spatial intelligence.

As a cartographer you will make maps for the military, industries, special territories (tribal land) as well as everyday maps detailing roads and footpaths for tourists/travellers. Cartographers collect, analyze, and interpret both spatial (latitude, longitude, elevation, distance) and non-spatial data (population density, land-use patterns, annual precipitation levels, demographic characteristics). Maps are prepared either in graphic or digital form with information from satellites, light-imaging detection and ranging (LIDAR), aerial cameras, geodetic surveys and remote sensing systems. Remuneration depends on qualifications and who you work for - a qualified person can expect a starting salary of around Rs. 10,000 - 15,000 per month. Overseas organization are known to pay around Rs.500,000-Rs.1,000,000 per year. With experience of two years, one can earn Rs.50,000 per month or more.

Check out with Madras University for these courses: M.Tech in Geoinformatics, M.Sc. Applied Geography, M.Sc Geoinformatics, M.Sc International Environmental Management with Northampton University, UK, M.Sc/Diploma in Geographical Information Science and Systems with Salzburg University, Austria (


NIC, Census, PWD, Agriculture, Agriculture Engineering, Power companies, Electricity companies/Boards,Telecommunications

Higher Education institutions, research institutes

Space Research Organisations.

National survey and mapping organisations

NASA, US Geological survey, Land Management, Fish and wild life services, National parks, forest service.

The United Nations

Any public/private organisation that does surveys, geo-information production organisations.

Information technology industry, Mineral exploration, hazard mapping and disaster management, Crime mapping, Transportation and infrastructure

Newspapers, TV channels, Election Commission

Traffic management

A community-made village map was the key piece of evidence to prove customary rights of communities living in Rumah Nor, Malaysia. ( >

Olcott School kids made maps using google images of their area. Their maps showed their view of what was important to them. ( >

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2020 5:34:33 PM |

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