I thought you took pictures of cars…

Until quite recently, I had a hard time explaining to people what it is that I do for a living. “I make maps” is the easy version, but even that seemed to confuse people. I’ve had all sorts of responses, ranging from “But all maps are already made, aren’t they?”, or “So you go up in the plane and take the photos yourself?” to “When I heard you were a cartographer, I thought you took pictures of cars”. The fact that in Dutch, the words for “map” and “card” are the same doesn’t help either… “Oh, greeting cards?” is another one I heard several times.

Then Google came along and introduced Google Maps and Google Earth. At about the same time, personal navigation devices took off and everybody now seems to have a “TomTom” (they’re the market leader over here, and their name is synonymous with “navigation device”). The result is that more people are now aware of the existence of geo-information and it’s applications (another response, after a few seconds of thoughtful silence, was: “You know, I never thought about this, but maps have to be made too…”).

But there is a downside. Now people think I work for Google, or TomTom. Or they come up to me and start telling me horror stories about how their navigation device sent them in the wrong direction…

So what is it that I do… Well, I make maps (that’s the reason I got into this whole thing in the first place, I love maps and I’m kind of an obsessive collector). I give people advice and training on how to make maps, using various software products. I do all kinds of data transformations as well (that’s more the hard-core GIS work) and again advice and support people in that area as well. I worry about data quality, file formats, data models (or schemas as some people call them), and how to convert them back and forth.


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