Author – Sally Cooney, Production Director at PCGraphics (UK) Limited
Some Thoughts about Career Choices
(or How I Became a Cartographer)
It was back in 1995 and I can remember sitting in the Careers Office of Southampton University in the January of my final year. They say that any student who reads Geography at University doesn’t know what career they what to go into, and they were right!
I’d had a great time at Southampton, including an expedition to the Arctic for a month (you can read more on that topic here), but I was looking for a career. I knew that I’d always loved geography, maps and drawing and set about trying to find something which combined all three. I had a flash of inspiration when I thought about the Cartographic Services within the University Geography Department, maybe I could make a career out of that?
I was accepted on an accelerated Masters course at Glasgow University which would “convert” me in to a Cartographer. As this was my second degree, I had to fund myself with a Career Development Loan (£6000 at that time) to pay for course fees and living for 12 months. Believe me, there’s nothing like paying for the course yourself to concentrate your mind! I had to be pretty sure that I’d get a job at the end of it all. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy much of my time in Glasgow, for me the spirit of being a student didn’t really apply as a postgraduate.
Just before I finished my course in Sept 1996 I was offered my first job at ESR, a cartographic company in Byfleet, Surrey, as a Junior Technician. I was amazed that I could be paid for something I loved doing. It hardly seemed like work!
As a junior, the pay wasn’t great but I was making some headway in paying off my Career Development Loan. I spent most of that year drawing town plan maps for Thomson Directories, 400+ of them all over the country! I loved it, and the in-depth knowledge of that project would become very useful to us in the years that followed.
In October 1997, ESR was falling apart and a select few were invited from ESR to join Lovell Johns in Oxfordshire. This was a big step for me with a steep learning curve, but I advanced from a junior technician to be running some significant projects.
In September 1998 an opportunity became available to be more than just an employee. At 25, and with only 2 years cartographic experience, Paul, who had been my manager at both ESR and Lovell Johns, asked whether I wanted to be involved with his newly setup company, PCGraphics. I didn’t take long to decide. I wasn’t especially happy living away from home all week at Lovell Johns and this meant that I could move back to Surrey permanently where I’d bought a house in 1996.
Being a Director took some getting used to, especially in the early days of the company, but now we’re master of our own destiny, as they say, and life is a bit easier.
Cartography has been a great career for me but whether it’s so easy to get into these days is open to question. One of the previous articles on this blog talked about the demise of many of the larger cartographic companies over the past 15 years or so and, while there are still a number of mapping companies around, very few of them are the size they used to be, which does cut down the number of opportunities. But, if you’ve got a degree in Geography and, like me, don’t quite know what to do with it, then cartography is probably still worth considering.
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