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Got my degree in cartography, 25 years ago today

2012 June 30

From on paper I received from Jacques Bertin

It is one of those things you hope will happen … and when it does, there is no real opportunity to pay homage to such a fine day; before the advent of blogging that is. Choosing cartography in an engineering setting (and applying practical knowledge) turned out to be a good start of a longer path in education for me. Twenty-five years ago today I received my engineering degree and I collected a few thoughts for the occasion.

A picture of the past. Actually, it was a time without too many pictures. I don’t recall (nor possess) a graduation picture (no worries, I have a few others). Just to frame the Zeitgeist and some educational topics:

Cartography versus GIS. There was big debate about the role of cartography in relation to geography and GIS. Is the cartographer just the visualiser? Where does GIS belong? I was never too fond of these kind of discussions, but did attend a few.

Analog versus digital. Everything got computerised and a C was added to almost everything: computer-aided communication, computer-aided-mapping, computer-aided-cartography, computer-aided-reporting. Always wondered how long it would last.

Computer inside out. We were taught how the inside of computers work, and I mean the bits and bytes. Think we had Tandems in high school, Prime Mini in college (with tty’s and runtime interpretation of code, if you get what I mean). I did not own a (IBM) PC until after college.

For those that like to tease me with a ‘how was life without email’ ( I admit to teasing with “can you live without social media?”) : I had email on my first day at work. But I don’t recall as much discussion about it as there is about social media (tools). Email was just a handy way of communication, at times.

The originial SYSTEM 9 Analytical Plotter

What have I learned? Too much for a (single) blogpost, so I will keep this short and will come back to it later. On the positive side: I found out there are many ways to learn and I discovered the ones that suited me best. I also learned things I was sure I would never ever use in-real-life; it appears to be part of any education. Boring topics (or teachers; they did exist) made it extremely hard to pass a class. But when the opposite was true (great topic and/or enthusiastic professor), the learning became so much easier.

Any advice I may have. It seems that giving advice (or the eagerness to give it) comes with growing older. Some of the recent tips I have given to students are in the realm of: become t-shaped (google that) ; follow a few good men (and women off-course); take models for what they are (not reality); read, and be critical; question the status quo. If I have any advice at all (for eternal students as well), it is the old and solid follow-your-heart paradigm. Simply find out what you are good at and what rewards you most. But then again, discovering that may take a lifetime.

Not an advice, but more of a tip: write things down. I don’t mean the blogging kind, just take a break and write down where you think you are going and what it may take to get there. If for nothing else, rereading that in a few years time is always good fun.


Imhoff, handdrawing of Säntis

Being able to reflect on one’s life certainly is one of life richness’s. Maps have always fascinated me and I have not yet found a cure. From the many options I had back then, starting out with a degree in cartography certainly was the best of many worlds for me. Little did I know that it was only the start of a path of lifelong learning. I am grateful to those I have met along the way and those who have guided me on that path. The opportunity to connect with science and the academic world – staff and students- , (whether by attending meetings, giving lectures, reading papers – thank you Open Access), is still a great motivator.


A road ahead. After I left college, I did not take me long to venture out into new areas of interest, but I have always kept geography close. A map is a great metaphor in many other areas (strategy, marketing, innovation, business development,…) and a great help to discover those areas as well. As of a road ahead, I am sure I will keep geography close to my heart. Maybe I did not map that much myself, but I like to think I contributed to the mapping success of many others. That bachelor degree in cartography was a good base for my road of discovery. I still highly recommend it.

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