Mamata Akella, you are one of the most well-respected digital cartographers out there. What have been some career highlights so far?
The number one highlight of my career is simply having had the opportunity to work on technology for building web-based maps. The toolbox for building web-based maps is ever-changing and it has been thrilling to build a career that evolves with the tooling capabilities. I am really grateful for that.
Another highlight of my career has been the opportunity to work with a variety of people on different mapping problems–from end users to engineers building the technology. After completing the National Park Service’s first ever web map, I got to see Park Rangers excitement seeing a multiscale view of their park. They could use maps on the web to better communicate their stories for the first time–it was a beautiful moment–to get to see that kind of transformative impact.
What do you love about making maps?
I love that maps are a creative and expressive medium to tell stories with data. It’s a nice combination of learning technology while also doing this kind of artistic expression. I love maps that take a different spin on the same story by adding other attributes that once added, share another view.
What do you hate about making maps?
The constant fine-tuning! As a cartographer, you never feel like your maps are good enough or complete. My perception of my own work becomes really hard for me. The iterative process is essential but it can also feel endless.
What is the best map you've ever seen?
This is a hard one! I don't think I can easily identify the best map that I've ever seen because there are so many that are amazing and that I find inspiring. I think the best maps are the ones that make you look, think, ask questions, and engage. One example that comes to mind is this map from Radical Cartography: