Rosemary Wardley: “Coding is foundational knowledge that can help you in any career”

Rosemary Wardley is a Cartographer at National Geographic where she works on a variety of custom print and digital products. Outside of work, Rosemary stays active in the larger geo community through her position on the Board of NACIS and through the many geospatial meetups that take place in Washington D.C. Whenever possible she likes to combine her love of maps with her other passions, LGBTQ rights, empowering women & girls, sports, and of course, her home state of Rhode Island!

Rosemary was interviewed for GeoHipster by Natasha Pirani.

Working as a senior cartographer at National Geographic sounds like it could be a mapmaker’s dream job. Was it yours, or did you navigate there by chance, or perhaps via a scenic route on the back roads and bike paths of your geo-journey? How is it being surrounded every day by people who live and breathe geography?

Working for National Geographic was, and is, my dream job. Back in college when people learned I was a geography major they would usually ask me if I was going to teach (seemingly the only career people thought geographers could have at the time) but in response I would always say “I’m going to work at National Geographic”. That always seemed to appease people, but it wasn’t something I honestly thought would happen. At the time I wasn’t even sure how many geographers worked at National Geographic and I wasn’t specializing in cartography in my studies.

I arrived at National Geographic the summer after I graduated from college as a Geography Intern in the Education Division. NatGeo has always been at the forefront of supporting Geography Education in the United States, through teacher training, classroom resources, and internships. My summer at NatGeo was also my first exposure to the Maps Division. After working elsewhere for a year (editing Flood Insurance Rate maps for FEMA) I knew I wanted to get back to National Geographic and I was fortunate to be hired as part of the GIS team to work on our Cartographic Databases. In the decade plus that I’ve worked here my position has grown and expanded and I now focus on production cartography rather than GIS database analysis. Working here in the Maps, Graphics, and Art Division is amazing and allows me to learn from masters of their craft day in, day out. And National Geographic as a whole is such an inspiring place full of geographers, explorers, photographers, and driven people trying to change the world!

Since geography is where it’s at, you’re hip by default. But I’ll ask anyway: are you a geohip/sister? Are you post-labels? I’m also intrigued by your mention of participation in “esoteric sports”. I vaguely imagine a composite of meditation, ultimate frisbee, and cycling…please enlighten me.

Labels are an interesting thing. They can be positive and something that bonds people together, or on the flip-side, they can be divisive when applied to groups without their consent. That being said, when I choose my own labels I would most definitely consider myself a geohipster and DEFINITELY a geosister! I only recently heard of that phrase (I believe you coined it!) and I think it’s a great way to unite the women of our field! I have gotten much more involved in supporting my fellow women in geography over the last few years, not because I’ve felt injustice myself in my career, but because I’ve come to recognize how much institutionalized inequality there is. I strongly believe in empowering and supporting minorities in geography and if proclaiming I am a geosister loud and proud can help in some small way, then that is an easy thing to do!

My love of esoteric sports is possibly a bit of an exaggeration! I played rugby for 15 years, which is a rather unknown sport in the US, but fairly popular worldwide! It is another great connector, like geography, and if you find a rugby player anywhere in the world you immediately have a common bond! I have always loved learning about sports that are unique to certain places, such as hurling in Ireland or Aussie Rules Football in Australia. Basically I like to stay fit by playing games, and the crazier the game the better I guess!

The Prejudice and Pride map you worked on for Nat Geo is stunning. Who inspired it and what’s the story behind making it? Are there other projects you’re proud of?

The Prejudice and Pride map was directly inspired by a presentation that the data author, Jeff Ferzoco, did at NACIS 2018. Jeff has created this amazing interactive map, OutgoingNYC, detailing the location of queer nightlife in New York city over the past century. His passion for this topic was infectious and both myself and my colleague, Riley Champine, were inspired after his talk and approached him about presenting this data in the magazine. Jeff was a joy to work with and was extremely supportive in our cartographic interpretation of his data and working with us to make it the best visualization it could be. This project was personally important to me as a lesbian since it helped me to learn more about my community and it was extremely rewarding to share this history with a larger audience. I am proud of many other projects I’ve worked on, but there isn’t one that is quite as personal to me or that I am quite as proud of 🙂

What needs to change for there to be gender and racial equality and equity in the geospatial realm?

I think the first step is recognizing that there are problems in gender and racial equality and having a frank discussion on how these can be addressed. There are great strides being made with the creation of groups such as Women In Geospatial and the way that social media can connect and support people across the globe. I believe that the root of the issue comes down to who has exposure to the geospatial field early on in their education and the support to pursue further studies in it. Locally I try to work with school groups here in D.C. to teach them about geography and the opportunities it can provide, and professionally I work to empower and highlight the amazing work done by my fellow female and minority colleagues.

How’d you get involved with NACIS and Maptime? Tell me some stories — your contributions and the fun, surprising, rewarding, confusing, or unexpected stuff that has happened.

I attended my first NACIS Annual Conference in 2010 and I have been an enthusiastic attendee ever since. The atmosphere of NACIS is pretty unique, I immediately felt welcomed by the more seasoned members and was enamored to be surrounded by so many map and geography lovers who were also so easy to talk to and share their expertise. As I realized how unique NACIS was, I felt the urge to get involved further, which led to my work helping to organize Practical Cartography Day and then my position on the Board. I highly encourage anyone interested to attend a NACIS conference to experience #NACISisNicest for yourself!

Maptime was founded in San Francisco in 2013 out of a desire to teach and learn web mapping technologies in an open and collaborative space. I heard Lyzi Diamond speak about it at a FOSS4G conference the next year and volunteered with a few other folks to start a D.C. chapter. We had a super successful chapter for a couple of years as D.C is a bit of a hot-bed for folks in the geospatial community. But honestly, I was most surprised at the amount of new folks who would attend each month from a variety of backgrounds and the thirst for knowledge there is out there for learning about maps! I had to step back from organizing duties with Maptime as I started Grad School, but the spirit of communal learning and knowledge sharing continues virtually via Slack Channels like the Spatial Community and Women in Geospatial.

I could relate to your blog post about feeling like an intermediate of many and master of none after completing a master’s degree in cartography (aka an intermediate’s degree). There are so many web/digital mapping tools; how do you prioritize and choose what to learn and use? Which do you use most at work and want to learn more of?

One of the biggest reasons that I decided to pursue my Master’s Degree in Cartography was because I was finding it difficult to keep up with and learn the ever-expanding list of web mapping tools on my own. Some people are great self-learners and can take a tutorial online and run with it, but I found out that I am not that person! As I mentioned in my blog post, the program at Wisconsin-Madison worked for me because it did a good job at giving an overview of the many tools available, but more importantly they taught the structure of web mapping and how each coding language and library works together. It’s really up to each person to figure out which tools work best for them and to create their own personal stack, as they say. Due to my cartographic background I tend to focus more on the design oriented languages like CSS, and D3, with a heavy emphasis on Python for data processing and wrangling!

On a related note: do you have advice for students, grads, and any aspiring cartographers and geospatialists?

My number one advice for anyone I meet in the geospatial field is to learn some basic programming (whichever language seems most relevant to your interests). I took the requisite coding course for ArcGIS in undergrad but quickly determined it was not for me and then avoided it like the plague. But now, a decade later, I have come to realize that even just having a rudimentary understanding of a couple of coding languages is like learning how to write a compelling essay, it’s foundational knowledge that can help you in any career.

You’ve done a lot of real-life, armchair, and desk-chair adventuring (do you have a standing desk?). Has mapmaking changed your perspective of otherwise unknown places? Has travel influenced the way you feel about home, and about cartography?

Haha, I do have a standing desk, and you’ve just reminded me that now would be a good time to stand up! Mapmaking has certainly given me a great appreciation for the cartographers of yester-year who mapped the world without ever using digital data or satellite imagery, and oftentimes without ever visiting the place they have mapped. I still can’t quite comprehend how cartographers could draw the coastline of a country as accurately as they did from a few surveying angles (I know there is a lot more to it, but seriously, it is mind-boggling!). I still love to take paper maps with me as I travel, as well as pick up whatever maps are locally available. Like many cartographers, I admit the convenience of digital maps and apps, but I miss the tactile feel of a paper map and the ability to see not only your destination but the things that surround it. Traveling takes me back to my cartographic roots of envisioning the map in my head and connecting it to my real world surroundings and it also exposes me to different mapping styles and conventions from other parts of the world!

What’s your next adventure, cartographic or otherwise?

My family and I (my wife and 1.5 year old son) will be heading up to New York City at the end of June to celebrate New York and World Pride! This is actually cartographically connected because the trip was envisioned while researching the Prejudice and Pride map I referenced earlier. I have visited New York City many times before, but it will be so fun to look at it through a new lens of our LGBTQ history and to take part in some historical events of our own!

John Gravois to GeoHipster: “Lift while you climb.”

John Gravois is a developer at https://showrunner.io. Previously, as a Product Engineer at Esri he helped build ArcGIS Hub, maintained a handful of Leaflet plugins and coordinated with developers across the company to steer Open Source strategy. He has a tattoo of a California Raisin and when he’s not in front of a computer you can often find him tangled up in poison oak somewhere near his mountain bike.

Q. You’re the OGG (original geogangster ). How did you get into mapping/coding at Esri?

I was pretty much computer illiterate when I started college. GIS pricked my ear because it would force me to wrestle the dragon and allow me to procrastinate a few more years before picking an actual ‘specific’ career track. The more data I wrangled, the more maps I made and the more analysis I organized the more interested I became in writing code to automate the boring stuff and share my work with folks who had other jobs to do than cracking open ArcGIS Desktop.

I worked for an environmental consultant before i started in tech support. Being ‘the’ GIS guy was okay, but the pace of my learning skyrocketed when i started in Esri tech support in 2009. It was also just a lot more fun working with so many talented, non-territorial, strong communicators in my own discipline.

When I told them I wanted to spend more time programming, it was a trial by fire, but the lessons I had already learned about troubleshooting and isolating reproducible test cases are just as relevant when you’re writing code. Sometimes I handed my simple apps over to our developers to demonstrate bugs in our APIs, sometimes they went back to customers to show them where they made a mistake.

Q. Several years ago I attended an Esri Leaflet talk you gave. Toward the end you shared some thoughtful points from your experience as a maintainer of Esri-Leaflet about creating documentation, usable examples, most importantly the “You’re part of the team“ mentality. Can you share some of your experience and philosophy on cultivating new coders?

Of course! The gist of it is that there are way too many a&*#hole open source maintainers out there making other folks feel small on purpose.

I had the luxury of working on open source at my day job, so it was easier for me to make a conscious decision to set aside time to be welcoming to new contributors, to try and lead by example and to be gracious and patient.

I learned so many crucial lessons from this:

  1. Its not hard!
  2. It pays dividends. When someone asks a question or fixes a typo and is treated with basic courtesy its really encouraging to them! Often it leads to them increasing the scope and frequency of their participation. I know this because I’ve been on both sides of the fence.
  3. Being patient and kind != agreeing to do someone else’s work for them or allowing random people on the internet to hijack your project and take it in a direction of their own.

This isn’t just an open source thing. Its relevant to all online (and IRL) communities. I’ve been pleased to see The Spatial Community bloom over the last few years. Esri employees have definitely chipped in, but often customer colleagues have even more insight to share.

To put it another way, I’ve always made it a point to share my knowledge with others to pay forward a favor to my own mentors and because I know that it’s what keeps the virtuous cycle turning. I don’t know where it is now, but I read an article once that listed this as a key ingredient to being fulfilled in your career. I can certainly attest that it has worked for me!

Q. Is tag-team wrestling more fun than singles competition? Explain!

If you’re asking whether “Open Source + ArcGIS” is more fun than “Open Source vs. Esri”, of course!

Q. You recently said that 95% of the code you wrote at Esri is on GitHub – tell us about your favorite projects.

I found out the other day that I’ve contributed to almost 100 different Esri open source projects. Some of those were typo fixes, other times I was dogfooding to explain to the core team whether their work made any sense to someone making a quick flyby.

I learned a ton maintaining Esri Leaflet, but over the last couple years after that project matured I had a lot of fun getting my feet wet with TypeScript maintaining a new project called ArcGIS REST JS.

The core library is ~10x smaller than Leaflet and its sole purpose is to make it easy to talk to ArcGIS Online and Enterprise from Node.js and the browser.

We’ve had customers use it to create Chrome Extensions, browser apps, Lambda Functions and a bunch of other cool stuff, but I was particularly gratified to see contributions come in from lots of different dev teams within Esri who previously rolled implementation after implementation of their own.

The library is downloaded ~1000 times a week and is used to make literally millions of requests to ArcGIS Online each month from ArcGIS Hub, https://developers.arcgis.com, Storymaps and other Esri offerings.

Q. You love OpenStreetMap! Hey, I love OpenStreetMap!! Tell us a cool OpenStreetMap story.

The single most gratifying experience of my professional career was working on the technical implementation to grant the OSM community access to Esri’s World Imagery service.

Other folks at Esri did the hard work of getting legal sign off with half a dozen commercial imagery providers and a lot of customers in our Community Maps program.

All I had to do was write ~100 lines of JSON and a blog post.

The impact really hit home when Tyler Radford shared the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap statistics with me a year later. IIRC, they now recommend ArcGIS World Imagery in ~half of their projects!

Q. One of the first things I remember about you was your love of bikes and your work at the Redlands BikeBBQ. What’s the Redlands bike scene like?

There are a lot more weekend warriors here than commuters, but its a bike friendly town with wide streets and lots of accessible trails. Years ago we opened up a volunteer DIY repair shop to share tools and teach folks how to maintain their bicycles. As far as community outreach/activism goes, it’s a lot more fun and effective than standing on a corner holding a sign.
Besides the Redlands Classic, the other high holiday in town for cyclists is Strada Rossa . Its a fun, friendly mixed surface fundraiser for charity that has concluded with an afterparty in my backyard more than once. This year the course went up and over Seven Oaks Dam and It’s been really fun to see gravel get more and more popular over the last couple years.

Q. You’re moving on from Esri after 10 years, what’s your greatest memory of your time there and tell us about what’s next.

We already shared one tweet earlier, but folks can find the whole love letter here:

I’m only two days in at Showrunner (link: https://showrunner.io) but I’m already having a ton of fun and learning a lot working with a few dear old friends. It’s bittersweet to take a break from geo though. I’m happy to be staying in Redlands. It means I can still keep up with folks online and pedal to grab lunch with my old coworkers.

Q. Finally, what does “geohipster” mean to you?

The point (I hope anyway) is to poke fun at folks for wanting to be different for the sake of being different and simultaneously to preach that “geo” is bigger than ArcGIS.

Learning how to make computers do what you (and your boss) want them to do is hard enough without someone else telling you that the tools you’re using aren’t cool. Whether you can step through the raw source or not, there are plenty of opportunities for learning, being inclusive, and mentoring others.

If there are two suggestions I can pass along in the age of social media outrage, they would be:


Maps and Mappers of the 2019 GeoHipster calendar — Pete King, June

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I work in Wellington, New Zealand, as a GIS analyst/ spatial developer at Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) in the Topography team. Day to day, I mostly work in a small team developing inhouse QGIS plugins or processing data using open source tools, but I try to find opportunities to create maps, icons or posters whenever I can. Sometimes its communist style posters about hot desking or Map Man (my coworker who gets called on to save the day with map emergencies), other times it’s more serious, like the Matariki Map.

Q: Tell us the story behind your map (what inspired you to make it, what did you learn while making it, or any other aspects of the map or its creation you would like people to know).

A: The Matariki map came from some really nice constellation design I had come across, which just sat in the back of my head for a while until I finally put two and two together as Matariki was getting closer last year. Matariki is becoming more and more popular in New Zealand, and I live in a small seaside town just out of Wellington that hosts amazing Matariki celebrations with great stories for the kids and walks to find the glow worms, but I still hadn’t delved too deeply into the history of Matariki. I am lucky enough to have amazing tikanga (customs) advisors at LINZ who were able to help me to understand its importance and give the design I had some real depth and background. For me personally the most interesting part of the journey was learning about Matariki’s shifts through history: once, it was a significant celebration, then it was almost entirely forgotten, and now it’s experiencing this amazing revival (including its widespread embrace by Pākehā [settler] culture) due to the emergence of tikanga and Te Reo Māori (Māori language) initiatives.

Q: Tell us about the tools, data, etc., you used to make the map.

A: This map was made using QGIS, Inkscape and open data from LINZ (data.linz.govt.nz) so I’m gonna use this to tell you about how much I love open source, and throw in a shameless plug for FOSS4G SotM Oceania! I was lucky enough to get my first GIS job after uni at LINZ, where there were already strong champions of open source and open data. Even though my job was a lot different to what it is now, I was still using QGIS and plugins we had developed in house. My passion for open source started properly two years ago, when I was able to go to FOSS4G Boston and more importantly the amazing QGIS users conference in Nødebo, Denmark. I’ve always been an empathetic person (one of my first jobs was a veterinary nurse), and more of a sharer than a hoarder, so it’s no surprise that the incredible community and ideas behind open source made a real impression on me at these conferences. I also love great food and Nødebo was up there with the best I’ve had, which would definitely have helped win me over. Since these conferences I have been tinkering more and more with creating maps in QGIS and using my inkscape poster design skills to add those finishing touches. As well as getting deeper and deeper into plugin development at work, don’t get me started on how amazing automatic testing is. But there is one thing I love more than open source and that’s having a FOSS4G in our own backyard, and this year it is in Wellington and LINZ is helping to organise it! I missed out going to last year’s conference in Melbourne and everyone keeps going and on about how amazing it was so I won’t be missing out on this year’s. Though I did get to go to Boston and Denmark, and a tea towel with my map and logo design was brought back for me, so I probably shouldn’t complain. So if you want to see some of the amazing open source work going on in Oceania, or drag along coworkers to expose them to open source, you should definitely come along on the 12-15 November. https://foss4g-oceania.org/ Shameless plug over.

For the map itself I used a combination of populated places data from Koordinates, as well as highways and elevation data from LINZ. I styled the populated places so that larger cities appeared as brighter stars, and joined them using the major highways as a guide. To create the milkyway like cloud in the background I played with different elevations till I found a coverage I liked the look of. Once the map had been designed I exported to svg and loaded in inkscape. I used inkscape to create the custom font for the title by turning the text to a path (treating it like vector data) and adding in the koru like circle at the end of some letters. I also used it for placing and aligning the text on the side, I personally find aligning easier in inkscape.

(Not my tea towel, mines is locked inside a vault for safe keeping.)