Source: Oklahoma Historical Society

Advice to Younger Surveyors

This entry is part 3 of 67 in the series Field Notes

by Michael R. Johnson PLS

xyHt editor’s note: The surveying profession is blessed to have gifted storytellers in our midst, though we need more. One, known as “Uncle Paden” on the surveying forum, is Michael R. Johnson. A surveyor in Oklahoma, Johnson regularly regales readers with tales past and present of surveying, observations of everyday life, and family lore, and he always adds a hint of sage advice.

On the occasion of his half-century-of-surveying milestone, Johnson offers advice here for the younger surveyor. If you are expecting inter-generational grousing, this isn’t it. Instead, Johnson provides balanced, appropriate, and constructive advice. Enjoy!

Source: Oklahoma Historical Society
Source: Oklahoma Historical Society

After completing 50 years of surveying in the field, I thought I might be able to jot down some advice to those who haven’t been on this path as long as I have. There’s no way I can give any advice to younger people about the technical end of things, as you all already have me beat. (I still don’t even text, as the screen on my 15-year-old flip-phone is too small.) Here’s what I can say.

After 50 years I’m pretty sure I’m the only surveyor in these parts whose boots hit the ground every morning, knowing intimately what it was like to use a chain and transit. If I measure 2643.56′ between monuments and the record shows 2643.71′ I don’t set another point. Things that close rarely even get a shrug from me.

Take care of your equipment. It costs a lot of money so make it last. Remember, I started surveying using an 80-year-old K&E. Let’s all hope somebody can say that about something made by current survey manufacturers someday.

Put the same time and attention into every job no matter the value of the property or your fees. It’s the piss-ant little nothing jobs you didn’t make any money on that will bite you in the butt. The smaller the fees on a job usually means there are more problems bound to rear their ugly heads. And remember, you will never lose a penny on a job you didn’t get.

Good help is hard to find. Remember the days you were an hourly hand. Stick with a good employee, and they will become an asset. Remember, you’re going to always feel like you pay them too much, but they’re always going to think they don’t get paid enough. Laugh about the “harmony” over a beer.

When you finish a day in the field, make sure the memories are of good things like wonderful weather, an old barn that needed exploring, a 100-year-old hickory tree, or the way the fog stuck low in the bottom that morning. If you dwell only on the heat, insects, mud, or any other aggravation, it will eat you alive.

Pay your taxes. If you think they’re too much now, wait and see what the bill is when they finally catch you after a few years. And they will always catch you.

Be humble with your clients and try to give them the confidence that you are going to deliver to them the quality of work required in a timely fashion. If you lose a client’s confidence, you will probably never be able to get it back.

Dogs aren’t really all that mean. They’ve got a job to do just like you. Nothing defines the word “diplomacy” better than a stand off with a big, mean dog.

Snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them. Hornets are not.

With all the software and computing ability we have nowadays, you can still figure things out with a pencil. The law of sines, the law of cosines, and the Pythagorean theorem will not ever change. Don’t feel bad about not understanding how a computer or a data collector works. Leonardo DaVinci would understand and marvel at an automobile if he saw one, and he would probably think a computer was witchcraft.

Vienna sausages with cheese crackers is still a good lunch. Stay away from McDonalds or you will get fat.

And drive careful. I can name a dozen surveyors who didn’t, and they’re not around anymore.

Field Notes

This article appeared in xyHt‘s e-newsletter, Field Notes. We email it once a month, and it covers a variety of land surveying topics in a conversational tone. You’re welcome to subscribe to the e-newsletter here. (You’ll also receive the Pangaea newsletter with your subscription.)

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