Idaho Crew 1918 american women in britches and hats surveying

Who Is a Professional Land Surveyor?

This entry is part 31 of 67 in the series Field Notes

A few months ago I wrote a  piece titled,  “What is a Professional Land Surveyor?” Now I will take a crack at “Who is a professional land surveyor?”

I started in this business when I was 17, not even graduated high school yet. I was a hot shot architectural draftsman in high school, or so I thought, and had a connection to a neighbor who was a surveyor at a small firm in my home town. I leveraged that into a job opportunity. I will never forget my first day.

The firm did a lot of percolation tests on future vacation home subdivision lots. The holes were located by the tester and the notes brought to the office. A formal application had to be submitted to the county so a permit could be issued for a septic system. The application required a map to scale.

The first drafting job I was given was to prepare a simple map of the lot boundary and plot the holes. I sat down at a drafting table and was handed a sheet of gridded vellum, a straightedge, a scale, a protractor, some templates, triangles, and pencils, plus a copy of the subdivision map. I was instructed to plot the lot at 1”=10’ scale after putting a 1” border on the sheet. No problem!

I got the border on the sheet. Then I sat there, getting redder and redder, looking at a scale with numbers on it I had never seen before, looking at a map with numbers on it I had never seen before, and looking at a protractor, wondering what in the world it was for? After what seemed like hours (but was probably 30 minutes), I threw up the white flag and asked, greatly humbled, for help.

The PLS smiled and chuckled, but he helped me. He explained the engineer’s scale versus architect’s. He explained bearings and what degrees, minutes, and seconds were, along with quadrants. He showed me how to get started, and start I did. I have been going ever since. That was May, 1977.

In the almost 40 years since that day, land surveying has given me challenges, rewards, great days, and brutal days. It has taken me places, physically, emotionally, and intellectually, that I never dreamed I would go in my “career.” It has fed my spirit, my mind, my body, and my family. It has also allowed me to meet people I consider some of the finest people I have ever known as friends, co-workers, mentors, employees, employers, and colleagues. I have come to believe a few things to be truisms about the people who become successful professional land surveyors.

Who We Are

We love the outdoors. It may be the biggest attractant for getting in to our profession. We may eventually come inside, but we are forever tied to the outdoors. We have a lot in common with geologists in that way, I believe.

We aren’t afraid of math. I could not grasp abstract math until I could apply it to surveying. Least squares adjustments? Error ellipses?  Transformation parameters? Just math.

We love to treasure hunt. Finding original corners, the older the better, is the BEST! Finding any corner is a plus. Goat stakes …. not so much.

We love to solve puzzles. Boundary surveying is the heart and soul of what we are licensed to do. The rules we apply may be consistent, or at least somewhat well defined, but no two boundary surveys are the same. The unique role we play as boundary location experts is something only we have. Nobody else. That is pretty cool.

We have very strong opinions about topics, surveying or otherwise. We aren’t afraid to express it, in dissent or agreement. It is part of who we are. Thick skin is a must.

We make decisions. If you can’t make decisions, you can’t be a land surveyor. Ultimately, when licensed, those decisions require affixing your professional stamp and signature, accepting professional liability for life (or beyond) for those decisions. I’ll say it again: if you can’t make decisions that you are prepared to defend, you cannot be a successful professional land surveyor.

I believe that for most of us, surveying found us, not the other way around. I have known great surveyors who were school teachers, ministers, doctorate students, and mechanics before surveying found them and never let go. Surveying found me.

Scott Martin CampingThis past summer I camped for a week in the Sierra Nevada mountains, like I do every year. This year, I was pleased to host four other licensed surveyors, an LSIT, and a retired geodesist. We never talked surveying once. Didn’t need to. We all had that bond, that mentality, that persona. Instead, we enjoyed being together, enjoying the outdoors, laughs, and the camaraderie. Plus, we didn’t need to get into any arguments.

Who is a professional surveyor? Someone I would be pleased and privileged to call my friend. Someone who makes a difference. Someone who loves what they do.

I was once in a job where I was no longer doing the work I loved. I only managed people doing that work. I did it for many years and I missed being a practicing surveyor. I came to a fork in the road, and I took it. Now I’m so happy to be back doing the work I got introduced to that day over the drafting board. Well, it’s a little more complex than that, and not nearly embarrassing (hopefully), but that is where it all started. We all got our start somewhere.P1020628b

How about you?

As a side note, I would like to wish all the xyHt Field Notes subscribers a very happy and safe holiday season. I have received excellent feedback from many of you. I have appreciated and enjoyed the opportunity to serve as the Field Notes editor this year and look forward to doing the same in 2017.

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