History, Law, Science, and Technology

guest essay | by Shaheed Smith, LS

SPECIAL ESSAY SECTION: The Future of Surveying


While pursuing a B.A. in journalism, Shaheed A. Smith was introduced to surveying when he was working part-time as a rodman. This new calling led Shaheed to attend the New Jersey Institute of Technology for survey engineering technology, and he is now a registered land surveyor in both Pennsylvania and Delaware and is the incoming secretary and chair of the strategic planning committee for the Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors. In this essay, Shaheed reminds us that as a profession we have an obligation to develop this future.


BIM, mobile mapping, lidar. To the modern surveyor, these buzz words should warm your heart, as they represent what are quickly becoming staples in this industry. Couple this with the advances in technology that have already taken place over the last 10 years, and the future of surveying looks very bright.

 When I think of the future of surveying, I can’t help but do so with an enormous degree of excitement. We have a unique profession that embodies aspects of history, law, science, investigation, and, of course, leaving our footsteps for the next person—all of which has been and will continue to be enhanced by these advancements in technology.

Coming through this economic recession has brought upon many of our most experienced professionals a low sense of confidence in what lies ahead.  Many of these professionals have worked tirelessly over the last 30 to 40 years to lay the strong foundation for what surveying is today. They are leaders in societies, educators in universities, and owners of firms across the land.  They have seen fees decrease, colleagues lose jobs, and, in some cases, firms close their doors. As I talked with many of the surveyors in my network, there seems to be an overwhelming sense of gloom for the future.
Why? The world is rapidly becoming a different place for surveyors. Many can remember the days before data collectors and in some cases before total stations and calculators.

I choose to take the more optimistic approach. Though I’m considered on the young end of the survey spectrum, I have had the privilege of seeing this industry transformed over the last 15 or so years. And those tools like GPS and laser scanning that were once considered for the elite are now depended upon by today’s surveyor.  In my mind, it will only get better, which in turn will make us in this profession faster, stronger, and better at what we do.

But yes, we have had vast upgrades in technology, and it will be the vehicle that takes us into the future, but what we will need are professionals to drive. We will need leaders who will take the proverbial machetes from those who have gone before us and blaze new trails.

Many of our colleagues will be retiring in the next 10 years, and many business owners will be looking to sell to the next generation. The key to our success in the future will be two-fold. Continuing to educate the public about the diverse field of surveying will be crucial in the recruitment of the next generation of surveyors. These new faces will most likely be eager to use the latest, state-of-the art equipment on the market.

The second key will be strategic collaboration with other geospatial professionals. As surveyors in the geospatial world, we have the advantage of being the storehouse of information to whom other professionals come for data.

So while the future of surveying is looking bright, there is still work to be done. As professionals, every positive step we take is an investment in the future, and we have an obligation. We may not see results right away, but as fellow surveyor and President Lincoln once said, “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”

Shaheed Smith, LS is the incoming secretary and chair of the strategic planning committee for the Pennsylvania Society of Land Surveyors.

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