The Future of Land Surveying is Now. Are You Prepared For It?

guest essay | by David Grote

SPECIAL ESSAY SECTION: The Future of Surveying

What motivates a student to seek a career in surveying? Our profession has benefited from a growing numbers of men and women who have chosen to switch careers and pursue surveying. After earning a bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Washington, and with many years of experience in related fields, David Grote is in his second year in the land surveying certificate program at Renton Technical College in Washington (the Renton surveying program is profiled in the January 2013 issue of PSM: www.profsurv.com/magazine/article.aspx?i=71244). The appeal and career potential of surveying for David is presented here.

My vision of the future of land surveying is characterized by measured enthusiasm but also a large degree of optimism. Recently, I saw an episode on television showing the heroic deeds of the Coast Guard crew plucking two hapless people out of the ocean as their boat sank. I then thought about how great it would be to see a television show about land surveyors as the heroes of the day. It could show the crew making valiant efforts, in inclement weather, through thickets and ravines and bogs, to get to the collected points.

Granted, these scenarios are not likely to make it to television. If only the general public better understood the efforts of earnest land surveyors, our field would be more appreciated. I’m not waiting for that. My motivation is intrinsic. I have appreciated how land surveying has always been a combination of art and science where experienced surveyors use inventiveness and knowledge for problem solving. Good surveying requires not only knowledge; more importantly it demands understanding to make good decisions—understanding that the geospatial world will enable creative surveying professionals to help develop methods and technologies for the future of surveying.

Unfortunately, the demand for conventional surveying services is lessened in the presence of a faltering economy. The technology of data collection and processing has advanced enough to decrease some traditional work opportunities for surveyors. Does this mean fewer careers in professional land surveying? It does mean that the nature of the work will change. Surveying students of today need not look so far into the future when distant planets are being surveyed to imagine a boom in surveying. “The future is now” is not just a trite phrase announced by teachers to coax students into getting on with their assignments and not to procrastinate. It reminds us to keep up to date and learn all we can about our changing field.

Throughout the history of land surveying, technological advancements have been adopted when they have been proven effective. Emerging technologies have played a growing part of surveying by taking a larger share of the work. My aim is to be a part of that work as I strive to keep abreast of new technologically based methods. I realize future surveyors may need to become more specialized and adept at using new technologies. This suits me as I have am one to embrace the use of technology. Surveyors of today can accomplish more in less time than ever before with the aid of modern technology such as GPS/GNSS tied to ground-based control networks. I see technologies such as lidar being used to a much greater extent in the surveying world. GIS will become an integral part of value-added surveying.

The surveying profession is challenged not just by the continuing demands of greater productivity. Surveying professionals will also be expected to become experts at analyzing spatial data. I see a bright future for surveyors who are prepared for it.

David Grote is a land surveying student at Renton Technical College in Renton, Washington, and also studied Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Washington.

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