Friday, April 20, 2012

Going at it Alone

When my career started as I have stated earlier I was a cheap means of help for my father.  Then I grew to love what I was doing.  After college I had somehow been convinced that the best place for me was a secure work environment that could offer benefits like vacation and sick leave; health insurance; and the like.  I was so convinced that the thought of going home and working with my father was out of the question.

So for about 15 years, I worked in the sweat shop environment of the large Surveying/Engineering company.  I learned the the hard way about office politics.  I suffered greatly for telling the boss the truth instead of what they wanted to hear.  The removal from a project because myself and the earthwork superintendent could not see eye to eye.  But the worst thing of all.  The single worst event that burnt me was when I had attained the position of project manager.  I was on top of the world.  In my early 30's supervising 5 survey crews; I was on top of the world.  Then it happened......

You know that statement we put on our plats that says "this plat and the survey on which it is based was done under my direct supervision........" Well guess what.  I found out that it is IMPOSSIBLE to directly supervise 5 crews every day.  It is also impossible to directly supervise drafting personnel also.  Here is what lead me to believe this..

I had a party chief that resented the hell out me.  He wanted to be the P.M. but had no education and no licensure.  He was a good hand but had serious passive aggressive tendencies.  So I had to watch him like a hawk; and I did.  However that prevented me from giving the other crews the supervision they needed.  Dennis Mouland in a seminar years ago stated that "we all have skeletons in our closet; we just hope they never surface". To make it simple I started to discover that some of the work performed under my "direct"supervision wasn't being performed the way I had directed it; if at all.  Then I began to feel like the world was on top of me.  Mistakes were being made by the crews; I took the responsibility as their supervisor; the upper management needed a whipping boy so there you go.  The management loved the income the crews generated; but hated the costs associated with "fixing" mistakes.  I made them fix the mistakes I found; the boss hated that; but hey, it was my license on the line.

One day sitting at my desk; my phone rings.  It's dad.  He never calls me at work.  He is getting out and want to know if I want the business.  So with Johnny Paycheck ringing in my ears I pack up the family and headed home.

Instantly I am a solo-surveyor.  This is how it was meant to be.  I can testify in court about work I certified because I did it.  I can give clients details about their property because I have been there.  I can stand nose to nose with a dirt contractor because I did the staking.  I can answer the hard questions because I did the research.  I don't know of many other professions that let employees do their work for them.  Can you imagine a Doctor sitting in his office supervising a surgery with a cell phone.  A lawyer supervising his clients trial from his office.  An accountant supervising your tax preparation and business accounting from another city.

In our rush to become recognized as professionals we headed straight for the office.  But this business is a dirty, gritty, hands on, blood, sweat, and tears profession.  How can we exercise professional judgement based on data we are being fed.  Instead of data we have gathered.  I believe that in order to do our jobs correctly we as professionals have to have boots on the ground and eyes in the field.  Of course in my case; my rod man is an RLS and has 45 years of experience.  


Friday, April 13, 2012

Continuing Education

As our profession moves forward; it appears that the State of Arizona is embracing the question of Mandatory Continuing Education.  When this question is first asked it brings some pretty fierce opposition from some.  I suppose the idea of making professional development mandatory is not an idea that many are willing to embrace warmly.  However the idea of professional development is nothing new to the practicing surveyor.  For most it is already happening.  So the real question is whether or not it should be MANDATORY.

This is where we as a profession have got to get a grasp on the fact that we do not live in bubble.  We do not live in a shelter of comfort.  Our standard of practice has to evolve to meet the challenges brought on by outside forces.  The principles we use to practice do not change.  But the standard of practice does change and must change with the technology and methodology.  Therefore professional development is a must.  Most of us already do it.  But unfortunately some do not.

Creating a system of measuring professional development is challenge.  Evaluating professional development is also a challenging proposition.  However the BTR is the avenue to address both of these.  The concerns that have been brought to me are:
     1.  How do measure if anything is learned?  Answer:  Over time the level of proficency should increase.
     2.  What course work will be acceptable? Answer:  Any facet of education that promotes educational development that promotes the surveying profession.
     3.  How will the professional development be credited?  Answer:  It is a self reporting system upon renewal of licensure.
     4.  How will the professional development be auditted?  Answer:  Randomly and if a complaint is filed.

This system is the least intrusive and places the most responsibility on the practicing surveyor.  Making this system mandatory validates the efforts of those whom are doing it already.  And brings online those who do not.  As a part of this system a regular review of the standards and statutes will be also mandatory.  The APLS website (  I encourage everyone to review this proposal to the BTR.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Professional

I have always looked at other Land Surveyors as colleagues.  The reason for this is I believe that in a utopic world all Land Surveyors should have an open dialog with each other.  If a colleague can complete a project at a fee lower than mine so be it.  To me this is not competition.  Now of course this is based on the assumption that all Land Surveyors are playing by the same rules.  If they are not; then action must be taken.  The minimum standards are the benchmark.  So the standard of practice starts there.

So when it comes to participating in a professional association I have generally experienced a positive membership. As colleagues we should participate in an association as a means of giving information from and getting information to other Land Surveyors.  The association can be a great way to do this.  

The word professional implies that the person who bares this title has; education in a specialized field, standards, and ethics.  I have  met a few people in my travels that were self proclaimed professionals that lacked one, two or all three of these traits.  If we are to proclaim ourselves as professionals then we have got to take responsibility for our actions both in and out of surveying.  If we consider ourselves as professionals then we have the responsibility to be a professional 24-7.  Not just at association meetings.  As professionals we should not be cutting each other off at the knees and trying to put the other RLS out of business.  

When I became a father I figured out early that my children were watching and learning from me even when I wasn't trying to teach them.  They observe my every move and take note how I react in different situations.  I am of the opinion that the general public observes the Land Surveying Profession the same way.  So they observe our antics both good and bad and formulate opinions.  Yet we as a profession have a tendency to go the extra mile showing  the public how good we can be at poaching each other.  

In closing I want to say; we cannot improve, we cannot move forward; we cannot grow without opening the door to the closet that holds the dark secrets we harbor and shed light on them.

Monday, April 9, 2012


When I was in college; I chose to become a member of fraternity.  It was not an Animal House type fraternity; but none the less a fraternity.  Anyway with every new semester came a new pledges.  It was the regular members job to haze the pledges to see if they had what it took to belong.  Then law and order came.  Hazing was made illegal and the schools cracked down hard.  Basically killing the initiation process altogether.

This profession has a time honored hazing system. Or at least it did.  In the days before GPS the survey crew consisted of 2-3 crew members.  A party-chief, an instrument person, and a rodman.  Generally the rodman was charged with showing up to work 30-45 minutes early to make sure the truck had all the supplies for the survey day.  Then every night he was charged with gassing up the truck and taking out all the trash, washing the windshield etc.  Then of course the rodman was charged with sharpening tools, oiling equipment, basically all the chores no else wanted.

Then as time passed they worked there way to party chief.  This was the time honored tradition and a good way to determine if someone had what it took to become a surveyor.  Very few entrants whom started as rodman made it to party chief or even RLS.  Those who made it were proud.  They had attained something.  They had endured the brow-beating and hazing and they were now in a position to dish it out.  

I am of the opinion that this system has led to our own demise.  First, today's youth are convinced that they need to go to college to attain the american dream.  Well, friends you are not going to get a college graduate with a surveying degree to submit themselves to this type of treatment.  Second, today's younger people have spent most of their adolesense posting their lives on myspace, youtube, and facebook.  So they can't be shamed into submission.  Third and perhaps the biggest; technology has completely changed the dymanic of the Land Survey Business.  We don't really have crews anymore.  The data collector handles most of the calculation so many crews lack the same level of expertise they had 25 years ago.

Yet with all of this we the surveying community has this idea that admittance is by invitation only.  Then we sit back and wonder why no one wants to join our profession?  Why join it and deal with this type on mentality? I can see why the younger, educated land surveyors steer clear.  Why deal with the nonsense when you don't have to.

Only we can change it.....

Friday, April 6, 2012

More About Conferences

I generally try to attend the APLS annual conference.  They are a good chance to pick up some refresher courses and get in touch with other Land Surveyors.  I enjoy them.  The courses generally provide information that I had over looked or not considered and at times can be eye opening.  As I get older in this profession though I have noticed that some of the courses are the same from year to year.  I try not to repeat them but often times find myself sitting in just for comfort.  This has to stop.  The old stand by classes can be entertaining but I find myself hearing the same ole same ole.  This is my fault for not getting outside my comfort sone and I guess we all do it from time to time.

This year I am going to try to broaden my horizons and attend courses that I ordinarily wouldn't bother with.  I encourage other to do the same if you find yourself in the same position I am.  APLS has for the most part been pretty good at putting together a conference that has much to offer.  It is me who doesn't take advantage of it.  At times I have been critical of the conference courses because I have not seen course work I am comfortable with.  Again my fault.  So this year I am going about things differently.

What I really enjoy is seeing friends from around the state that I normally don't see.  The conference gives us a chance to sit down over a beer and catch up.  Sometimes I find myself relating more to the guys I have met by hanging around my father.  I love to sit at the table with him and some of the older gentlemen and listen to the tales that always come up.  This is an excellent opportunity for the young Land Surveyors to learn some tricks, learn some history, and learn some procedural stuff that isn't taught in the class room.  These often times turn into round table discussions that can get heated.  Those are the best.  Not because I enjoy conflict but because I enjoy listening to the different approaches to solving a problem.  Normally dad will bring up an issue that starts the sparks and then the lesson starts.  I am going to be dismayed when these guys hang it up and enjoy full retirement.  Mainly because so much knowledge will be lost and not shared.  It is unusual to see me sitting with them and getting in fray to the casual observer. However many of these guys watched me grow up in this profession and they let me participate.  Anyone is welcome to sit and listen; but I caution participation unless you sit down with your "A" game.  Otherwise these guys can get rough.  The group I am talking about are gentlemen whom some have referred to as "ass in the grass" surveyors.  They can be  intolerant, brash, and down right abusive when they want to.  But man the education; the pain is well worth it. Having dealt with it most of my career I am numb; but some take offense.  They don't want to talk about accuracy vs. precision.  They don't want to talk about the latest survey toys.  Generally they want to talk about analysis, procedure and often times issues with the PLSS.  These are the best conversations to listen to.  So I encourage the conferences because I liken them to the rendezvous the mountain men used to gather for.  Where tricks and information is shared and the real lessons can be learned.

On the Lighter Side

OK so my first 2 posts were a little heavy and preachy.. It was that kind of day.  Today I will be enjoying a relatively quiet morning in the office doing the usual office chores until this chill is out of the air.  Then I will head to field.

I spent the first 5 years of my career working for my father.  For those of you who through the years ever got to know him will understand why I call those years "Basic Training".  Not only because of what I learned but HOW I learned it.  Those of you who picked this profession up outside of the family business will never understand.  Lets just say that the patience and tolerance level for new hires outside of the family is much greater than the other.  Working for my father was to say the least an education way beyond text books.  Don't take this to me that their is any deep seated resentment or a forth coming Dr. Phil moment.  I am just saying I had a lot of growing up to do in a short amount of time.

Being a party-chief while attending high school was great.  It meant 2 things.  First I always had cash, which went  along way.  Second it meant I had keys to survey rig.  Third I learned to enjoy both without abusing either.   I enjoyed it.  I also enjoyed being a teenager going to Conferences with my father and meeting other surveyors and hanging out with other party chiefs who didn't mind having a kid around.  My favorite was a Conference in Tucson; we found a longerie show in the hotel.  Lets just say that when I got back to school, I never looked at high school girls the same.  So the basic training was tough but not without reward.

The next 15 years I spent seeking employment, education and knowledge outside the family.  I had fun, learned a lot about how other practitioners work, and achieved status in the Engineering Office environment.  This is where I figured out that supervising surveying is not the same as actually surveying.  The air conditioned  sanitized environment of the office is no replacement to the fresh smell of the morning or the rush of a good hike.  Let alone the excitement of finding an original monument.  So I got to thinking.....

One day I am sitting in the office and the phone rings.  Its the old-man.  He says "I am getting tired, you can have the business, or I'm selling it."  Needless to say; I was homeward bound.  My wife was key to helping me take stock in the situation.  I was 35, with a wife, a one-year old child, and a new born baby.  I was packing them up to run my own business.  Leaving the security of a management job for the independence of self-employment under these conditions says that I either had balls that clank or shit for brains.  You be the judge.  Going 7 years, and loving it.  

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Where are we Professionally Part 2

So here I am taking a break from the typical spring wind that graces the White Mountains and trying to get my office work caught up.  I created this blog as a means of trying to get my point across without blasting emails.  Chat rooms can be fun but something always gets lost in the conversation.

Today's response has been generally positive and I am relieved by that.  There has been an under lying theme to the multiple conversations I have had today.  THE BTR.

This is strictly my point of view and I am not speaking on behalf of any organization or group.  Ladies and Gentleman of the surveying profession I submit that we as a collective body need to get our act together.  The BTR is an agency that regulates our profession.  They do it by getting input from the surveying community.  We as a surveying community have to come together and set forth the course of our future.  The BTR will only act on issues that we as a profession bring to their attention.  If we think the test is to easy; we need to say so.  If we think enforcement is lacking; we need to say so.

We as professionals have got to take charge.  We have to assume the leadership role and not be intimidated by the BTR process.  They are very receptive to the input from the professions but they have to be willing to participate.  Moreover it helps when the message is clear.  Our profession should provide a unified front in one direction or the other on whatever issue you choose.  Undermining each other and public displays of contrition only give the appearance of folly.  

I would also like to submit that before we set out to present the BTR with a laundry list of problems we had better be prepared with solutions..

Where are we Professionally.

When I started surveying in eastern Arizona 30 years ago; the primary reason was to provide cheap labor for my father.  This is not an unfamiliar beginning for many practicing land surveyors.  I have met quite a few surveyors who all started in a way similar to mine.  The biggest difference between surveyors who "grew up" surveying versus the surveyors who got started as a summer job in college or graduated high school and stumbled into it is this:  the passion..... I have observed that the passionate surveyor puts time into the profession outside of the 9-5 mentality.  I attribute this to my experience working evenings, weekends and holidays for my father.  I learned early "do the work 'til the work is done".  At this point your probably asking yourself where I am going with this.

Our profession has organizations that represent the surveying profession at the national level and the state level.  These organizations are populated with professional land surveyors whom all desire to make our profession better.  However our profession is not a easy one to break into and it requires a great amount of individualism and independence.  These attributes are not consistent with group think and rule making.  So it is no surprise that many of these organizations go ignored by the surveyor.  Fierce independence is not a bad character attribute to have.  However as the profession evolves and the tools become more technical, changes are inevitable.  As professionals we have a duty to stay abreast of these changes and apply them to our practice as our judgement dictates.  As professionals we cannot draw a line in the sand and say "I'm done, and not going any further"  because if you reach that point; I submit you may cause more harm than good.  Not in the sense that your practice will deteriorate but in the sense that the application of rules and regulations will change but the static practitioner will not adjust.  Although there is a large segment of our profession that believes that tools do not dictate practice; I couldn't disagree more.  GPS, LiDAR, and Data Collector have blown the lid off of the way we practice.  At this point technology has made the art and science of measurement to easy.  Technology has simplified the process to the point that the next generation of land surveyor will not know what it is to "run line" because they are point to point locators.  Thus ignoring a millineum of surveying principles.

This is why we need to make sure our standard of practice evolves with the existing conditions.  This is why our testing for licensure has to evolve to existing conditions.  And finally continuing education.  Those whom have drawn a line in the sand, I say this; If you don't wish to participate because you are in or approaching the twilight of your career; then don't.  But do not let your "been there, done that" position get in the way of those whom are trying educate and train the next generation.