Solo Notes: A Young Surveyor’s Outlook
In early 2015, Stuart Warnock, RPLS, GISP, became involved with Texas Young Surveyors Network. The 31-year-old owner and president of Pioneer Mapping, based in Fort Worth, Texas, saw a need for younger generations to contribute and connect — not just surveyors, but geospatial professionals overall.
“Far too frequently, we have young spatial professionals coming straight out of school and hitting the workforce only to feel like they don’t belong or fit in, unsure about who to respect and who to trust. I think the value of having a network of young professionals who can connect with, engage and possibly advise each other about the profession cannot be understated,” Warnock says.
Over the course of his 13 years in the profession, he has learned that forming meaningful connections can be surprisingly challenging. Groups like Texas Young Surveyors Network make that process easier and Warnock says he is excited about the positive response it has had so far.
Warnock’s success in surveying was, in part, fostered by meaningful relationships with other professionals. He says that like many others, he had no idea what surveying was as a high school student. After graduating from the University of Texas at Tyler with a bachelor’s degree in industrial technology, he accepted a job at a nearby civil engineering firm conducting bridge inspections for the Texas Department of Transportation. While there, his understanding of and interest in surveying grew. “So they put a rod in one hand and a machete in the other. It didn’t take very long to figure out that I was actually pretty good at it,” Warnock says.
After moving on from that firm, he eventually ended up working for a small mom-and-pop surveying company in eastern Texas. The owner, a veteran surveyor, took Warnock under his wing and taught him about what he’d learned from his years of experience. Warnock says he gives a lot of credit to that relationship for giving him much of the knowledge he uses today.
Warnock currently provides land development and engineering support surveying, which includes boundary surveys, topographic surveys, subdivision design and platting. He also offers terrestrial services and has several geospatial information system (GIS) consultancy projects in the works.
He says he sees a shift occurring across all industries in which technology has increased efficiency, but he says he is very optimistic about the future of surveying. “I, for one, am not very worried about the future of the profession. … There will always be a need for licensed land surveyors and a well regulated industry. Anyone with even a basic understanding of the profession knows that we do far more than measure a pile of dirt.”
POB: What do you enjoy most about surveying so far?
WARNOCK: I can’t really say that there are any parts of the career that I don’t enjoy. But if I had to single out any one thing that I do enjoy, I would say that I enjoy the challenge. It’s one of the only careers that I know of where you get to combine state-of-the-art technology with a bit of old-school detective work in order to uncover facts and retrace history. You truly are retracing the steps of those who came before you. One of the photos that I have included is of a diamond shaped blaze that was set around 1906 that I located. I was following the footsteps, looked up and there it was. It was one of the most memorable moments I have had surveying. There are no limits to the places you may find yourself in with this career and if you find yourself lucky enough to be working outside, don’t forget to look up and enjoy the scenery every once in a while.
POB: What are your favorite tools to use?
WARNOCK: All of them. Each piece of equipment that you use gives you a certain type of information and each piece has situations where it is appropriate to use. Knowing when to use a tool is just as important as knowing how to use it. One of the things I love to do is to sit back and look at what tools I have available for a specific job; then I try to find new ways to incorporate them together to get information to my clients in a new or more efficient way. We are currently working on a project where we are combining conventional surveying, terrestrial laser scanning, close-range photogrammetry, some scripting and a GIS database to give our client an incredibly detailed overview of one of their key facilities that they will be able to access in a mobile setting. That kind of value cannot be achieved by just one tool in the huge toolkit available to us.
POB: What are you most looking forward to?
WARNOCK: I’m genuinely eager to see what the future holds for spatial professions around the world. Right now we have four generations of surveyors and spatial professionals in the workforce, from 1917 through 1998. That’s over 81 years of age spread throughout the industry and each one of those generations has its own way of learning, working and shaping the profession. When you combine that with the breakneck speed of change that our tools and technology are undergoing at the moment it becomes impossible to speculate on where we might take it from here. I, for one, predict that spatial professions across the board will change more in the next half century they have in the previous three. Surveying and mapping the surface of Mars might not be as far off as you think.
POB: What areas of the profession are you least enthusiastic about?
WARNOCK: Wow. That’s a tough one. I can’t say that I can give you a clear answer to that question, other than that I find inner-city land title surveys to be a bit tedious. However, they have to be done.
POB: If you could go back in time, what would you do differently to prepare for a career in surveying?
WARNOCK: Honestly, I’m very happy with the path my career has taken and I don’t know that I would do anything differently. I don’t know very many surveyors or spatial professionals who regret their career path. In fact, I can’t recommend it enough. I did things in the more traditional way by starting work under the direction of a surveyor and then pursuing a college education, and I believe that was beneficial to me. By starting with a rod in my hand, surrounded by mentors who loved to teach, I was able to progress far enough in my career to truly decide that this was something I was interested in. Then I went back to college to get my degree and pursue a path to licensure.
POB: What advice do you have for others considering this career path?
WARNOCK: Explore your opportunities. Don’t let the flashiest technology or the most dollar signs dictate the direction you decide to take in your career. Right now there are so many spatial professions emerging and developing that industries across the board are having a hard time keeping up. The opportunities are truly endless. So find something that you love doing, with somebody you enjoy doing it with, and the dollar signs and everything else will follow. Learn everything that you can from your experienced professionals and mentors. Your classroom instruction and exam preparation is important, but there is a certain kind of knowledge that can only be passed down from those with experience and that knowledge is pure gold. Always practice with integrity.
Stuart Warnock, RPLS, GISP, owns Pioneer Mapping, located in Fort Worth, Texas. He has 13 years of geospatial experience, but his copmany is just one year old. A solo surveyor, he serves all of Texas, with a focus on northern Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Warnock can be reached at Stuart@pioneermapping.com.
Solo Notes is a regular feature in POB magazine and highlights the experiences and strategies of solo surveyors and small business owners. To share your story in a future issue, please email Managing Editor Valerie King at firstname.lastname@example.org.