Point of Beginning

Editor's Points

April 1, 2006


Surveyors have really come a long way. Societal changes, population increases and territorial expansion, regulations and laws, technological advancements and professional evolution have changed the landscape of the profession drastically over the decades.

In the early days, surveyors were the all-purpose benefactors of the land. They were appraisers, surveyors, mappers-you name it. They belonged to one of the few literate professions and were often called on as scribes.

Surveyors of the earlier days (1800s) were multi-vocational, too. Some performed their surveying and mapping duties while working in mercantilism. Some acted as road commissioners as well. To do these multi-faceted jobs, they were multi-disciplined, just as many are today.

As the years went by, surveyors changed with the times. More civil engineering opportunities arose after World War II and more people found themselves attending engineering schools. As the civil engineering profession grew, and as surveyors became more segmented in their field, the "muddy boot" image entered the scene. The public perception of surveyors shifted to "brown boot" guys. Perhaps this is the era when surveying became viewed as more of a trade and less of a profession. Nonetheless, surveyors prospered and forged ahead.

The changing of educational opportunities and requirements led to a new group of greatly educated surveyors. And as state requirements continued to change, so did the status of the profession. Although it was once common to hold dual registration as a surveyor/engineer, some began to find it difficult to maintain both licenses, leading to a decrease of such professionals. And as we know from today, two- and four-year degree requirements, along with continuing education requirements, have stiffled the influx of people into the surveying profession. Many view the requisites as stringent and hard to attain, especially considering such factors as money, time and the limited number of schools offering degree-oriented programs. A stereotype that civil engineers-a group that has become known as a bit of a rival for surveyors-make more money has, to some extent, impaired recruitment into the surveying profession as well. (In reality, surveyors generally fare right up there with civil engineers on the pay scale.)

And of course technology advancements have changed the landscape of the surveying profession tremendously. From steel tapes and compasses to transits, theodolites and total stations, and then to lasers and GPS technology, professional measurers and technicians have experienced dynamic changes to their work capabilities. This, of course, altered laws and regulations, challenging surveying firms to keep up with the times. And this doesn't even broach the newer technologies such as laser scanning in which safety is both a concern and an improvement. Lasers must be of a certain class for eye safety, while the scanning technology allows users to remain out of harm's way.

The addition of the Global Positioning System, and more specifically the combination with advances made by other Global Navigation Satellite Systems-GLONASS and Galileo-continue to offer capabilities and functionalities for the surveyor only dreamed of decades ago. Some who are able to use GPS technology full time have made it their technology of choice. And with more "birds" in the sky promised, the potential for greater accuracy and productivity is enhanced.

But this impressive array of advancements concerns some surveyors and mappers. As technology becomes easier to use, and instrument and software offerings are available to anyone, non-surveying professionals are infringing on the professional measuring territory. It may take national lawsuits and a concerted effort on the part of the profession and its supporting organizations to establish a unified and forceful response to set-and enforce-standards. The growing epidemic of equipment theft also needs to be appropriately addressed. The high-ticket prices of surveying technology are now widely known, and thieves are trying to make a buck off it. During raids, protective owners and users have found themselves involved in scuffles with thieves, endangering their lives. Others are held at gunpoint. And today, the equipment is often not retrieved as it is immediately traded overseas.

These are but a few of the changes the surveying profession has seen over numerous decades. The future holds much promise and prosperity, but also areas for concern and support. It will be interesting to see where the road leads us.