Career Notes: Surveyor Talks Project Management
John Abruzzo, LS, has spent the last eight of his nine years as a professional surveyor with American Engineering & Land Surveying, PC, in Plainview, N.Y. The firm specializes in boundary, title, ALTA, topographic and hydrographic surveys. It services residential, commercial, municipal and government clients. It also offers laser scanning, construction layout and underground utility locating services. Abruzzo appreciates that every day is different. “The next survey could be a lot in a subdivision, oceanfront described property, layout for a new commercial building, a municipal road topo or layout for a rollercoaster. We could also be called to mount the GPS and sounder on the boat, and map the bay bottom for a marina or a new outfall pipe,” he says.
In his role as project manager, solo surveying crew, Abruzzo drafts proposals for the State of New York, serves as the point of contact for clients, coordinates map and deed research, establishes baseline points, prepares data files for the field crew, reviews what the crew brings back to the office, sets up drawings for the firm’s CADD specialist, reviews and edits drawings as needed, and delivers surveys on time and within client budgets. His keys to success in project managment are: always answer the phone, keep a good planner, ask a lot of questions to be sure of what the client needs and provide superb customer service.
Abruzzo says he is optimistic about the future of surveying, and that it will always be needed. He has watched the technology used by surveyors evolve a lot over the years, and views it as good and bad. On the one hand, it allows one person to get more done on their own. With two GPS units and a robotic total station, he says there is no job he can’t do alone. On the other hand, the fact that technology allows for smaller crew sizes can lead to reduced relationship building. “When I started, I worked under very experienced crew chiefs who imparted their wisdom to me,” Abruzzo explains. “Solo crews don’t do that. I can train anyone to operate the robot in 30 minutes, show them what to locate and let them go. They don’t get that eight-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week for 10 years type of mentoring. They don’t get the chance to be a crew chief, with their own instrument man, and reaffirm the lessons they learned in the process.”
POB: What path did you take to end up where you are today?
ABRUZZO: I started surveying with my uncle, Anthony Abruzzo, PLS, when I was 16. He trained me using a transit, tape and a plumb bob. When I finished college, I worked full time with Peter J. VanWeele & Co.; first, as an instrument man using a Sokkisha/Lietz Set 3 with the SDR2 data collector, later advancing to crew chief.
After seven years, I moved on to survey with the NYSDOT (New York State Department of Transportation), Region 10. While working under Fred Caputo, PLS, and Bill Lamont, PLS, I worked on large-scale control networks (conventional surveying; no GPS), miles of road topo, NYS property boundary surveys and emergency monitoring for bridge disasters. There were three [bridge disasters]. Two were bridges on a parkway that were sinking into a state boat channel due to erosion at the piles. One was due to a gas tanker explosion under a flyway bridge. We were on melted asphalt measuring the deflection of the steel above.
Seven years later, I went back to the private sector as a crew chief with Schnepf & Murrell, PC. About a thousand title surveys, many subdivisions and apartment building complexes later, I moved on. I landed at American Engineering & Land Surveying, PC under its owner, Steve Ravn, PE, PLS. He gave me a Trimble S6 and a Trimble R8 GPS, and I was a solo field crew from day one. Mr. Ravn introduced me to AutoCAD with Carlson software and soon I was splitting my time between the office and the field. My surveying responsibility increased to computing my own title work and my own construction layout. My office responsibility also increased to look for and quote new work, maintain and develop client contacts, maintain our survey instruments and spec new equipment, and be the go-to person for whatever needed to be done.
POB: What did you want to accomplish when you were first getting started?
ABRUZZO: I originally wanted to be a civil engineer because I like the design process. When I committed to being a land surveyor, I knew that I wanted to be in the profession as a licensed land surveyor and own or be a partner in a firm.
POB: Which of those accomplishments have you achieved at this point?
ABRUZZO: I am licensed and registered in two states, and practice in both.
POB: What have you done that wasn’t on that list or may be a bit unexpected given where you thought you would go?
ABRUZZO: The surveying VP at one firm told me I was going to manage and run an NYS traffic count on the Long Island Expressway (RT 495) through three counties. I had two weeks to figure it out, spec and purchase equipment, hire 12 people, learn the processing software, develop a methodology and a schedule, and oversee it until it was done. It was a little stressful, but it was delivered on time.
POB: What has been your most significant career lesson?
ABRUZZO: Never take anything for granted.
POB: What advice would you offer someone who is still at the early stages of their career in surveying?
ABRUZZO: If you really want to be a good surveyor, learn the history. Know the math and be able to do it on the hood of your truck with a calculator. Be able to draw, to scale, field notes so you can see what the map will look like and what you have to locate to make it look like that. David VanWeele said to me during my interview, “As a surveyor you will never be rich, but you will always be able to earn a living.”
John Abruzzo, LS, is project manager, solo survey crew, at American Engineering & Land Surveying, PC, located in Plainview, N.Y. Abruzzo is licensed in New York and Connecticut, and has nine years of experience as a professional surveyor. Abruzzo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Career Notes is a regular feature in POB magazine that aims to help surveyors learn from how others work. To share your story in a future issue, please email Managing Editor Valerie King at email@example.com.