It’s actually not an uncommon story. Chris Tomko, PE, PS and senior project manager for R.E. Warner & Associates Inc., didn’t set out to become a surveyor. His exposure to the profession came through his pursuit of a degree and career in civil engineering.
While we can’t quite call it “the best job you never heard of,” it does seem that a number of career surveyors found their career because one or more aspects of the profession were attractive to them. For Tomko, part of the appeal came through the field work.
Working independently or with a small crew is another part of the job many report as appealing. But, as Tomko cautions, if you are acting largely independently, any mistakes will come back to you. It sounds a bit like the role of the field goal kicker in football: When you take the field, all eyes are on you. Your results are highly visible. And, those results are directly attributable to your efforts. Still, that doesn’t seem to dissuade many career surveyors, and as Tomko describes it, he feels like he is “in the game.”
Tomko earned his B.S. in Civil Engineering from Cleveland State University and began working for R.E. Warner & Associates Inc. in Westlake, Ohio. He has spent 25 years in the profession and is licensed in Ohio as both a professional engineer and a professional surveyor.
The firm is 68 years old and serves the areas of civil, structural, electrical, and mechanical engineering, surveying, and architecture. Clients include commercial and institutional customers, government, power, metals, manufacturing, and chemical processing organizations.
When Tomko uses a sports metaphor to describe what attracted him to surveying, he has certainly had a number of opportunities to participate in projects involving some of Cleveland’s and Ohio’s major sports venues. The company’s “25-year shout out” acknowledging Tomko’s growth and contribution noted:
Because of his dedication and technical excellence, Chris has become the “go to” construction surveying consultant for contractors working on highly visible projects in Cleveland and the surrounding region. Notable, recent projects in his portfolio include the Q Arena Transformation, the Cleveland Clinic Health Education Campus, the new Amazon fulfillment centers, the Historic Halle Building Renovation, Akron Children’s Hospital Expansion, and The Flats East Bank Development.
In addition to construction layout and staking, Chris’ expertise includes topographic, boundary and route surveys, land divisions and right-of-way surveys. He also has experience in design and construction observation of utility infrastructure and surface transportation improvements. His engineering design experience includes sewer collection systems, stormwater managements, water mains and appurtenances, streets and roadways.
POB: Did you always want to be a surveyor? What path did you take to end up where you are today?
TOMKO: Actually I did not want to be a surveyor when going through college. I was concentrating on being a civil engineer. When the opportunity arose to work with our company’s survey crew, I fell in love with the field aspect of engineering. Since surveying is very closely related to civil engineering, the shift in career focus was easy.
POB: There are quite a few solo surveyor and surveyors in small departments or crews, what do you see as the pros and cons of being a solo surveyor?
TOMKO: Being a solo surveyor has many pros with not so many cons. The pros consist of the flexibility to work at your own pace, enjoying the satisfaction of seeing projects being built, which you personally had a helping hand in. The biggest con is if something is wrong with your work, you fully own the problem and the repercussions.
POB: What did you want to accomplish when you were first getting started?
TOMKO: I wanted to learn how engineering projects actually were built and how they worked.
POB: What have you done that wasn’t on that list or may be a bit unexpected given where you thought you would go?
TOMKO: Initially I fulfilled the role of a field inspector but quickly learned that was not for me. It felt like being on the sidelines of the actual game.
POB: Do you have any memorable stories from field work and/or a favorite project you worked on?
TOMKO: The Cleveland Clinic Sydell & Arnold Miller Family Pavilion was one memorable project. I learned an immense amount about the construction process, and I feel this was the definitive project during which I went from being a green surveyor to one that had a good foundation to rely on for future projects to come
POB: What has been your biggest challenge so far?
TOMKO: Managing schedules of various projects. Primarily working on construction projects, I am at the mercy of the project schedules. Once the construction process begins, I never want to be the one holding things up and delaying a schedule, so I end up working more attempting to stay ahead.
POB: How do you stay on top of the latest trends and technologies?
TOMKO: Conversation among field peers, Professional Land Surveyors of Ohio Conventions and POB publications.
POB: What has been your most significant career lesson?
TOMKO: A good reputation takes years of attention to detail. One mistake can erase this entirely.
POB: How has the surveying profession changed since you started, and where do you see it heading in the future?
TOMKO: The profession has definitely changed with the addition of drones and fully robotic total stations. When I started surveying, a three-person crew was not unusual. Nowadays this is rarely seen. The amount of work a drone can capture on topographic projects makes multiple solo surveyor crews not cost-effective. I see the future of the surveying profession continuing to utilize the latest technology, which will lessen the number of surveyors needed. I believe the key to a long-lasting profession in the surveying business is to find your niche and become an expert at that particular aspect of surveying.
POB: What advice would you offer someone who is still at the early stages of their career in surveying?
TOMKO: Try to learn the entirety of surveying early in your career – from initial field measurements to the use of field data once imported into your office’s software. This allows you to get a full understanding of how surveying works and ways to improve or expedite tasks.