POB: What aspects of the business do you enjoy most and why?
English: I enjoy that surveying is a mix of technology, mathematics and history. I consider each project like a jigsaw puzzle, with all the pieces having to fit together to obtain a usable product.
POB: Can you share any memorable stories from field work?
English: Many years ago, in the 1990s, I was asked (begged) to do survey work for a park in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, N.Y. The contractor said the last two surveyors were kicked off the job by the city and he couldn’t get anyone else to go to Red Hook because of the neighborhood, and he would pay whatever I wanted. I took the job. When I got there and started working, the New York City Parks Department inspector greeted me, saying he was happy to see us and we were doing a good job. “Just be sure you are out of here before dark,” he said. Needless to say, we finished the job at a record pace and were out long before dark.
Because of that job, I received many more projects from that contractor, including Princeton University, Fordham University, and Giants Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands.
POB: What has been your biggest challenge?
English: My biggest challenge in surveying so far has been the move from the Northeast to Florida. I had spent my entire career working in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, so the move was somewhat scary. This was an area I knew little about — or so I thought. I found out that surveying, if you have a good working knowledge of the principles, is the same everywhere.
POB: Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to get into the surveying business today?
English: Having had my own business in New Jersey for 16 years, my advice to anyone would be get business and management skills, together with surveying skills. Surveyors have been historically poor business people. We as a profession can be much more business savvy. Very few of us will be in the field our entire careers.
POB: How do you stay on top of the latest trends and technologies?
English: Read, and take as many classes and seminars as possible. Not just to meet the continuing education requirements, but to grow professionally. Talk to other surveyors. Go to association meetings.
POB: How has the surveying profession changed since you started and where do you see it heading in the future?
English: At 17 years old, I was surveying with a transit and steel tape. They have the same transit and steel tape in a display case at the Florida DOT office as a collector’s piece.
GPS has been the biggest game changer. It has given all of us technology on a daily basis that when I started I could only imagine.
I have found that as a surveyor I need to evolve with the technology and embrace it. Not be afraid of it or think it will make surveyors obsolete. We must, as a profession, continue to embrace and develop new technology, and establish creative ways of using these technologies to provide service to our clients. We must always evolve.
Thomas A. English, PSM, PLS, has been working in surveying since 1981 when he took a high school co-op job. He received his license in New Jersey in 1990 and is currently licensed in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Florida. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Solo Notes is a regular feature in POB and highlights the experiences and strategies of solo surveyors and small business owners. To share your story for a future issue, email Managing Editor Benita Mehta at firstname.lastname@example.org.