Solo Notes: Surveying Proves Ideal Fit for Passionate History Buff
POB: Explain what you do.
Greiner: I handle projects from start to finish, from the first contact with a client to delivery of a finished product, completing research, field work, computations and drafting.
Our company offers a wide range of expertise, including boundary and topographic surveys, construction layout, commercial and residential development, historic records research and expert witness testimony.
POB: What aspects of the business do you enjoy most and why?
Greiner: I find the greatest fulfillment in land records research and field recon.
I live and work in Connecticut, which is a colonial state. We have records dating back to the 1600s. For a student of history, this is exciting! In fact, I don’t know how someone could be a land surveyor and not be interested in local history.
As we should all know, when working on a boundary survey, the surveyor needs to be able to answer the following questions: When was each line on the property created? Who created it? How was it created? (By warranty, court order, last will and testament, subdivision, etc.) How was it described at creation? In order to answer these questions, I often will end up in land records dating from the late 1700s and early 1800s.
Once my research is done, I enjoy compiling my work into a deed compilation map and striking out into the woods to find old — and often lost — boundary evidence. The research is solving a sort of puzzle and the recon is validation of what I’ve learned.
POB: Do you have any memorable stories from field work and/or a favorite project you worked on?
Greiner: Perhaps one of the best projects I’ve ever worked on was a dispute over a right-of-way easement created in the late 1800s. I completed the research, field survey, and produced a color drawing of the easement in question. The opposing parties went to court and I made my first appearance as an expert witness.
I’m still waiting on the results of the case. However, while some surveyors may keep a personal win/loss record, I’m not necessarily interested in that. Courts don’t always come to the same conclusions as the experts, even if a particular witness was excellent on the stand. The real focus should be about self-evaluation: Did I faithfully carry out my duty as an expert witness? Did I present the material clearly for the court? Are there things I could have done better?
This project was certainly one of the best as it taught me so much about the court process, case law, drafting courtroom exhibits, and boundary law as applied to easements. I look forward to more opportunities to appear as an expert witness.
POB: What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Greiner: The economy has been my greatest challenge so far. Right after I passed the Land Surveyor In-Training Exam (LSIT), the bottom dropped out. And I ended up bouncing between three survey companies while trying to stay in the industry. I was so close to qualifying for the professional license exam and I had studied for so long that I didn’t want to give up.
I took the professional license exam in April, 2012. For the rest of that spring and summer, I was praying I passed. My wife and I had two kids at home, with a third on the way. We were scrambling to make ends meet. I was looking forward to an expected bump in pay when and if I found out I passed. And I did!
Every time I sign and seal a new map, I’m thankful that I was able to stick it out in land surveying.
POB: Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to get into the surveying business today?
Greiner: Read. Read as much as you can. Read case law. Read liability law. Read your state’s statutes. And when I say read, I don’t mean to merely let your eyes scroll across every word and sentence, but interact with the text. Underline. Highlight. Circle. Write questions and notes in the margins. Tag pages that are interesting or important to you. While it’s important to be educated on the math and field procedures of surveying, you must devote yourself to boundary law, as well.
POB: How do you stay on top of the latest trends and technologies?
Greiner: A former coworker is a tech geek. I’ll ask his opinion of certain trends from time to time. I also will inquire what his office is up to in technology.
I also follow a few tech-savvy surveyors and publications on LinkedIn. They share the newest trends and technologies.
Frankly, very few of the newer technologies change anything about the profession. We still have to research, measure and report our findings. These “latest trends” only change our measuring devices. They don’t help me figure out the meaning of a poor boundary description from 1832. They don’t inform me as to how case law may affect my client’s disputed land claim.
I often use and enjoy our company’s GPS system. I am becoming more interested in acquiring a robotic total station. As useful as these may be, I still have to use my professional training and expertise to formulate a boundary opinion or to figure out how I’ll lay out an anchor bolt pattern for a steel structure.
POB: How has the surveying profession changed since you started and where do you see it heading in the future?
Greiner: There is a heavy importance placed on the newest technologies. While laser scanning, UAVs and other exciting tech may be very useful, I think this emphasis may be at the detriment of learning, knowing and applying boundary law.
A surveyor may be able to measure between two iron pins with hyper-accuracy, but does his research demonstrate the importance of those iron pins? A surveyor can become a photogrammetrist thanks to UAV technology, but does he or she understand the importance of lines of occupation and acquiescence? A surveyor may know all the ins and outs of the latest in CAD software, but can he or she figure out who might have title to the roadbed of a discontinued road?
We surveyors have to be very interdisciplinary to our approach to the profession. The way I see it heading is towards computer-heavy technologies, while the disciplines of research, recon and boundary law are being tossed aside. What’s more, I don’t think that some surveyors even know it is happening.
I’m endlessly grateful that I’ve worked under seven licensed land surveyors in my career. I’ve seen and learned much from their unique perspectives. I’ve also conferred with or closely examined the work of several others. The inability to carry out appropriate research has been the undoing of more than one surveyor in my state, and has met with lawsuits more than once. I’ve seen this happen in the last 10 years. I hope that we can reverse this trend and continue to earn the public trust for our profession.
Jeffrey S. Greiner, LS, started in the land surveying business when he was 12. He has persevered through tough times in the business to become a licensed land surveyor in Connecticut, and has great perspective because of it. Jeff Greiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.