Last week, I had the opportunity to rub shoulders with some Michigan surveyors at a reception in Novi hosted by a local rep for Leica Geosystems. More than 75 people attended to hear about Leica's new Viva technology, network with each other and talk about business. There were no surprises regarding the latter topic-the Michigan economy has been brutal for just about everyone, and surveyors are among those feeling the pinch. But it’s always interesting to hear different perspectives firsthand.

It seems that the firms that are surviving have a diversified client base with at least half their work in municipal or infrastructure-related projects. They might not have the very latest state-of-the-art technology, but they are watching closely to determine the right time to take the leap. Many of the surveyors at these firms find themselves traveling much farther to jobsites than they would have in the past. One person noted that several years ago, it wouldn’t have been worth his time to drive across the state; now, however, he gladly takes the loss in time and gas mileage to pursue work wherever it might be. Another surveyor mentioned that he frequently has to travel out of state and spend much more time away from his family than he’d like, but that he’s glad to be employed.

No one I spoke with expects the situation to change much in 2010. The feeling was grim. One surveyor said that he wouldn’t recommend that anyone pursue a career in surveying-that it’s just too hard to make a living in this profession. But in the next breath, he was telling me about his latest adventure in the Florida swampland. His eyes sparkled as he talked about seeing spiders bigger than his hand and startling alligators “that are actually quite shy, for the most part,” he said. He was animated as he discussed the role of technology in surveying and how he thinks laser scanning has the potential to completely replace more-traditional surveying methods. And as he described his dual role in the office and field, he mentioned that he was fortunate to have a good balance between the two and that he really wouldn’t be happy if he were “stuck” in just one or the other.

Maybe he wouldn’t recommend surveying to anyone else. But I have to believe that this person and most of the others in the room that evening would be hard pressed to find another career that they enjoyed even half as much.

And therein lies the crux of the matter. Times are undeniably tough for today’s surveyors. But for many, surveying is more than just a job or a career-it’s a passion. And when you’re passionate about something, you’ll find a way to make it work, even when it seems impossible.


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What about you-do you survey for a living or live for surveying? What would you be willing to change to stay in the profession? Would you move, travel more, go back to school to earn a higher degree? Would you recommend the profession of surveying to someone else despite the challenges? Please share your comments below.