© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.


The Real Poop

"Sir Vayor, Sir Vayor! Where have you been?" "Why, I've been to London to see the Queen! And I must say it's been quite distressing. Her Majesty's Royal Surveyor must have gone to entertain the ladies in some faraway province, because he's certainly neglected his duties on the outskirts of London. Pigs and cattle are grazing in gardens next to fine homes, farmers are planting their crops willy-nilly because no one really knows where the official boundaries are, and the Royal Barrister is pacing his grounds daily, waiting for the Royal Surveyor to define his property lines so the Royal Barrister can start building his grand new home. Everything has fallen apart without the Royal Surveyor's services. What to do? What to do?" "Sounds like they need a new Royal Surveyor, Sir Vayor. I recommend you take the next carriage back to London and apply for the job."

Fast-forward to the 21st century. While a modern-day surveyor might not encounter pigs and cattle during his survey work, he will certainly define all types of boundaries for construction and infrastructure projects. For example, let's say a commercial developer wants to build an office park in the middle of a vacant field. He owns quite a few acres of land, but also knows some of his property backs up to other landowners' holdings. Before he bulldozes the land and pours the foundation, he must clearly define the properties' legal boundaries. It's time to call in a licensed surveyor.

Paul, a licensed surveyor from Boundaries Unlimited, arrives on site the next day with his surveying technician, Joe. The two men walk the property with the developer, searching for metal survey markers that would indicate previous boundaries' documentation. Although they easily find the existing markers, Paul will need to research the county's land records database; he must verify that the markers' and land records' results match.

Next, Joe breaks out his surveying tripod, a device that resembles a camera tripod with a platform for varied surveying instruments. The tripod's legs are bright orange so they're visible in all kinds of weather conditions. Joe chooses several existing reference points on the surrounding land. He whips out his trusty GPS to help him precisely locate the reference points. He uses his equipment, and his knowledge of the known reference points, to fix the exact locations of geographic features that will indicate the all-important boundary lines.

To complete this process, Joe executes a variety of angle, direction, and distance measurements that require a strong command of math and statistics. Before leaving the work site, Paul and Joe recheck the measurements to confirm they are correct.

Once Paul establishes the correct boundary lines for the subject property, he must work with the developer's construction manager to ensure the project adheres to the property lines. He must also inform the developer and construction manager of any land features, such as swamps or unstable slopes, that could affect the finished structure's integrity. Paul may detail his findings in a report to his client—in this case the commercial developer. He will likely create a map that will graphically illustrate his findings as well.

Paul will feed his data into a Geographic Information System to create this precise map.

Seems simple enough, you think. Is that all a surveyor does? Actually, a licensed surveyor can provide a variety of land-related services. When any real estate transaction occurs, a licensed surveyor must establish the property's legal boundary lines. Surveyors often write land descriptions for leases and deeds. Licensed surveyors may even provide expert court testimony about their work or other surveyors' findings.

Although a surveyor spends some portion of his time on office-related research and mapping functions, he'll typically work in the field more often than not. He must be able to stand for hours, walk long distances if required, and navigate often-uneven terrain with heavy survey instruments (assuming he doesn't have a survey tech to haul the equipment for him). In warmer summer weather, he may take advantage of longer daylight hours to put in some extra work. In short, a surveyor has to be in good physical shape to handle the demands of this job.

If you've gotten this far, you may be wondering if a surveying career is a good fit for your skills and personality. Here's a snapshot of some essential skills you will need. You must have excellent visualization skills so you can see a project's big picture. At the same time, you must be nit-picking in your attention to detail, as a small measurement error can cost big bucks. You must have good listening skills, which means you should be able to take instruction from architects or other professionals. You must also be able to communicate with landowners, members of your surveying team, and construction personnel with an open, collaborative mindset.

You must have exceptional problem-solving skills so you can reconcile inconsistencies between current land conditions and historical land records. Finally, you must have an excellent command of project management software, map creation programs, AutoCAD, and Microsoft Excel.

Let's say a surveying career intrigues you, but you're wondering if there are any subspecialties that might really knock your socks off. Well, here are three possibilities. First, you can work on geophysical prospecting surveys, usually for oil exploration projects. This specialty can conceivably involve significant travel. You might want to focus on hydrographic or marine surveys; this means you survey rivers, harbors, and bodies of water. What are you looking for? You want to document the water depth, bottom topography, and the shoreline configurations. Using this data, you would work with marine mapmakers to create/update marine navigation charts. Finally, geodetic surveyors use satellite data and other super-accurate techniques to measure large sections of the Earth's surface.

Okay, so you want to be a surveyor. Who would you work for? Well, in 2010, surveyors held about 50,000 jobs. Almost 70 percent of these surveyors worked for private engineering and architectural firms. Local government, state government, and heavy/civil engineering construction firms each employed about 5 percent of surveyors during that period. Almost 15 percent of surveyors were self-employed.