It’s a Different World

With almost seven acres of exhibit space occupied by over 500 vendors and 16,000 plus attendees over three days (with about half of them surveyors), Intergeo is by far the world’s largest conference and trade show related to the profession of surveying.  It’s so important, in fact, that most companies use it as a venue to introduce their new products to the surveying and mapping markets. On top of the number of vendors and attendees, the sheer size of some of the exhibits can be shocking when you attend for the first time, as I did from October 5th to 7th, in Cologne, Germany.  Topcon’s display area, for example, looked to me to be about the size of the entire exhibit space at a fair-sized (New Jersey, for example) state surveyors conference.

One of the other differences that stand out when comparing Intergeo to conferences and trade shows in the United States is its interdisciplinary nature.  Similar events here are organized by professions, with surveyors, GIS professionals, and aerial mappers for the most part meeting separately.  Apparently, around the rest of the globe these groups can meet together, network, and address common issues without the world coming to an end. The integrated application of various geospatial technologies to reach a final goal is emphasized more than the strict lines of demarcation between the professions.

It was against this backdrop earlier this month that we received a letter to the editor that I felt was too much of a personal attack on the author to publish; I was, however, intrigued when the letter writer stated, “…we can’t have people making others believe that the new generation of surveyors are nerds on a computer.” Pejorative aside, it started me thinking about the tools on exhibit at Intergeo that are being developed for surveyors to perform measurements and our relationship to the knowledge of the use of those tools.

The term “button pusher” gets thrown around a lot these days, many times rightfully so.  It’s often used to describe someone who doesn’t understand the basic math behind the measurements he or she is making in the field. But it could just as easily be used to describe someone who doesn’t have a firm grasp of the technology behind the equipment that is making the measurements.  When surveyors in the past measured with chains or steel tapes, they had to apply the corrections themselves for sag, temperature, and tension. Many surveyors today accept the measurements provided by their GNSS equipment with no concept of the corrections and adjustments being made to the satellite data. 

So it’s not a matter of worrying whether people believe that the next generation of surveyors are “nerds on a computer,” which, while not my favorite choice of words, is not a bad definition for someone who measures using satellites. The more important question is whether current surveyors in the United States can come to terms with what the next iteration of the surveying profession will look like.  As long as some of us continue to fight any evolution of the profession, it’s going to put our entire geospatial community at a competitive disadvantage worldwide.

About the Author

  • James Fleming, LS
    James Fleming, LS
    James Fleming, LS, owns Antietam Land Surveying in Hagerstown, Maryland.

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