Mapping a Career in Surveying

Mark Duffner's Surveying Story

"I did not originally intend to get into surveying as a career. It’s more like I wandered into surveying and ended up staying. After I left the military at 24 years old, I had other aspirations. However, I needed to work, and my father encouraged me to get on the out-of-work list at the union hall as a journeyman chainman. I was woefully underqualified, but with a few basic pointers from my father, I went off to my first chainman job. Going in with a few basic talents and some useful training in the fundamentals of math and science in my repertoire, I managed to muddle my way through my first survey gig. After that first season, I was deemed an acceptable chainman and got invited back to work some more. However, at this point, working as a chainman was just a stop-gap gig while I went back to college.

While bouncing between college, motorcycle touring Europe for a summer, and working miscellaneous jobs, I took the LSIT (LSI) exam on a whim and somehow ended up passing. In the meantime, the college thing wasn’t working out too well, and I was working more steadily as a surveyor. By the time I was hired on with the California Transportation Department, I was committed to the profession. In 1994, I tested for and was issued my California PLS license.

In 1998 I left Caltrans, and my wife and I moved to Idaho. It was with this move that I truly came into my own as a land surveyor. Many years later, I am a multi-state licensee and I have had the privilege of working on many different types of surveying projects.

Right now, I’d like to share a little secret. I am a three-time college dropout, and I take a twisted pride in this. I have acquired professional status, by diverse means, via self-education, in classrooms, and the field. The land surveying profession is especially unique in the capacity it offers to develop qualified professionals without the need for a formal education and a college degree. I am not a fan of states requiring a bachelor’s degree to qualify for licensure, but thankfully I was fortunate enough to have gotten my original license before a few states enacted such formal education requirements.

Land surveying is such a diverse profession in the variety of skill sets it uses and in the variety of other professions it intersects. I am a generalist and a jack-of-all-trades by nature, and these qualities have served me well over the years, particularly as a land surveyor. I enjoy the variety and diversity of knowledge which I am called on to use. With this comes the privilege of interacting with assorted professionals in other fields and disciplines including engineers, lawyers, land use planners, architects, contractors, and builders. This is the beauty of working for a multidisciplinary company like Barghausen, I get to learn many new aspects from my cohorts.

I highly recommend this profession to anyone with a high degree of curiosity and a willingness to learn, along with having a variegated education background that includes math, science, and written communication. It is important to be willing to go outside and get your hands dirty. A tolerance for bugs and unfavorable weather is also helpful even if you plan to get to a place, like I have, where those become a non-issue.

As for the college degree thing, that can be useful, but not necessarily essential depending on what state you want to become licensed in. Also, it is important to point out that getting licensed is not essential to having a satisfying career in this profession. I mentioned my father earlier. When he retired, he was a crew chief, and his last gig was as the onsite project surveyor for a massive sewage treatment facility construction project in the Bay Area. While having several certifications, he never became a licensed land surveyor. However, he enjoyed a high degree of respect from his peers, employers, and clients. I know many other surveyors who have the same status, and for whom I have a lot of respect.

If anybody would like to talk about surveying, please feel free to contact me."

Mark Duffner

Professional Land Surveyor