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Surveying Transformed Over the Years

Interview with McGill’s Surveying Services Manager

Meet Dallas Gordon, PLS, McGill’s Surveying Services Manager. Dallas has over 27 years of experience and has been with McGill since October 2005. In honor of National Surveyor’s Week (March 17-23), Dallas took a few minutes out of his day to tell us more about what attracted him to the field and how he stays energized.

What attracted you to surveying?
Dallas:  I was attending Auburn University for a degree in Architecture and Building Science. I figured out architecture wasn’t for me. Nearing the end of my degree, I took a surveying class and loved it. The summer before graduation, I worked for a local surveyor and decided that was the path for me. It wasn’t about money. It was something I really enjoyed doing – it clicked – and I’ve been in the business since.

How has the field changed over the years? Where do you see it going in the next ten years?
Dallas: The profession has changed more in the past 27 years than it has in the past 100. When I first started, we were still pulling survey chain to complete surveys and distance metering was still relatively new. Technology has transformed the industry. GPS, drones, and photogrammetry are everywhere. Technology will continue to rapidly change the industry – point clouds models, for example, have revolutionized our field. We can quickly and safely capture what we need with this technology and bring a virtual site back to the office to extract what we need. I see this becoming more mainstream with advances in instrumentation and automated processes. I also see the use of cell phones and mobile devices transforming the mapping industry. The ability to capture survey grade measurements with mobile devices is close. Everyone will think they are a surveyor.

What do you enjoy most about working with your team?
Dallas: Creatively solving problems is what keeps me going. I often tell the story of when McGill was asked to survey an aging dam. Our team arrived on site and discovered it was 75 feet tall and frozen. Water was frozen over the entire dam and we couldn’t walk on it or below it to measure. We had to come up with a creative solution to get the project delivered. This was our first photogrammetry scanning deliverable.

Do you have a favorite project? What excited you about that project?
Dallas: We were asked to complete a high-resolution scan of the federal building courtyard and parking areas in Asheville. Our team used our drone and terrestrial photogrammetry to create a high-resolution point cloud model of the site. During the course of the project, we obtained permission to be on-site and to fly the drone around the federal building. Even with permission, two Blackhawk helicopters showed up to check out what we were doing in their airspace. That was pretty cool and very interesting to see in person.

What advice would you give to those who want to enter the profession?
Dallas:  First, try it out for a summer with a local surveyor. Second, get a degree in surveying. Many surveyors tend to be independent and enjoy being in the woods, away from the distractions and stress of daily business, but it is important to understand the professional elements of surveying and engage with professionals in other disciplines. It is also important to learn the business side of the industry. I would encourage them to find the elements of surveying they are really interested in and learn all they can about it to stay up to date with the latest trends. Embrace technology and keep learning!

How do you keep yourself energized?
Dallas: I follow a lot on social media – vendors, surveying and mapping professionals, and software developers. I read professional publications and am a member of the National Society of Professional Land Surveyors, which is a great resource. I try to keep up with the latest technology and trends in the profession and continue learning. Surveying is a great profession – it’s exciting every day.

If you had an extra hour in your day what would you do?
Dallas:  I enjoy spending time with my family and riding my bicycle. I ride anywhere from 1500 – 2000 miles a year. It keeps me sane.