Surveyors Week Spotlight: Jim Sullivan, PSM

What advice would you give kids who want to pursue a career in the surveying industry when they grow up?

Get involved! Get involved with local associations by networking with geomatics/geospatial or engineering professionals. Get involved with clubs, groups, or schools by volunteering in STEM-related activities. Get involved with the profession by interning. Learn as many aspects of a project as possible.

Surveying is a mix of field and office tasks. It’s essential to grasp the balance between these two aspects. To become a great Project Manager, one must know what is involved in each position, whether it be field or office. Beginning your career in the field, however long it may be, creates a foundation for your understanding of a project. Once that foundation is established, the development in the office with data interpretation, boundary, computer-aided design (CAD), and other relevant software happens more quickly.

Lastly, stay updated on emerging technologies and continue to learn at home or beyond work hours.

How do you think technology will further change surveying in the future?

The future of surveying is closely intertwined with technological advancements. Just spend some time with an “old timer,” and he or she will tell you how good you have it these days. I’ve seen great advancements in robotics, GPS, and lidar in my short career. I’m excited to see more use of BIM or CIM with the increase in point clouds. It seems like AI and digital twins are the latest buzzwords, and they’re definitely making their mark.

I see the range and speed of communication drastically taking our equipment to new levels and ultimately changing our procedures of today. I also see the deliverables of our products being a hybrid of what it once was. Software platforms could merge and allow for a more geographical representation and easily access large datasets, whether it be from a recent collection or from legacy data, all from a format that is universally user-friendly and accepted.

How do you foster a positive and collaborative team environment within the surveying department?

As an Army guy, I strongly believe in the chain of command. While there is a place for it in the workplace in terms of leadership and mentoring, the “do as you’re told” management style doesn’t build a team. I believe in open communication, empowering people to grow in the areas they want to as fast as they want to, cross-training in areas until you find your passion is singular, and most of all, leading by example. I’ll be next to you in the field, across from you during training, and working late to meet a deadline.

Creating a desirable place to spend your workdays is as important as creating how-to manuals or scheduling next week’s projects. Building a team starts with collaboration. A team that learns from each other grows with each other. This can be done in the workplace or after hours at an event with your coworkers. Offering perks like Fridays off allows for a perfect blend of work/life balance that leads to a positive and healthy work environment.

What is the most unique BGE project you have been a part of?

Unique at the time for me at least, I worked on the beginning of the North Fort Bend Water Authority (NFBWA) design and construction of infrastructure necessary to serve surface water across the Houston region by transporting surface water many miles to combat subsidence from the overuse of our groundwater supplies.

This project required what seemed like thousands of easements and miles of route surveys. The uniqueness came during BGE’s implementation of GIS due to the project’s size. I entered the survey data within the GIS database and used it to review and manage the consultant’s work as the owner’s rep.

If you could travel back in time to witness any historical surveying project, which one would it be?

Walden Pond. As a writer, Hendy David Thoreau created a story of how he surveyed Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. He captured the beauty of moving to a secluded piece of picturesque land flourishing with nature only to spend each day discovering every contour and environmental characteristic.