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Career Spotlight: Todd Buhr, surveyor


CN: What drew you to surveying as a career option?
TB: When researching careers, my strong interest in drawing, history and geometry led me to engineering and surveying. Plus, I always enjoyed drawing, US History, the explorers and how our country became what it is.

I was accepted to a couple of choice colleges but I found the Civil Engineering Public Work Technician program in Green Bay was a more affordable path. During the two years I developed skills adequate for a civil engineering career path but my interest was truly in land surveying. Back in 1988, the methods and tools being taught and used for surveying were mostly non-electronic: hand drafting maps using ink pens and Leroy, long-hand computations, measuring with a steel tape etc. It is referred to as “old school” and a lot of these procedures have been replaced with electronic technology.
After graduating in 1990 and taking a job with a small surveying/engineering firm as a Civil-Technician, I put my tools and skills to use. At $7.50 an hour I wasn’t getting rich working measly 8 hour days, so I worked every available hour and volunteered for everything—which meant I logged many 70-hour weeks. I tested soil, concrete, asphalt. I sampled and sorted garbage (20 categories down to the crumb!) at a landfill to help set up a recycling program. I hung from steel structures checking bolt torques for compliance. I set hundreds of 1 ¼” x 30” rebars in frozen fields for subdivision property corners. I set 1000’s of wooden hubs for various road, bridge, utility and building projects. I inspected and documented WDOT road projects. None of the various tasks I performed deterred me from wanting to be a Land Surveyor. If anything they gave me a solid and diverse foundation for my career.
My current employer (Foth) is located near the Dane County Airport in Madison. Founded in 1938, the Foth Companies have a long tradition of offering personalized consulting, land surveying, engineering, manufacturing and installation solutions to government, industrial and commercial clients.
CN: What does an “average” day in the life of a surveyor look like?
TB: As the Survey Coordinator in a firm that works in land surveying, civil engineering and environmental projects, any given day can include project team or client meetings, member, equipment and project scheduling, schedule resolution, new project preparation including internal and external research, cad drafting, computations, legal description writing, project estimating, and proposals.
I’m also responsible for staffing, equipping, setting up and scheduling projects in the beginning phase. In the final phase I can either prepare the deliverable myself or perform quality checks before delivering the project to our internal (project managers or other departments) or to external clients.
CN: The best part of your job…?
TB: The historical research and interpretation. Sifting through title reports and old surveys is always interesting. For example, reading old 1940’s subdivision restrictions on land within city limits stating “no slaughtering of chickens is allowed on weekends” makes you think…why? Also, finding property monuments that nobody else has found or used in many years is a thrill. There is a little Indiana Jones in all surveyors. You just never know what you’ll find.
CN: What part of your job do you enjoy the least?
TB: To be honest, mosquitoes. I’m not a fan. But other than that, as a kid growing up in rural America, I took for granted that America’s rural landscape would always look that way. The last 25 years brought about a lot of housing developments at the cost of family farms. As part of a surveying firm, we helped develop countless acres of farmland. I have always had mixed feelings about it.
CN: Any words of wisdom to share? 
TB: Wear comfortable shoes and dry socks. Other than that, align with a firm that matches your career goals, you’ll achieve them faster.


Originally published September, 2009

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