Celebrating National Surveyors Week: An Interview with Senior Director Justin Cecil

Three construction workers in yellow safety vests and white helmets walk through a field holding surveying equipment over their shoulders. As part of National Surveyors Week, Justin Cecil interviews them with houses and trees visible in the background under a clear blue sky.

In honor of National Surveyors Week, we connected with Senior Director and surveyor Justin Cecil to ask about his career and where he thinks the future of surveying is headed.

How did you become interested in surveying, and what motivated you to pursue it as a career?

My journey into the surveying career was a bit of a winding road. In college, I majored in construction engineering, and surveying was a part of that program. The surveying classes were some of my favorite, we got to map parts of campus, but the coursework was primarily focused on route surveying and topographic surveying.

After college I went to work for Pulte Homes working on the construction side of things. Atwell was a consultant to Pulte, so I got to work with a lot of the engineers and surveyors. That’s where I go to know and work with Matt Bissett (current President at Atwell). I started thinking about wanting a career change, so I met up with Matt and he helped me get into the survey group with Atwell.

After some time working in the field and learning about all the things surveyors do, I decided to go back to school to take some additional survey classes at a local community college so I could learn more about the boundary and law portions of surveying. I really love the variety of work and the history of how it helped develop the country. I’ve been with Atwell for 19 years now and I couldn’t think of anything else I would want to do. It’s a valuable and rewarding position to be in.

Are there any particular areas or types of surveying that you find especially challenging, and how do you overcome those challenges?

Right now, I feel like the biggest challenge is hiring surveyors and growing your team. I don’t think many people know enough about surveying and what a great and important profession it is. Very few places offer a degree specifically in surveying, and there aren’t many opportunities for people to get trained and really learn the profession. I feel it’s on surveyors now to promote and get the word out to help teach the next generation what a survey career really entails.

How do you collaborate with other professionals, such as engineers or architects, to ensure seamless integration of surveying data into larger projects?

We’re involved from the beginning to the end of the project. It’s important for us to set up an initial meeting with the developers, engineers and architects to help build the scope of the project and to understand what it is they are intending to do with the survey. Before engineering anything, we have to map it out and determine property limits and if there are any easements that could potentially cause issues with where they want to build. Once we do the initial survey, they can then begin their project. Once the design is completed, the surveyors work on the platting and any easements required, perform stake-out of the proposed improvements, and at the end of each project, we to go back and do a final survey to make sure everything was constructed per plan and to provide an as-built for project financing.

How has technology, such as GIS (Geographic Information System) or drones, influenced the way you approach surveying projects?

Technology really influences the way we approach projects. GIS is an incredible resource for surveyors. It makes research a lot easier as it shows you parcel information, areal imagery and sometimes contours of the land, need versus having to do a site visit or go the local courthouse to pull a deed or tax map. It’s still important to visit the site to get a feel for what you’re working with, but GIS really helps frame out the property lines and show what type of terrain we’re working with. It’s also helpful in supplying legal descriptions of the property so we know how to handle any of those issues accordingly.

Drones, terrestrial scanning and UAVs also benefit our projects and make our field work more accurate and efficient. We can utilize them to map out certain parts of the project that are more difficult to map conventionally. We’re working on creating a virtual Crew Chief position who can go out with a drone and collect data and be able to analyze it later on.

In what ways do you see the field of surveying evolving in the future, and how do you plan to adapt to these changes?

Scanning and drone technology are definitely the future of mapping. It’s up to us to be able to embrace those tools and use them to make our projects more efficient and to create a more accurate product. It’s still going to be important for us to be able to interpret the data that these technologies provide, so it’s not like these technologies are going to completely replace conventional surveying; there’s still going to be a need for surveyors to accurately measure and interpret the data.

An interesting thing about surveying is that you have to have the ability to read cursive writing, because many of the old records that were taken in the 1700s and 1800s are written in cursive. We’re still relying on those records for some projects, so even though technology has greatly advanced since then, surveyors are still needed to interpret what has been recorded.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in surveying or just starting out in the field?

I think the best thing you can do is go out in the field and get experience. Work with a survey crew and learn as much as possible to really gain a solid foundation. The most successful surveyors are the ones who have spent time doing it and put in the work. It gives you a chance to see all aspects and learn about the variety of projects you get to work with. Be curious, ask questions, and absorb as much as you can.