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Celebrating Surveyors Week: Jay Johnson Reflects on Years as Surveyor

man in survey camera
March 9, 2021

In honor of the National Society of Professional Surveyor’s (NSPS) annual National Surveyors Week, March 21-27, 2021, we’d like to highlight one of Ulteig’s finest surveyors, Jay Johnson, a technical manager who works out of Ulteig’s Cedar Rapids, Iowa, office.

It’s a question we should all ask ourselves from time to time: “Why do you love what you do for work?”

At Ulteig, it’s not surprising to learn that many of our folks are truly passionate about solving complex problems for our clients. So, it was no wonder that for Jay Johnson, one of Ulteig’s technical managers, surveying is a lot like solving a puzzle. And it’s what brings him joy.

“Surveying is a lot like working on a 10,000-piece puzzle,” said Jay, “only you have to make all the pieces before you get to put it together. It requires you to understand a little bit of science (GPS and remote sensing technologies), a little bit of math (coordinate geometry and geodetic calculations are fun, right?), a whole lot of history (everything we do is in reference to the past), an understanding of how laws work (words, and what they meant when they were used, are important), a little bit of artistic interpretation (sometimes none of the previous points apply and you just have to take a swing at it), and human nature (people love talking to the people in the yellow/orange vests).”

For those who have not had the honor of meeting Jay yet, Jay is responsible for Ulteig’s survey teams in Iowa and South Dakota. His responsibilities include oversight of the daily operations, client development, staffing levels, backlog, team budgets, mentoring staff, and various other tasks.

Jay joined Ulteig back in 2000 after receiving his A.A. in Civil Engineering from Southeast Technical College. He started as a survey technician and over the years has worked his way up to leading a team of surveyors. Jay began his career with Ulteig in the firm’s Sioux Falls office, where he worked for nearly 10 years, before being asked to move to Cedar Rapids to help open a new location and build a new team. 

“When I started in Sioux Falls, we were in “The Barn” on Sycamore Ave. (local landmark). I was the 11th person in that location and I was told I was the 111th person in the company,” said Jay. “While I was in Sioux Falls, our group occupied three offices before settling in at the current location.”

While working in Sioux Falls, Jay’s primary role was to travel and work on powerline projects. He traveled for projects in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Iowa.

So how did Jay decide to become a surveyor? You could best sum it up as a “happy accident” in his words.  

“I was attending a technical school with the intent of transferring to a four-year engineering program,” said Jay, “when I found the subject and process of surveying incredibly interesting. It filled my need to be active with physical activity in the outdoors but offered the opportunity to advance beyond the field once my capability improved.”

Over the years, the profession of surveying has continued to evolve, like many other professions, with the introduction of new technology.

“New technology has greatly increased the amount of work that a single surveyor can accomplish,” said Jay. “At the same time, the level of detail that can be collected is tremendous.”

Jay points out that new surveying technology has both its good and down sides.

“We can cover far more projects throughout the year with fewer team members,” said Jay, “however, I’m concerned about our newer team members who do not get the same experience and training that surveyors a generation ago received by being a part of a two-to-three person crew.”

When Jay thinks about the future of surveying, he believes new technology will continue to increase not only the amount of data collected but the depth of data, as well. “The future of data acquisition is going to be feature rich and at the same time, very autonomous. This will require surveyors to continue to adapt and learn how to implement new technologies while maintaining appropriate oversight of the process and deliverables.”

Reflecting on his time with Ulteig, Jay shared this: “I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with many wonderful people on a variety of fulfilling projects in my nearly 21 years with Ulteig.”

At Ulteig, we want to thank Jay Johnson and all of our professional surveyors. National Surveyors Week is not only a celebration of their work and professionalism, it’s also a moment when we all should take a step back and recognize the incredible value and critical role that surveyors have played and will continue to play in the future in building our nation’s infrastructure (transportation, power, renewables, water and much more). During this week, we invite you to send a short note of thanks to Jay and all of our Ulteig surveyors. You are incredible. Thank you for you dedicated service to Ulteig and our clients.

To learn more about Ulteig’s Land Surveying services, click here.

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