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Topcon Experienced Canadian Surveyor

Here at GoGeomatics Canada we had the opportunity to talk with Mike Strutt about surveying and his career. Mike is one of the most experienced surveyors in Canada . If you’re thinking about getting into surveying or just more about what a surveyor does this is a must read.

GoGeomatics:  To get us started can you tell us about your current position, who you work for, and what you do?

Mike Strutt: I work for Topcon Positioning Systems, Inc. I wear a couple of hats at Topcon, managing the training and support of our GNSS Reference Network Products as well as administering several Real Time GPS Reference Networks across North America

GoGeomatics: Mike, how did you get started as a surveyor? Where did you go to school?

Mike Strutt: Well, like many surveyors, I got into surveying by accident – in my case, the welding class was full. After high school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in life, but figured a night school course wouldn’t hurt. After learning that my first few choices were full, I signed up for the “Plane Surveying” class. I liked the challenge, learned of a job opening and was soon making my living as a survey crewman. The following school year I registered at Algonquin College in their 3 year, Survey Technologist program.

GoGeomatics: What do you enjoy the most about being a surveyor? What do you enjoy the least?

Mike Strutt: I’ve been out of the field for many years now, but as a Field Officer for the Geodetic Survey of Canada (Natural Resources, Canada), I thought I had the best job in the world. I got paid to travel around the country conducting ‘geodetic control’ surveys. Of course by the late 70’s the places where such surveys were required were usually in the far north. Seems my personality fit very well the description of land measurers described by Andro Linklater in his book “Measuring America” when he wrote ”a contradiction exhibited by so many land measurers that it is almost a defining characteristic – a passion for both exact definition and for untamed wilderness.” So I suppose that what I enjoyed most, was both the challenge of the survey and the remoteness of the projects.

And what did I like least? I think anybody that has spent any time on a field crew using conventional, optical instruments would agree that cutting line, or in Canada, digging line in the winter, sucks.

GoGeomatics: Can you describe what an average day for you might be like?

Mike Strutt: My majority of my days are now spent at a desk, logged onto a computer (or 2) and monitoring Real Time GPS Network operations across North America, supporting other network administrators and assisting in the expansion of new RTN’s (Real Time Networks).

GoGeomatics: Typically what instrumentation are you using for your work?

Mike Strutt: I still get the occasional chance to conduct field work, and I still love it. I use a couple of different GNSS (GPS and GLONASS) ‘rovers’. Both the GR3 and GRS-1 (Topcon) use internal modems and I have a wireless data plan that allows me to connect to the real time GPS network we are in the process of bringing online in Ontario. Right now we are going through the final stages of the release process for our latest version of Real Time GNSS Reference Network Management software “TopNET” and I am tasked with conducting field tests to evaluate performance.

GoGeomatics: GoGeomatics knows that you do a lot of training for surveying. Is there a particular area of what you teach that is poorly understood?

Mike Strutt: Good question. Before coming to Topcon almost 6 years ago, I spent 11 years teaching people to use GPS for surveying and mapping. I would have thought that by now, given the maturity and acceptance of the technology, that field technicians would understand the challenges and be proficient in the use of space based positioning. But while the technology has advanced and software enhancements have made GPS easier to use than ever, it’s still very easy to misuse. I think the 2 main areas I see today that still challenge users are datums/coordinate systems and RTK fundamentals. Both the concept of ‘what am I measuring’ and how do I represent it need to be better understood by the practitioners of real time kinematic GPS(GNSS) surveying.

GoGeomatics: Is there a particular project that you are proud of that you worked on? Something that tested and challenged your skills?

Mike Strutt: During my field days, all the projects I worked on for the Geodetic Survey of Canada required skill, persistence and common sense but the one that required the most diverse set of skills was, as far as I am aware, the last true ‘traversing party’ fielded by The Geodetic Survey of Canada. In the summer of 1983 we were tasked with establishing vertical control in support of mapping operations in Northern British Columbia. Pre GPS by a few years, we carried elevations over the Coast mountains from BC across the Alaskan panhandle to sea level by measuring vertical angles and distances and computing the changes in elevation from station to station using trigonometry. We flew from station to station in a Hughes 500D helicopter and over the course of 5 months we employed both traditional surveys (traversing and leveling) as well as the current ‘space based’ positioning technology of the day, Doppler (predecessor to GPS). The work was challenging and the scenery breath-taking. Our results were outstanding and it stands a project/field season I will never forget.

GoGeomatics: What skills are you using the most as a surveyor?

Mike Strutt: Mathematics. When I first started surveying, they said there’d be ‘no math. ’ They lied.  The other two skills, or perhaps they aren’t so much skills as traits or characteristics, are common sense and persistence. Technology is great, it’s not perfect. Too often I have run into users that run into a problem, the GPS receiver doesn’t work, or perform as expected, and they pick up the phone looking for “support”. Maybe that’s just a reflection of our ‘wired’ world and reliance on instant communications. Or maybe I’m just getting old and grumpy.

GoGeomatics: For those thinking about becoming surveyors or transitioning into surveying from another career what basic skills do they need to bring to the discipline?

Mike Strutt:While I think that this holds true for any discipline, an unending thirst for knowledge and an open mind will serve them well. Positioning technology is constantly evolving. It’s tough to stay current. After more than 35 years in the industry, the one thing I know for certain is, I still have a lot to learn.

GoGeomatics: If you had any advice for someone thinking about getting into surveying what would it be?

Mike Strutt:Start now.

Mike Strutt

Manager, Training & Support – Network/Infrastructure Products
Administrator, TopNEXT GNSS Reference Networks
Topcon Positioning Systems, Inc.

Mike began his survey career in 1974 and managed his first GPS project in 1987 while a field officer with the Geodetic Survey of Canada. Prior to joining Topcon where he now manages RTN Services, Support & Training, Mike spent in excess of 11 years and 10,000 hours delivering instruction on the use of GPS for surveying and mapping.

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