“Your design is only going to be as good as the survey that it’s drawn on”. That’s how today’s guest emphasizes the importance of land surveying for civil engineering projects.
Cory George is both a licensed Professional Engineer in NC and SC and a licensed Professional Land Surveyor in NC, SC, TN, FL, and DC. After “falling into the field” while still a major in college doing research for the engineering department, he has now started his own surveying and engineering business called Pilot Surveying and Engineering.
Cory and Isaac discuss various aspects of the surveying profession, as well as how surveyors and civil engineers need to closely work together. Tune in to find out how civil engineers can become surveyors, the current tremendous need for surveyors, the differences between colonial states and public lands when it comes to surveying, as well as how Cory started his business from the ground up—and how you can get started too.
School of PE – http://www.civilengineeringacademy.com/sope
Cory George (LinkedIn) – https://www.linkedin.com/in/cory-george-pe-pls-ba4aaa21
Cory George (Email) – [email protected]
Pilot Surveying and Engineering – http://www.pilotse.com
North Carolina State University – https://www.ncsu.edu
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University – https://www.ncat.edu
Carlson BRx7 – https://www.carlsonsw.com/product/brx7-gnss-receiver
Brown's Boundary Control and Legal Principles, by Walter G. Robillard and Donald A. Wilson – Click here
The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course – https://civilpereviewcourse.com
The Ultimate Civil FE Review Course – https://civilfereviewcourse.com
CEA Youtube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPeFLBZ2gk0uO5M9uE2zj0Q
CEA Free Facebook Community – https://ceacommunity.com
CEA FE and PE Practice Exams – https://civilengineeringacademy.com/exams
CEA Newsletter – https://civilengineeringacademy.com/join-our-newsletter
CEA Website – https://civilengineeringacademy.com
Reach out to Isaac – [email protected]
Transcript of Show
You can download our show notes summary here or get our transcript of the show below!
Isaac Oakeson: All right. Welcome to the Civil Engineering Academy podcast. I got Cory on today. How's it going, Cory?
Cory George: Pretty good! How are you doing?
Isaac Oakeson: Hey, I'm doing well. It was fun to connect with you. I know you do a lot of surveying work, and I thought it'd be fun to have you on the show. Maybe we can talk about a little bit of how civil engineers and surveyors work together, but also you've got some interesting credentials I wanted to talk about too. So anyway, thanks for being on the show.
Cory George: Yeah. I'm happy to be here.
Isaac Oakeson: Great deal. Before we jump into things, I thought it'd be fun for us to, I guess, get a little bit more about your own background. You are an engineer and you do surveying. So how did you get into both of those worlds?
Cory George: I suppose most surveyors will say that they fell into it, and probably I'm no exception. Attending engineering school, I went to NC State University, and while I was in college, I began to work for my engineering department doing research throughout the summer. And most of that research consisted of land surveying, and doing monitoring projects of construction, and this and that. And so after college, when I went to work for a small firm up in the mountains, the guy that I went to work for knew that I had done some surveying work in the past and asked me if I'd be willing to go back to school and get my license and kind of head up his surveying shop. And this was a small firm. There was only about maybe four of us full-time. And so I went back to school part-time at night, got a four-year degree in geomatics from NC A&T University online, and obtained my licensure. Very similar to how you get your PE licensure: getting work experience and passing the exams.
Isaac Oakeson: How difficult was the PLS license exam? How hard was that one?
Cory George: So the PLS exam was actually pretty hard. And it's hard because being from North Carolina -- We're traditionally what's called a colonial state, so the original 13 colonies plus Texas. Those are what we call metes and bounds states. And so the rest of the country is public lands, and the public lands are surveyed a little bit differently than meets and bounds or colonial states. And so the surveying exam, the fundamentals exam for example, is still eight hours, but it consists of public lands and it's a national exam, very much like the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. So it's a national exam. So, you know, locally in North Carolina, we know our rules and regulations, and meets and bounds, and this and that, but you also have to have a broad understanding of how the rest of the country surveys.
Cory George: And so in the professional exam, it's broken out a little bit differently, but there's still a national portion, which is the majority of the exam. And so you have to know a lot about the rest of the country in addition to your independent state. So the PLS exam I thought was actually pretty challenging. You know, it's not the same as engineering where, you know, once you pass the fundamentals exam and the professional exam, you can pretty much get reciprocity in surrounding jurisdictions, right? At least from -- Not structural, right? But you know, site civil, which is what I do. It's pretty easy to get licensed in other states once you meet the base criteria. But land surveying is not the case. Matter of fact, you have to take an individual state specific exam in every state that you want to get licensed in.
Isaac Oakeson: Wow! Well, that can be a challenge. I don't know the requirements for that, but if there are civil engineers that want to get that license, because maybe they're headed in that arena for whatever reason, is that something that translates well? Do you have to have a degree like you got to get into the program? I'm unfamiliar with the qualifications to take that exam. But if an engineer wanted to do that, what would be the steps for them to do that?
Cory George: And this is actually pretty common. So each state has their own kind of individual license requirements. It's not necessarily as broad as engineering. So in North Carolina, for example, you can have no formal degree, but you have to have, you know, maybe like 16 years or more of work experience to be able to even qualify for the exam. If you have a two-year technical degree, I think it's like eight or 10 years or something that you have to work before you qualify for the exam. So the four-year degree allows you to have less work experience to qualify for the exams. So you know, several universities are offered online. Obviously being an A&T geomatics graduate and a member of the advisory board at NC A&T, I would recommend anybody to check it out if you're thinking about getting licensed as a surveyor.
Cory George: But as engineers, civils specifically, it really does translate pretty well to surveying. And they likely had to have a surveying type class in college, so you could kind of understand the basics of it. There's obviously a lot more that goes into it than the one-semester class that you had. But I certainly recommend it because it allows you to have a very good understanding of how the data that you design on is collected, and you know the limitations of that data. And then when it gets translated into construction stake out, you have a good understanding of, you know, how things are really built and how things are really staked out, and it allows you to design better.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. Well, I think that's a great combination to have. I know engineers and surveyors work very closely with each other typically on projects. I think it's cool that you've got both of those licenses so that you can see things from kind of both ends of things. Tell me a little bit more -- So now you're running your own business, correct?
Cory George: That's right.
Isaac Oakeson: So how did you start running your own business? What get you started doing that?
Cory George: Well, I'm sure everybody licensed kind of always has that pipe dream of "One day I'll do my own shop". And so my wife and I had kind of kicked the idea around for years. And we just got to the point where we worked ourselves in a good position financially. We have three small children, but we were able to -- You know, there's only two things you can do, right? You can cut expenses or raise revenue. And so while you're not directly in charge of necessarily raising revenue when you work for somebody else, you can significantly cut your expenses if you're willing to do that. So we got ourselves in a good position financially in order to start this business. And we just got to the point one day where we had invested, we went ahead and started purchasing surveying equipment out of our savings account. And it got to the point where we had so much money invested, it was "Okay. It's now or never".
Isaac Oakeson: And you pulled the trigger. So I know there's a lot of -- Yeah, a lot of engineers have this pipe dream of starting their own firm, getting their own gig going. I imagine you've got a lot of advice about that, but did you have a little bit of a runway then if you've been able to save for this or was it just kind of "We've accumulated so much equipment, we're just going to go for this thing"? Did you have enough kind of saved up that you could run it out for a little bit and see what happens? Like, I know that takes a lot of guts, but you know, how was your mindset there?
Cory George: It was very good. It was god gutsy for us. We're a single income---my wife stays at home with our kids right now. So it was definitely a gutsy move. But we had planned for a while. And we had strategized and minimized as much risk as possible. Obviously there's some risks you can't minimize, but I feel like if you do it the right way, specially in land surveying, there seems to be such a great shortage of land surveying right now. And so we started our business debt-free, which has been a huge blessing to us really. It's allowed us to be pretty mobile, and we've hired some employees here now that, you know, weren't in this industry before. And so now we're training them up to be field guys, and about one starting college in the fall because he thinks he wants to get his land surveying license.
Isaac Oakeson: That's fantastic! Wow, man. Now that you've started your own business, I'm curious, like, what's been your favorite project? Has there been a favorite project, either in the past or even with your own business that you've worked on?
Cory George: The business is fairly young? I haven't even actually been doing this full-time for a year yet. So we're still learning a lot. We started this -- Well, we started to go live right when the pandemic started shutting everything down, and so we kind of put the brakes on it for a minute, just trying to see how all the chips fell. When it was obvious the world wasn't actually going to end, we decided to take control of it. And so -- You know, as far as a favorite project goes, I've done some cool boundaries. We've done some really cool surveys up in the mountains of North Carolina, some really, really old, you know, some land that hasn't been surveyed in 150 years. And to go out in the woods and just, you know, beautiful green deciduous forest of the east coast, you can see some pretty views. And I tell my guys that we're going on a treasure hunt every day because if we find the missing corner, we're going to get paid, so --
Isaac Oakeson: Enjoy it.
Cory George: That's right.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. Corey, you also touched upon this a little bit as well, but is the biggest challenge that you're seeing in this industry of surveying just the huge need for more surveyors? Or what are some challenges you see in the industry you're in?
Cory George: I would say, especially locally in North Carolina, we have some -- Well, I'm sure the real estate market's crazy everywhere, but in Raleigh, Charlotte, and North Carolina really, I mean as a whole, there's seems to be a tremendous shortage of land surveyors. And most of the guys I know around here -- You know, most of the surveyors are either getting towards that retirement age, they're in their late fifties, early sixties, and getting to a point where they don't really want to do it anymore, and the guys that are out doing it full-time are booked up. I mean, six, 10 weeks, 12 weeks before they can even touch anything. And so, I mean, even when we started our business here, you know, we just kind of made the assumption that, "Okay. Well, it's going to take us a couple of weeks. It's going to take us a month or two to generate some business". And, you know, we were prepared for that. But it was the craziest thing. We put our business up on Google maps and we said we were open and we were, I mean, 40 hours a week, full-time the day after, and have not stopped since.
Isaac Oakeson: That's amazing. So definitely a need out there. I've noticed just perusing your website that you offer a lot of other services too---I think even outside of serving. Was there a strategy behind that, offering more services, or do you find that, you know, like, niching down and saying "We're basically specialists in surveying" is the better route to go? Like, I noticed you offer a lot of different things. What was the mindset with that?
Cory George: Well, I think the mindset behind it was for site design and for developers. We do a lot of residential boundary surveying, but we also do some site design. We've done some domestic water and utility work for a local hospital here. We're doing some larger subdivision [inaudible] here. You know, we're not talking about taking out a thousand lots here. And doing some site design, some grading, you know, some ADA stuff. Just some straight site civil. And we offer a lot of civil engineering and land surveying different -- You know, different types of services associated with that. And really that's just out of my previous experience and what I feel like I'm competent at and what I'm good at.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. So how important is surveying in our world?
Cory George: I tell people all the time, even civil engineers---I used to have some EIS that worked for me at a previous employer---and that your design is only going to be as good as the survey that it's drawn on. So your boundary lines are critical. You have boundary setbacks, landscape buffers. You know, you have your typographic survey. So there's contours and stuff that we're laying our grades on when they go to stake out. You know, especially in ADA routes, right? Where, you know, we're dictated by a certain slope from the ADA code, and if your survey is wrong, or if there was a bust in something, and then you go out there and your design is super, super tight because -- You know, let's be real here. All the good sites are taken, so all the designs are super tight and when you go out there to stake it out, and if there was a bust in something, all of a sudden your ADA route might not work. And that could be catastrophic because you may have to raise or lower your finished floor elevation that you're building, which is going to impact all of your site grading. So I personally believe the surveying part is the base foundation. And without a good one, the rest of it doesn't matter.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I agree. I guess it goes with -- What's that quote? Like, "junk in, junk out" or -- Forgot the saying. But you know what I mean. Like, if you don't have good data at the beginning, your design at the end is just going to be junk. So make sure you got good data. I work in the transmission engineering world, and surveying is critical to that where we're doing construction staking. And oftentimes I'm noticing, and through years of experience, that what you see typically on a computer screen, doesn't quite line up typically with a steak that actually gets put in the field. And you often need to go see where that steak is to see what issues you got, whether there's something in the way, you've hit something, you need to move something. Like, all that stuff becomes very critical. So surveyors and engineers definitely work closely with each other. Have you ever had a bad experience working with any engineers?
Cory George: Well, most land surveyors will tell you when they've done any work with any civil engineer, general contractor, or any involvement in construction whatsoever, and anything goes wrong, which it always does---there's always something that happens in construction that comes up and it's gotta be fixed---the surveyor will tell you they are the first person blamed for everything. So, you know, if I had a nickel for every time some contractor told me they graded to the steaks, I'll be rich sitting on an island somewhere. So, double check, triple check your control. I mean, unfortunately we're in a CYA atmosphere -- I'm sure you can figure that acronym out.
Isaac Oakeson: All right. Well, that's good to know. You know, in my own work practices that I've seen, yeah. Sometimes they say something was missed, or they didn't catch it, or you know, all of these things kind of come up. But you know, and I'm sure the surveyors are like "No. We did our work".
Cory George: Well, and sometimes some things happen, right? Some surveyor may not know exactly, or they may not be necessarily educated on what the design is for. So some engineer may have just drawn an outline and said, "Hey, I need a topo survey of this". And surveyor says, "Okay. Well, whatever. That's fine". What the engineer needs to start communicating is what we're going to be designing, what the intent is here. If, you know, let's say that we're we're connecting into existing storm sewer, for example, and the surveyor may not go off site and collect the next structure down or upstream. So then we don't know the existing slopes of the storm sewer, and so we may not be able to accurately model the existing storm sewer. But if we just told the surveyor to go out there and just, you know, topo the rectangle, technically he did what he was supposed to do. The engineer should have communicated, "Hey, we need to do a very detailed stormwater analysis here". You know, be sure and keep an eye out for anything that looks out of the ordinary, or give us some good cross sections of the stream or ditch or whatever it is. And, you know, be real tight on the [inaudible] and stuff and pipe sizes, because that kind of stuff really matters in detailed storm drainage analysis, for example.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I'm interested in knowing what it's, like, the top three tools you're using right now?
Cory George: Top three tools for surveying or engineering?
Isaac Oakeson: For surveying.
Cory George: Number one is my brand new, off the shelf, Carlson BRx7 GPS Receivers. I think these were just released in late 2020, and they are, I mean, the cutting edge GPS receivers. It allows us to get shots in canopy cover that we never thought possible before with GPS. And so that's making us a lot faster and, you know, time is money in this industry.
Isaac Oakeson: Awesome. Any other pieces of equipment?
Cory George: The other pieces of equipment. Outside of that, you need a good metal detector and a shovel, unfortunately. Or a good [inaudible]. Because, you know, some of these corners that we're hunting, they might be sticking up six or way down inches out of the ground, but nobody may have flagged them up in the past 50 years. So, you know, when you're wandering around out in the woods and on a hundred-acre tract, I mean, literally you're hunting a needle in a haystack.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I don't know how you guys find that stuff sometimes.
Cory George: Some of the records are pretty vague. We still see a lot deeds and chains, and, you know, polls, column for tree corners and things. And so, you know. The oak stomp that was called for from the deed in 1890. You know, that's obviously. That's long gone.
Isaac Oakeson: We use a lot of LIDAR in our industry. Are you using any of that? Have you seen the want for that growing? What's your thoughts on LIDAR, and where surveying is kind of headed?
Cory George: So LIDAR specifically, where my business is at, there's not a large demand for LIDAR. I still use it as an engineer, and North Carolina has really good publicly available LIDAR data. And so we use that to supplement topographic surveys that we do in site design to make sure we have accurate drainage areas and stuff like this. You know, draining through our sites. I know that in the larger municipality areas, LIDAR consumption is a lot higher because they're able to pick up -- And there's some point of diminishing returns that has to be identified with the LIDAR as it relates to UAVs, simply because of the data processing on the backend. And the UAVs are flying so low, you know, relative to like an airplane, for example.
Cory George: So the UAVs are flying low, so they're having to take more passes, more photos, they collect so much more information. And then to process all that information, it takes somebody who really knows what they're doing, and you have to have really specialized hardware to do that. And so, you know, there's gotta be some, you know, acreage where LIDAR surveys are very cost beneficial on size. And then, you know, perhaps if you're trying to move towards LIDAR in general, you know, there's still some point where an airplane is still probably going to be better because of the higher altitude. It takes, you know, less pictures, you get the same amount of data, but in less time and then there's less processing because there's a little bit less data.
Isaac Oakeson: Makes sense. In transmission world, we use LIDAR a lot because they'll fly these transmission corridors with the LIDAR, and we'll get all that data to analyze all these transmission conductors on these things. So we can analyze that and see, you know, if things were built the way they were supposed to, or if the wires are sagging and making sure we're meeting clearances. So LIDAR is used quite heavily in that arena. So
Cory George: We used LIDAR a lot at my former employer. We did a lot of utilities, substation type work, and so expansions of existing substation stuff. Obviously from your perspective, the lines coming in are what you care about. But on site design, we care about where the equipments are, what distances, how close are we going to be to that equipment. And so terrestrial based scanning, which would be a type of LIDAR, instead of aerial based scanning is what we used in order to do work inside the substation. Because then we don't have to go inside the fence of an energized substation.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. That makes sense. Yeah. I mean, LIDAR is pretty sweet stuff, and I know that's a lot of data, a lot of processing, but it's kind of fun to hear your perspective on that.
Cory George: You've got to be careful with grass because LIDAR is going to bounce off anything, right? So if you've got a four-inch stand of the grass, your ground surface is going to be all four inches.
Isaac Oakeson: Not good, not good. Well, this has been fun for me. It's been fun to hear your experience, fun to hear about how you started your business, fun to hear about surveying. Is there a resource that other people might dive into that you could recommend? Anything on your mind that people could learn a little bit more about surveying or really anything.
Cory George: There's Brown's Boundary Law book for survey, and that's the first book that comes to mind. Because it gives you a lot of insight on riparian rights. It gives you a lot of insight on, you know, adverse possession---and people are always curious about adverse possession. It gives you a lot of reconstruction rules. And so if we find conflicting elements, if we had to go out there and we find two corners, or we find no corners, or we find, you know, old fence lines or something, you kind of get an understanding of the procedure we go through to resolve, you know, kind of conflicting boundary elements.
Isaac Oakeson: What's that one called?
Cory George: Browns Boundary Law, I believe. I can shoot you a link. I think that's the name of it.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I just have another question that just coming to mind. But I know a lot of people, you know, they buy a new house, find out that some neighbor's fence is on their property.
Cory George: This happens every day.
Isaac Oakeson: They call you guys up, probably?
Cory George: Yes.
Isaac Oakeson: And then what do you do? What happens?
Cory George: One, why not get your land surveyed when you put your fence up? I mean, literally, I had two neighbors couldn't even speak to each other because one neighbor had put his driveway over the line, but didn't get his land surveyed. And he spent, I think he said like $10,000 on some concrete driveway. And when they called me out there to come stake the line, and I just was like, "Look, I'm just the messenger here". And I showed him in the deeds, right? "Here's this distance, right? Here's this distance". So fences being over. We get calls about, you know -- That's my number one question when somebody calls me about a survey. It's "Hey, I don't need my lines. I just need one line located". I was like, "Okay". Well, it's hard for me to locate one line because you know, I go out there there's two pieces of rebar, whatever it is, who's to say that those are in the right spot?
Cory George: I don't generally even consider locating just one line without doing a full survey, because, you know, you've got to make sure that the line that they want located is in the right spot. And so we'll go out there, we'll locate fences. You know, typically encroachments or anything like that. We show them on the map. And what they want to do with that map after that, it's really up to them. Surveyors are generally fact-finders. Now, we're allowed to offer opinion on certain items, right? But possession, I wouldn't say is necessarily one of those opinions that we would offer. We would offer opinions on the location of the boundary line itself, or a missing or lost corner, or just, you know, a destroyed corner. Something like that.
Cory George: So when we go out and locate encroachments, we're going to show it on our map, we're going to note it as required per our state standards, and, you know, we're going to inform our client and say, "Hey. Look, it appears that your such-and-such neighbor is encroaching over the property line. Here's the corners that we found, and this is the fence. And so they're over two feet", or whatever it is, right? And so at that point, we kind of turn it over to the homeowner and say, "Hey, you need to go approach your neighbors and resolve this". And either, you know, one, they probably need to move their fence, or maybe you'd be willing to sell them a little sliver or something. You know what I mean? To make nice.
Isaac Oakeson: That's nice. I'm sure you've seen lots of scenarios and lots of battles over encroachments.
Cory George: Yeah. I've only been threatened to be sued, I think, one time. That was pretty funny.
Isaac Oakeson: In your short business life already.
Cory George: Yeah.
Isaac Oakeson: I'm just the messenger, man.
Cory George: That's the stuff that never fails. I mean, the guy came out there, this dead serious, "Listen. My granddaddy told me the line was over there, and where you're setting it is wrong". And I was like, "Okay". I mean, whatever you say. I've done, you know, hours and hours of records research, I found every property corner out here. To me this is a routine corner set. I'm going to set this and go home. And it's just mind blowing sometimes,
Isaac Oakeson: Ooh, man. I can only imagine.
Cory George: People get fired up over property lines.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay. Well, let that be a warning shot, a warning call to everybody listening. If you're getting a house or you're putting a fence, you get that thing surveyed.
Cory George: Yeah. You're only going to get that opportunity to do it before you bought, one time.
Isaac Oakeson: So there you go. Good advice. The whole show. That's probably the best. Take it home.
Cory George: Yeah.
Isaac Oakeson: This has been fun, Cory. Thanks for jumping on. What's the best way for our audience to get ahold of you if they would like to reach out, either ask you questions about surveying, even employer services, whatever it is.
Cory George: Yeah. So my company is Pilot Surveying and Engineering. You can get to me at www.pilotse.com, and my email address is on the website, but it's [email protected] I'd be happy to answer any questions, or advise you, or point you in the direction of a local surveyor if needed.
Isaac Oakeson: Perfect. Well, thank you for jumping on. I really do appreciate everything you've talked about. I think it's been very enlightening. I need to get more surveyors on the show. I think it's been fun to hear about your experiences.
Cory George: I'm sure that there's some good more stories out there.
Isaac Oakeson: I'm sure there are. Anyway, thanks for joining and we'll see you next time.
Cory George: All right. Thank you.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.