Fielding Lessons Learned
Dividing his time between classroom exercises and Institute 
projects, Clifford has learned to straddle “old school” survey-
ing—measuring tapes and chains—with today’s electronic 
systems, which has not only enabled him to appreciate both, 
but has also given him a taste of a surveyor’s life in the field, 
complete with dirty hands, wet feet and unexpected surprises 
to resolve.   

A case in point was a project to survey 350 acres of the Mollie 
Beattie Coastal Habitat, a 1000-acre (400-hectare) intertidal 
preserve near Corpus Christi, to obtain elevation data for a hy-
drodynamic model, a computational model that can be used 
to simulate currents, water levels, sediment transport and sa-
linity. With waist-high water levels, Clifford and another fellow 
student had to shed their typical boots and pants in favor of 
bare feet and bathing suits, and then try to stay upright while 
trudging through thick mud, a pole-mounted GPS in hand, to 
collect water-level points at set intervals. They also surveyed 
the tide line. The data collected was correlated with readings 
from tide stations and integrated into a hydrodynamic water 
model to quantify water level fluctuations.

Water projects, in fact, seem to be a recurring pattern for 
Clifford. After the tidal-flat survey, Clifford accompanied profes-
sionals from Shell Oil to conduct AUS surveys in the Gulf of 
Mexico; he was also a primary software programmer for the 
CBI’s successful development of a mobile application, Transit 
Time, for ship captains and pilots.

Created in conjunction with the National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Center for Operational 
and Oceanographic Products and Services, the Transit Time 
mobile application provides real-time predictions of ocean 
water levels and currents along the Houston-Galveston Ship 
Channel, a waterway that feeds into the second-largest port 
in tonnage in the U.S. Transit Time combines modeled and 
real-time data with the ship’s speed and position to provide 
predicted water levels and currents along the ship's future 

path, calculating the time it takes for the ship to travel against 
the currents; it then provides the data to the ship captain’s 
mobile device. Pilots can also use Transit Time to help 
determine if larger ships have enough clearance to make it 
through the ship channel.  

“This kind of work has been the most satisfying because it 
allows me to be a surveyor and a software developer,” says 
Clifford. “I think to succeed you have to be skilled in both. You 
have to fully understand the fundamentals of surveying and 
positioning—but because surveying is so tied to technology, 
you also have to be aware of all the hardware and software 
available and how to apply them as supportive tools in the 
field. If you’re comfortable with both, there’s so much opportu-
nity in this industry.”
 
Clifford has been rather engrossed by the idea of opportuni-
ty—both in the field and future employment—since receiving 
a Trimble R10 GNSS receiver in mid-March, technology he 
won as the Grand Prize winner of Professional Surveyor’s 2013 
student essay contest. 

“Having such advanced technology for my own use is ideal 
because it gives me the chance to learn all its features and test 
them in the field,” says Clifford. “I already know it will be a boon 
to my standard survey work, but I’m excited to discover new 
applications as I become more familiar with its capabilities.”

All of this diversity and opportunity, however, can be prob-
lematic. Indeed, as Clifford prepares to graduate in 2014—he’s 
completing a minor degree in computer science—the over-
whelming choice of employment options is making it difficult 
for him to decide his future. Much like when he began his 
college life, Clifford is now a young man in search of a career. 
Given his learned problem-solving skills, he will no doubt find 
a suitable solution.     

See Julien Clifford’s winning essay in Professional Surveyor’s 
February issue: www.profsurv.com

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