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Case Study:

Steve Cottis

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Steve Cottis is a land surveyor with Atkins, based at the consultancy’s Chelmsford office. He is a valued member of a team of geomatics professionals, serving a client base that includes national, international and local government agencies, transportation departments, private developers and contractors.

Steve graduated from the TSA Course in Surveying at The Survey School, with the Best Student award (pictured below, with TSA President Mark Combes).

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Since completing his studies he has continued to impress his employers and has further extended his knowledge and interest in high definition surveying techniques by attending an in-house training course on laser scanning.

How did your career in surveying begin?

At university I studied for a degree in Geography and I really enjoyed the mapping, remote sensing and aerial photography aspects of the course. I still wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do when I got my degree but I went on to gain a PGCE qualification, with a view to teaching Geography,  but ultimately decided teaching wasn’t for me. I preferred working outside and seeing new places rather than being in a classroom or office environment all the time. I responded to an advert for an Assistant Surveyor with Atkins, was offered an interview and got the job. I started by assisting the on-site team and I learned a lot from senior people with great experience, knowledge and expertise.  I was able to incorporate my learning into what I was doing and gradually build up my skills until I was ready to lead small teams myself.

My employers had sufficient confidence in my abilities to further invest in the training provided at The Survey School and I know they are pleased with my achievement on the Course. It was at The Survey School that I was first introduced to some of the exciting new technologies, such as laser scanning that are increasingly required by Atkins’ clients.

In a typical week what sort of work are you doing?

There is really no such thing as a typical week in my job but broadly speaking I spend about 60 per cent of time on site and 40 per cent in the office processing the data from the field. I could be working on small surveys over a couple of days or jobs that might extend over months. I recently worked on a large project for Thames Water to set up a power line between two pumping stations in London. This took the lead surveyor two months to complete.

What are some of the memorable projects you have worked on?

Several jobs spring to mind. It was a particular thrill to carry out a survey at Lord’s Cricket Ground in preparation for the venue to install temporary media tribunes on the pavilion for the 2012 Olympic archery events. This survey involved a highly detailed 3D model of the Pavilion seating to help position the commentary booths. Unfortunately the survey was completed in January in the pouring rain and I felt a bit guilty about walking through the famous old building with both equipment and clothing dripping wet. For the Olympic rowing events at Eton Dorney, we had to RTK the ground levels for a final plan designed to accommodate spectator seating and access routes.

I was also based in Qatar for a month to install and GPS ground control points for an aerial photo survey that covered Doha and further inland. The work was fairly tough going in the heat and I won’t easily forget the day we got lost and ended up driving towards the royal residence The armed guards didn’t take too kindly to our presence and we were sent on our way after a tense standoff. However, it was a great experience to visit a new place and play a role in the large scale and rapid development of the infrastructure in Doha.

What part of your job do you most enjoy?

I enjoy the problem solving that goes with surveying. I’ve learned that you can never approach a survey job with a closed mind on how to complete it. You always need to be adaptable. Sometimes you really do need to think outside the box to ensure best practice and the highest quality deliverables for the client are maintained at all times. I consider myself very fortunate to have worked in different places in the world and in every part of the UK. My job has given me access to spectacular workplace locations in Northern Ireland, Wales, Derbyshire and Norfolk and opportunities to appreciate how they change through the seasons.

What advice would you give your younger self on whether to choose a career in surveying?

I would have told myself to actively consider surveying as a career at an earlier stage. It wasn’t my first choice and I was lucky that an opportunity presented itself.  A degree in Geography is useful for surveying but if I had my time over again I would have chosen differently to get started on my career faster. A degree in Surveying, Maths or Engineering might have been a more direct route to the kind of career that would best suit my abilities and interests.