Land Surveyors vs GIS Professionals: What’s all the fuss about?

Drama? What Drama?
Drama? What Drama?

I was reading the other day the Land Surveying and GIS Revisited: An Unnecessary Drama post in GIS Lounge and I am sorry but I don’t get it. I mean, I agree with what the article says, that it IS an unnecessary drama but I don’t understand why there was a drama in the first place. This of course may be down to my ignorance of how the Land Surveying and GIS professions work in the US so please bear with me.

This is not the first time I hear about this rivalry. Similar posts have appeared here, here and here  There is also this image from the “GIS-Analyst: What my friends think I do” meme:


So Land Surveyors think that GIS people play with coloring books… Right….

I still don’t get it.

You see, what I don’t understand is WHY all this press seems to point to a hard line distinction between a “Land Surveyor” and a “GIS Professional”. I am not saying that ALL Land Surveyors “do” GIS, or that everyone that works with GIS is a Land Surveyor, but isn’t GIS a tool that different professions -from Surveyors to Environmental Engineers to Marketing professionals use to help them in their day-to-day jobs? A tool rather than a profession on its own? And isn’t a “GIS Professional” someone that uses GIS within a specific realm? And yes, of course there are those who started with a undergrad degree in GIS and they are the ‘vanilla’ GIS professionals if you like, but I still can’t see why Land Surveyors will look down on them so to speak.

On the posts I mentioned above, the grudge seems to focus around cadastral issues and how a GIS-only person cannot show someone’s legal boundary data on a GIS map. What if the ‘GIS Map’ and the parcel layer is actually constructed from ground topographic measurements? Why is that not accurate? And what if that GIS person is also a Surveyor?

Obviously, if I show someone a Google map and draw on top his/her property boundary by just following the lines I see on the map and then tell him he/she can use it as evidence on a court case, I should be shot on site. This is just ignorance.  But if the GIS I am using includes cadastre data which by definition is accurate, then what’s the problem?

This is something that is used quite a bit here in Greece; Public-facing GIS ran by the City Councils allow users to download boundary data for planning applications. And data IS accurate. And in the majority of cases, these systems are ran by Surveyors.

So as I said in the beginning, the GIS and Land Surveying professions might work somewhat different between the various countries and these discussions are US-focused for which I now very little about but I think there are some fixed constants.

I can’t see the reason of any dramas or “epic battles”. I would be grateful if someone would enlighten me

Disclosure: I have a 5-yr Surveying Engineer’s degree and an M.Sc in GIS. I would call myself a GIS professional rather than a Surveyor.


2 thoughts on “Land Surveyors vs GIS Professionals: What’s all the fuss about?

  1. Great post about the distinctions and similarities between land surveyors and GIS professionals. I liked your notion about over-simplifying data and drawing conclusions from Google map data. I took a couple of entry-level GIS classes in school and was always confused about the accuracy of public source GIS data vs. actual property descriptions from surveyors. Thanks for the post!

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