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Use of the word Engineer

In Canada, the word Engineer is reserved for someone who has completed a degree in Engineering, and holds a valid Engineering Licence from a professional body.  I was just wondering how things work in the USA?  What do you guys use as the standard for calling someone an Engineer?

Daniel Schwartz-Narbonne
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

nobody knows.

One of my friends went to college for Engineering, and I teased her mercilessly about what it is she was actually going to do when she got out of college becuase the word Engineer is so devoid of meaning here.

We call our garbage men Sanitation Engineers. Electrical Engineers, Social Engineering, the meaning is varied. There are some threads that tie them together (and someone in this thread will post what that thread is) but to the outside observer it's rather humorous.

www.MarkTAW.com
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

In some states within the US it is illegal to call yourself an engineer if you do not meet certain certification requirements.  Texas is one such state, where it is not possible to be a Software Engineer.

While we tend to throw the title around, in many places you can get into a real bind if you use it in legal documents.  If that is the plan, see a lawyer first.

YMMV

SystemsEngineer
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The idea that capabilty as an engineer, including as a software engineer, can be mandated or controlled by restricting use of a particular word is foolish. Move on.

engineer
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

What about those guys who drive the trains in Texas?

Goggles Pizzano
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Maybe someone should ask the many other folks who use the term engineer whether they're concerned at the vast range of people who use the term even though they they're not qualified.

Mechanics could complain about the people who wouldn't know the diff from the gearbox, printer repair people could complain about whatever and sanitation engineers - are there really such things? - could complain too.

Engineer is part of the language. University-educated technologists do not have a right to control that usage.

engineer (yes, real)
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Do you guys all feel the same way about the word "Lawyer"?

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

"the word Engineer is so devoid of meaning here."

Not to actual engineers and the fields where they are employed.

Yes, a garbage man can call himself a sanitation engineer.  No, he can't legally sign off on the plans for the new $87M bridge.


Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Yes, requiring 4 years of school and 4 years of experience under the direction of a licensed engineer and the passing of 2 8 hour tests is no gaurantee of competency. 

You'd be surprised at what it weeds out though

     
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

I believe we spend far more time discussing the validy of calling ourselves engineers than those who are actually engineers in the eyes of the law.  I don't know if it's funny, sad, or pathetic.

I personally don't feel the need to call myself an engineer, but I think that what I do is every bit as hard as run of the mill engineering.

Some of you should be ashamed though.  You know who you are.  I know what you do.  Just be glad I call you an IT person.

      
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

The reason why there is so much controversy over the term Engineer is that it's such a respected profession. Knowing that someone is a qualified (done the school thing, jumped the hurdles, etc) engineer, you can be sure they have at least a minimum level of competency. Non-engineers calling themselves 'engineer' is obviously misleading to most people and could be damaging in the social sense.

How many job postings do you see for "X Engineer" where the job is no where near engineering related? Again, it just makes the job sound a lot better than it really is...

What if a med school dropout called himself 'doctor'?

Von
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Daniel -


IANAL, first of all. But as I understand it - here in Ohio (similar in most other states) the title "engineer" can only be used to describe in print a business that employs prinicipals who are licensed Professional Engineers, or PEs. You can't call yourself a 'software engineer' on a business card or on a storefront or in advertising unless you have that PE license.


The PE certification generally consists, first of all, of graduating from an acredited engineering school. You must work for a minimum period of time in a company that sponsors professional engineering candidates. You then take a sequence of tests for the purpose of accreditation. Eventually, you earn the P.E. license from this.


In practice, the PE license is only really valued in public works engineering - power plants and civil engineering to name the two big pools of PEs. The PE is currently only worth 'bragging rights', and weak ones at that, in software development.  The PE exams are heavy on traditional physical engineering concepts, such as statics, dynamics, strength of building materials, bridge loads, etc. This has no functional intersection with most SW development work.


I have seen one distinct advantage conferred by the PE license, though. If the hiring authorities consist of EEs and/or mechanical engineers with a big self righteous stick up their @sses about the innate worth and Godliness of honest to God 'legal' engineers, compared to weasly undisciplined software pukes who follow no formal standards (big grin ;) ) then the PE can be a fast track to consideration. This, unfortunately, describes many EEs and most mechnical engineers.


In practical and informal use, the word "engineer" is an self applied honorarium that means almost nothing. I've seen high school dropouts call themselves SW 'engineers' and get incredibly pompous about their staid professionalism. These, mind you, are people who have not written, read or done anything consistently "professional" in their lives except get paid for nominally technical work.

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

In Canada, real, accredited Software Engineering programs are being developed. This is beyond the normal 'software engineering' degrees that are really computer science degrees at most schools. While comp sci is definitely part of the SE program, it's a small part. The other parts of the program provide fundamental engineering concepts and how they apply in the software industry. Think chemists vs. chemical engineers.

In fact, when the SE programs were approved by the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board, the schools offering comp sci degrees as software engineering caused a big stink over the term SE.

IMO, this is a great step in advancing software design. Slowly but surely, software as we know it (buggy, broken, crappy) will be eliminated. As accredited SE programs mature, guidelines and software requirements will also improve. Especially if software writers are held responsible of their work like electrical/civil/mechanical/etc engineers. Software is the ONLY product in this world that is sold broken.

Von
Wednesday, June 11, 2003

When I see the expression "Software Engineer" in a job ad, 9 times out of 10 I will see that it is a vacancy for a c++ programmer.

Any other language will be a programmer or analyst programmer.

Strange that.

(Joel's ad is a notable exception. Wonder if that is why he got 100 c++ resumes...?)

LesC
Thursday, June 12, 2003

The "Poke in the eye with a sharp stick" part - I suspect C++ coders are masochists at heart... [grin]

Philo

Philo
Thursday, June 12, 2003

I think the tendency to think of oneself as an engineer or not also depends on the field you work in.  I went to engineering school (B.Eng and M.Sc.(Eng.)), but never did the professional practice stuff because I work in software and didn't think it would help to get my license (and have to pay for professional insurance etc), but I, and the guys I work with, mostly think of ourselves as engineers.  Maybe its because we have a lot of EEs as well, or maybe it's because I do embedded software.

Most of the guys I know who went into nuclear stuff, whether they went to school for physics, math or engineering tend to end up thinking of themselves as engineers too.

Telecomm/transmission also seems to be that way.

I think as you get abstracted away from the hardware people start calling themselves things like analysts and architects more...

(I'm married to a geotechnical [read "dirt"] engineer...  now that's *real* engineering!)

radius
Thursday, June 12, 2003


Texas may have a bunch of weird laws, but this ain't one of them.  People working for EDS in Texas/Plano are called "Software Engineer" and certification is not a requirement.  It's a title instead of pay thing as far as I can tell.

Joe AA
Thursday, June 12, 2003

There's the beauty of licensing: Canada's just developing "proper" software engineering courses. If we had the restrictions these people want, the corollary is that no software could have been designed until this year.

Let's go further. If we restrict practice to licensed people, exactly what fields do those licences apply to, and then what happens when new fields arise. If we licensing for software engineers, does that mean civil engineers can no longer write software? Games developers can no longer write software?

engineer
Thursday, June 12, 2003

Incidentally, here in Ontario, Canada - although the PEO would have you think differently, there is actually nothing to stop non-engineers from calling themselves engineers, particularly in the field of software.  You do have to be a real engineer to sign passports etc.  But not to stick it on your business card...

"Slowly but surely, software as we know it (buggy, broken, crappy) will be eliminated."
Based on the current feeling of profs at my closest universities, my observations of the quality of students being turned out and my knowledge of the current curriculums (I keep up) - I wouldn't hold your breath. 

In fact, there are a number of problems with the post-secondary system in general that are more likely to make things worse, rather than better.

For instance: there is an increasing expectation from society for kids to get post-secondary education. Many jobs require at least a BA in order to get past the resume filtering (how many threads have we had on this subject???)  So an increasing number of kids go off to university or college, study the bare minimum and collect their paper.  From the professor side, class sizes are increasing. This means that the criteria used to grade papers must either be easy to automate (eg multiple choice), or grading must be delegated to teacher's assistants.  Sometimes the TA's are very good and capable of doing this.  More often they are just barely out of the class they are teaching and, particularly if there is more than one approach possible to a problem (*cough* programming assignments *cough*) they may not recognize a correct answer if it deviates from the professor's solution.  This results in less innovative thinking.  Students are taught the one "right" way of doing it, memorize the approach and don't try or learn any others, because the likelihood of receiving a bad grade or having to argue for a better grade is greatly increased.

Professors at most universities are also not allowed to fail more than a certain percentage of their classes without getting flack from their department.  Around here, anyway, this results in a situation where students can scrape by without being even remotely qualified or interested in their discipline. Instead, they are playing the "school game".  Incidentally, I believe this is the danger in relying on grades as a filter, Joel. I've met too many people whose grades are a reflection of their sales talent and not actual ability.  Which brings me to my next point. 

Based on the stories I've heard, as well as the evidence of my own eyes in two universities, cheating is rampant in Ontario.  It's a dirty secret that I predict is going to get a lot more press in the next few years.  You may have already heard the story about Carleton University's 40% of engineering students plagarizing their ethics papers last year (ah, the irony).  This is not limited to Carleton, nor engineering.  According to a student graduating at that time, the 40% is the tip of the iceberg.  And plagarism is not the only successful method being used.  The fact is, that unless cheating during an exam is very blatant, most proctors will turn their head because of the (usually unpaid) paperwork involved.  I believe this is mainly due to the sheer volume of students passing through the system and the increased focus on "education as a business" rather than education for its own sake. 

Finally, I don't see what benefit a formal software engineering stream brings to the discipline.  My feeling is that it was created for political reasons rather than any real additional benefits.  The current software engineering programs are not materially different from the computer science programs - in fact, at the upper levels, many universities have a significant number of shared courses.  The primary difference is that engineers do not need to take (and don't have room to take) as many courses outside their discipline (I'd argue that this is a bad thing tm, resulting in narrow-minded graduates).  Engineers are also subject to a lot more indoctrination during first year as well as the various engineering specific courses throughout the programs. 

But anyway.

Phibian
Thursday, June 12, 2003

Signing off on an $87 million bridge involves a lot more than simply having some guy who's got a licence.

Such a project involves lots of finance, responsibility, reviews and checks, starting with the standing of the contractor companies. The licencies of individual staff have little to do with it.

Equivalent software projects have equivalent checks and reviews. Licencing is a massive irrelevancy.

> Knowing that someone is a qualified engineer, you can be sure they have at least a minimum level of competency.

This is not actually true. It depends on the field. Most importantly, four years of university is no predictor of ability in software development, or at least not in the best environments.

engineer
Thursday, June 12, 2003

I ran into this problem recently.  I client asked me during a meeting if I was an engineer.  It kind of threw me.  I have a CS degree, not an engineering degree.  However, Software Engineer is thrown around (in Colorado) a lot.  I am NOT an engineer, however, since I do all the architectual design, implementation, blah, blah, blah, I feel I do the work an engineer would do.  So here is my question, does a Software Engineer really exist?  Is there a group that certifies you to be a Software Engineer?  I told the client that I was not an engineer but a developer.  The reason he asked is because his wife is an engineer (I think civil).  I think he was making stupid chit-chat.

shiggins
Thursday, June 12, 2003

To me, the title of engineer confers some degree of respect for the simple fact that they have completed a state recognized engineering degree, had at least 4 years of experience and passed a not-so-simple test to gain their license.

I'm not a PE, but if I were then yeah, I'd be a little annoyed at the high school dropouts that use the same title because they know VB 6.0.

I'm currently working towards an engineering degree and it's not easy. I'm busting my butt to get A's in the math and physics. If I ever go down to Austin to take my PE exam, then you can be guaranteed that I'll wear the title of Engineer with pride. I will have *earned it* by then.

We can argue all day long whether or not engineering degrees make better programmers, but there is no question that a PE has certainly earned the title of engineer, and someone that isn't a PE has not earned the title.

(FWIW, here in Texas the laws are pretty simple. You can call yourself an engineer if you want, but if you want to advertise you services to the public then you CAN NOT call yourself an engineer unless you are licensed. For example, I can't open "Hoffman Engineering Services" unless I'm a PE. )

Mark Hoffman
Thursday, June 12, 2003

Apropos article -
http://biztech.ericsink.com/Are_Programmers_Engineers.html

But if someone hands you more money because he has emotional baggage concerning the term "engineer," by all means take it.

sammy
Thursday, June 12, 2003

Software like the global telephone network is an impressive piece of engineering, in my opinion. Consider the SEI (Software Engineering Institute) with their CMM: perhaps "engineering" is a property of the company who develops the software, more than of any individual.

Christopher Wells
Thursday, June 12, 2003

JoeAA,
EDS did change the titles they were allowed to call their people after a problem was encountered with Texas.  That they still call themselves that is something different.

SystemsEngineer
Thursday, June 12, 2003

From a friend of mine (who was an EIT in Texas), there are certain courtroom implications associated with the testimony of PEs.

Just tossing another log on the fire.

Danil
Thursday, June 12, 2003

Danil - only in that a PE is more likely to be accepted as an expert and the jury will give their testimony more weight.

Philo

Philo
Thursday, June 12, 2003

All these states that hijack words from the public domain and legislate their use should be shot. So should the folk that advocate more of the same.

http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=engineer

tapiwa
Thursday, June 12, 2003

Hijack words from the public domain? Huh?

States have licensed engineers long before it was in vogue to add the word 'engineer' to your title.

Most states have had licensing of engineers on the book going back to the 1800s, so I hardly think they "hijacked" a word that was in common use.

It's only been in the past 20 years that we've seen the word engineer applied to literally every type of job in order to make people feel better about themselves.

Mark Hoffman
Thursday, June 12, 2003

EDS doesn't call it's folks SE's anymore, they are IA's for Information Anaylst and I thought the change was because their Software Engineers didn't do any engineering.

Kero
Friday, June 13, 2003

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