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An engineer by any other name- Texas Legislature to decide if programmers can legally use title
Houston Chronicle ^
| March 29, 2003, 11:53PM
| R.G. RATCLIFFE
Posted on 03/30/2003 7:38:16 AM PST by weegee
An engineer by any other name
Legislature to decide if computer programmers can legally use the title
By R.G. RATCLIFFE
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
AUSTIN -- One of the oddest battles of the 78th Legislature is pitting Texas' licensed professional engineers against the high-tech industry's software dudes.
At issue is just who in Texas can call himself an engineer.
"It's one of the silliest issues we're having to deal with this session, but it's also one of the most important," said Steven Kester, legislative director of the American Electronics Association, an organization of computer companies.
Texas has one of the nation's strictest engineering practices acts and limits the title of engineer to those people who have studied engineering and passed a licensing exam.
And that law puts most of the "engineers" in the high-tech industry out of the field. Kester said the restriction threatens high-tech growth in Texas.
But Ken Rigsbee, chairman of the Texas Society of Professional Engineers legislative committee, said the restriction is needed to protect the public.
Rigsbee said state restrictions on who can call themselves engineers were set up decades ago after someone misengineered a heating pipe system at the New London Junior-Senior High School.
An explosion of natural gas in the pipe system killed 300 students and teachers in 1937.
Rigsbee said the licensed professional engineers of Texas have been protecting their title from encroachment ever since. There are 49,000 state-licensed professional engineers.
Rigsbee said the high-tech problem mostly involves computer programmers whom the industry likes to call computer engineers.
Rigsbee said the industry holds out its products as having been "engineered." And he said there is a belief that the computer companies are in a better position to win contracts if they can say they have 150 engineers on staff instead of 150 programmers.
"What we have a problem with is a graduate of a two-year computer programming school or some technicians ... holding themselves out as engineers when they clearly are not," Rigsbee said.
The computer industry had been happy to function under an exemption in state law that allowed a company to call in-house personnel whatever it wanted to so long as the engineering title was not held out to the public.
But the Texas Board of Professional Engineers sent cease-and-desist letters to some high-tech industry specialists who used the title of engineer in correspondence.
That led to a request to former Attorney General John Cornyn to clarify the issue. Cornyn last July said the matter is simple when it comes to state law.
"The Texas Engineering Practice Act ... does not allow an in-house employee of a private corporation, though classified internally as an `engineer' or under another engineering title, to use the title `engineer' on business cards, cover letters or other forms of correspondence that are made available to the public," Cornyn said.
Boom. In a single sentence, the computer programming engineers of Texas became software dudes.
Actually, while software programmers make up the bulk of the high-tech industry's engineers, the industry also uses the title for electrical and mechanical engineers not licensed by the state. Texas Instruments also has "customer support engineers."
"Texas is becoming a laughingstock of the global high-technology community," said Steve Taylor, director of corporate affairs for Applied Materials.
Taylor said there are about 100,000 high-tech personnel in Texas who have "engineer" in their title, but they are not licensed by the state.
"They risk fines of up to $3,000 a day for handing out business cards to a supplier or even dropping it in a fish bowl at a restaurant for a chance at a free lunch," Taylor said.
AEA's Kester said electronics professionals from around the country are called engineers within their firms and in the industry. Suddenly, he said, they are now required to carry one set of business cards for Texas and another for the other 49 states.
"It's a matter of professional pride," Kester said. "They've built up a lot of experience and earned the title of engineer in their industry."
Kester said the electronics industry has made changing the state law a top priority because it is making it difficult to recruit employees from other states and around the world.
"We run the risk of not having them move here," Kester said. "That puts us at a significant disadvantage."
Legislation to loosen the title requirements is being carried by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa.
TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Extended News; Government; News/Current Events; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: collegedegree; computerindustry; computerprogrammer; computerprogrammers; computerprogramming; degree; education; engineer; engineering; engineers; jobtitle; professionaldegree; texas
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posted on 03/30/2003 7:38:17 AM PST
If someone does not attend an accredited school and graduate with an engineering degree (meaning that they take a standard list of engineering science courses) then I don't see how they can claim the title. Let alone if they don't apply for the license (I went through Boston University's engineering program but never actually applied to be a licensed engineer).
I can tell you that the computer science students had a far lighter course load with a lot more humanities courses.
posted on 03/30/2003 7:41:59 AM PST
(McCarthy was right, Fight the Red Menace)
posted on 03/30/2003 7:46:43 AM PST
What about those who have not just an engr. degree from an accredited school, but one from a top rated Engineering program like Stanford or U of Illinois? For example a MS/PHDEE from Stanford? Can they claim to be engineers, or do they have to get permission from these Texas hicks?
posted on 03/30/2003 7:51:24 AM PST
I am a graduating engineer in a different state. I will be going for my PE, even though I don't anticipate ever needing it. I've worked hard to be an engineer, and if I ever moved to one of the very strict states (like Texas), I'd want to retain the title.
The computer science students at my school get a BS, not a BSE. They do not take as much physical science, and they do not take engineering core classes (mechanics, circuits, thermodynamics, etc.) that are required of engineering students. The CS majors have no right to call themselves "computer engineers" unless they have an accredited engineering degree. I think it's absurd that garbage men are called "sanitation engineers" or tech support people are "computer services engineers" or some other drivel. In my opinion, if you do not have an ABET-accredited degree, you are not an engineer, period!
Getting a PE requires passing a Fundamentals of Engineering exam, having roughly 4 years of work experience after the FE, and then passing the PE exam. In my state and most others, this process is virtually required for civil engineers, but I only know of a handful of mechanical engineers (my major) that have a PE.
Instead of trying to license all uses of "engineer", Texas should license a few specific ones: "mechanical engineer," "electrical engineer," "civil engineer," etc.
Software engineering is too new and varied to be licensed. And, the public-safety aspect of software engineering is missing, so the state should just butt out.
This applies to more than Texas. I am a Licensed Profession Engineer in two states, and both have laws that only a licensed engineer may use the title of Engineer. Enough of the software engineers, sanitation engineers, etc.
posted on 03/30/2003 7:58:07 AM PST
It can be a problem.
For example, a MCSE or "Microsoft Certified System Engineer" is a widely used form of certification in the industry. Or CNE "Novell Certified Engineer".
Certification is available by testing without a formal education requirement. This is a needed response in a industry that moves at a bit faster pace than many others.
The name itself comes from Microsoft. The term "Engineer" has also seen challange in Canada for the same reason.
posted on 03/30/2003 8:02:10 AM PST
To: nwrep; weegee
I'm a PE, but I can see both sides to the argument. The joke I like on this is "six months ago I couldn't even spell engineer, and now I are one."
In any area of employment, credentials and experience matter. In a lot of electronic work or computer work, both hardware and software, the PE doesn't have a whole lot of relevance. I don't see why PEs should have a monopoly on the use of the word "engineer." They should only have a monopoly on the phrase "Registered Professional Engineer."
The term "engineer" is used too loosely today.
It makes me a little sick that I spent 4 1/2 years studying engineering in an ABET accredited school, then 2 1/2 years in an engineering graduate program so I can become a licensed engineer, while some 'script kiddie' with a high-school diploma and a little bit of knowledge of Visual Basic can be called a 'software engineer'.
posted on 03/30/2003 8:06:43 AM PST
(Gun control is the ability to hit your target!)
I can tell you that the computer science students had a far lighter course load with a lot more humanities courses.
It depends on the school. For instance, at SUNY @ Stony Brook, back in the mid-late 80's a BS of computer science degree student only needed an additional 2 math and 3 EE courses to get minors in both programs. Because Stony Brook was such a strong engineering school, there were serious issues in trying to get into the EE courses. If you weren't actually in the EE program, you needed to get a special waiver from the CS department, as well as the EE department, otherwise the computer would automatically drop you from the courses. And there was a "Computer Engineering degree, which was pretty much a BS of EE with a CS minor.
posted on 03/30/2003 8:08:20 AM PST
To: Pearls Before Swine
My favorite abuse of the word is by corporate bureaucrats who are always claiming to be re-engineering. Shuffling papers or people in a different order is not engineering.
posted on 03/30/2003 8:12:59 AM PST
(God Bless and keep safe our troops.)
If someone does not attend an accredited school and graduate with an engineering degree (meaning that they take a standard list of engineering science courses) then I don't see how they can claim the title
Please consider the following:
1) I dont have a degree from ANY school. Rather I have conducted a program of self directed study of those topics most relevant to my field.
2) No school even offers an engineering degree in building secure Computer Networks. Further the programs that come the closes are no where near my level of training and skill. Attending those programs would mearly be an exchange of money for a sheep skin. Programs that ARE offered are either focused on buliding applications (programing), building components (EE) or administering users (computer information systems).
3) I have built some of the largest, most reliable and secure networks in the world
4) I hold multiple vendor certifications and I'm recognized as only 1 in 6 world wide who have acheived my area of specilization (secure, global, high performance networks)
5) I'm routinely invited to lecture at local universities in their post graduate programs
6) I've spoken and presented at both national and global gathering of other professionals in my industry
7) I've published several documents including best practices, white papers and technical design guides
8) I have several patents in networking.
9) I have 12+ years of industry experience
10) I have built military grade and hospital grade (life and limb) networks
11) I have built commercial networks that span the globe and carry the most demanding of traffic (voice and video).
Yet accourding to your definition not only can I not use the title of engineer - it is not even POSSIBLE for me to obtain.
Further the definition of an engineer is:
en·gi·neer ( P ) Pronunciation Key (nj-nîr) n.
1 One who is trained or professionally engaged in a branch of engineering.
2 One who operates an engine.
3 One who skillfully or shrewdly manages an enterprise.
tr.v. en·gi·neered, en·gi·neer·ing, en·gi·neers
To plan, construct, or manage as an engineer.
To alter or produce by methods of genetic engineering: Researchers... compared insulin manufactured by bacteria genetically engineered with recombinant DNA techniques to the commercial insulin obtained from swine or cattle (Fusion).
To plan, manage, and put through by skillful acts or contrivance; maneuver.
So, I gather that your position is that dispite performing all the duties required of an engineer in my area of work, dispite having arguably more than enough qualification and experience....
I'm still not allowed to call myself a "Network Engineer".
I'm currently pursuing a computer science degree, and I had to take two semesters of "engineering" (i.e. calculus) physics and several other engineering classes before I could get to where I am today. Even now we're learning about the intricacies of the basic building blocks of a computer -- bits, switches, and the like. Plus, we take statistics courses that are also geared toward engineers.
Now, the school I'm going to now doesn't have a degree program for software engineers, but the university I used to attend did have a degree program for that. It was a mixture of computer science, computer information systems, and computer engineering.
Speaking as someone who came into college a computer engineering major, I think this is all a bit silly. If you've passed the P.E. exam, definitely you should be considered a P.E. and should have that emblazoned on your business cards. However, if your job title in the rest of the 49 would be that of "software engineer" and you've got at least a bachelor's degree in computer science or C.I.S., then for heaven's sake you should be able to put that on your business cards! This should ESPECIALLY be the case if you had to take engineering courses along with your programming courses while pursuing a C.S. degree.
It would be very easy for me to, upon graduation, go back to my old school and get a computer engineering degree within a year. So maybe that will be my own plan of action, along with taking the P.E. Still, that's a bit much for being able to proclaim something I would be able to proclaim in the rest of the U.S.
Just my own little semi-biased opinion.
posted on 03/30/2003 8:19:04 AM PST
(It's better to die on your feet than to live on your knees)
How about all the "Sanitary Engineers"? Or Maintenance Engineers?
You will find in most states that there are rather strict requirements for "Registered Professional Engineers"? Most plans for construction projects need to be signed off by a registered professional engineer.
One of the bizarre rules in some states is that you can not become a registered professional engineer if you do not have an undergraduate degree in engineering (and have taken and passed the engineer in training test at that school).
This leads to the situation where one can have a PhD in Mechanical, Chemical, or Electrical engineering, and not be able to be a registered professional engineer without going before a board of engineers to be permitted to take the test. (You may supervise some of the persons on the board.)
It is possible to have supervisory authority over, and to sign off on their blue print, and not be reconized as an engineer by the county, city, or state. Put that in your hat and smoke it!!
Two circumstances are at work here.
Traditional engineering pursuits are clinging to the concept that engineering involves creation of tangible, durable objects. Certified or liscensed engineers tradtionally received formal traning offered by recognized, 4 year, academic institutions requiring a well rounded educational background.
Technically trained people who have a very specialized education in conceptual processes have a place in the engineering world. Clinging to the old mechanical basis of the profession will eventually give way to a broader definition.
Good gawd you people are anal!
Any man that does the job deserves the title. If he wants to claim he's accredited then that's a different story.
You are confusing the two out of your pompous self-agrandizing attitude.
There are many small companies out there that work their employees up the ladder into engineering jobs without all this pitiful posturing. I suppose you think it's a greater accomplishment to do the job after 4 years of college than not?
Why don't we just apply your logic to waitresses that just started as opposed to seasoned waitresses. Shouldn't their TITLE be protected?
Can you say PC boyz n gurls?
posted on 03/30/2003 8:26:14 AM PST
I worked 33 years as a mechanical engineer in the electronics industry in Texas. I had a degree from an accredited school, years of experience in responsible positions, etc, and when I retired I thought it would be a good idea to get my registration so I could legally do some consulting work. Problem was, in all those years I had only met 4 or 5 people who were actually registered and could vouch for my experience, and about that time, the state legislature in its wisdom raised the annual license fee for engineers to about $150 instead of $25 or $30 as it had been. All my friends, not needing the "prestige" of the license, let theirs drop, so I never went through with it.
I do know of at least one case where the "board" came after one of my friends advertising "engineering" services who happened to have a physics degree rather than engineering, so they really do guard the title jealously. Unfortunately there are probably 50 or 100 people with valid degrees and experience practicing real engineering in Texas for every "PE" so there isn't as much prestige in effect as the "hicks" might like.
Much of the work done by licensed "professional" engineers requires knowledge obtained through a rigorous accredited academic program and years (usually about four) as an apprentice under a licensed engineer. The knowledge needed to accomplish an engineered project is considerable. The knowledge runs the gamut from pure deductive science to arcane codes designed by experience all woven together in a complex of ideas sometimes at odds with one another. The risks to the public for inept engineered work is great. Buildings could collapse, electrical systems can explode, dams can break open, waterworks could acquire fatal bacteria, and so on. The engineer must balance the safety of the public against the cost to provide that safety. The role of the modern professional engineer is certainly in accord with the modern use of the word engineer: to plan, manage, and put through by skillful acts or contrivance; maneuver.
But the modern professional engineer who is licensed by approved state organizations is an outgrowth of the traditional engineer who evolved out military engineers who had their beginnings in Roman military engineering that organized and built much or the great Roman infrastructure.
One distinction that should be understood is the professional engineer is personally libel for defective work. This is in stark contrast to computer programmers and other technical professionals who engineer their work. When your operating system crashes do you sue the programmer or do you sue the Microsoft? Until programmers take personal liability for their work, they should not be counted among the Professional Engineers
Firstly, programming is not really software engineering, but the activities that do fall into that category are no less enginenring than mechanichal or electrical: they just differ in the object being engineered. Nor is it computer science.
You can make easy parallels with "traditional" engineering fields. Very few electrical engineers understand Maxwell equations, and if they do, it is because of their extra-curricular curiousity. The one who needs to understand it is a scientist; all engineer does is applying it to solve concrete problems. At the opposite end of the spectrum is an alectrician, who does not know what Maxwell equations are and would not be able to read them if shown.
Similarly, the one proving a convergence of some algorithm or pushing some elements of the (algebraic) lattice theory is a computer scientist. At the other end of the spectrum are pogrammers, and softare enginners in between.
The issue of whether some activity is engineering is unfortunately confounded with accreditation. Even if you were to graduate from a non-accredited school, you can call yourself an engineer if you completed the coursework. However, I may not rely on you if others I respect --- the association giving accreditation to schools (remember accreditation is not from a divine body) does not back up your claims.
THe same is with the state: a consumer, or employer, may have extra confidence if you are licensed. However, if the FDA does not approve a product for disrtibution, that produce does not cease to be a drug (it may simply have side effects). An engineer not approved by the state is sill an enginner.
THe problem, therefore, is largely psychological and is easily solved: an licensed engineer can put that word, "licensed," on his business card. That's all.
The problem is also irrelevant: since mid-1980s it became popular for hotels to call janitors "engineers." I recall a toilet misfunctioning and, upon my report, the fron desk told me, "OK, I'll send an engineer right away." I remember chuckling to myself: when you cannot use the bathroom, the last thing you need is someone with a calculator making estimates and building a prototype of a new toilet. I needed a janitor, not an engineer! You will notice that we have no salespeople any longer: we have "sales asscotiates." Outsourced programmers, who are not asked any kind of advice and were intially referred to as "contract programmers," have become "consultants" --- just like those who advise senior management on the fate of the company. In our civil society, the "feel-good-about-yourself" approach makes everyone into a general.
posted on 03/30/2003 8:28:40 AM PST
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