Letters 10/08/2009

Oct. 5, 2009
Many readers reacted to a Vantage Point column highlighting the problems of an engineer in his legal battle with the Sate of Illinois over the term “engineer.”

PE license is past its prime?
Many readers reacted to a Vantage Point column highlighting the problems of an engineer in his legal battle with the Sate of Illinois over the term “engineer.” They came down on both sides of the issue, but our mail is running 4:1 in favor of the engineer.

To PE or not PE
The root of the problem lies in the broad label “engineer” and the narrow domain of the licensing practice. Specifically, the scope of the license and, I presume, the exam, is close to the practice of civil engineers and far from that of mechanical or electrical engineers, to name just two. The practice of engineering has spread to encompass such a broad spectrum of technologies and areas that no one individual can claim expertise in all. But the government has a right and a mandate to protect the health, safety, and welfare of individuals. Licensing practice is one way to provide that protection. The solution lies in restructuring the license to recognize the different domains and offer each type of engineer an appropriate test and license.

From the Web

Those of us who have dedicated our lives and entire careers to engineering, recognized early that a license was a necessary distinction. Go take the exams and stop whining.

A PE, from the Web

Maybe PE exams should only have content produced by other PE’s. Doing so would eliminate a great deal of material produced by unlicensed (and potentially suspect) professionals such as Maxwell, Fermi, Einstein, Henry, Faraday, Ampere, Bell, Shockley, Fourier, Tesla, Laplace, Pascal, and thousands of other scientists, physicists, mathematicians, engineers and so forth. It would certainly simplify the PE exam.

Mark Charles

It’s clear from the opening sentences of this article where the author, Mr. Korane, stands on this issue, which is typical of most media these days. Apparently even technical publications can’t provide unbiased reporting.

I am a PE, but not a member of NSPE, and I don’t support much of their agenda, but I think states are right to regulate the practice of engineering. If Mr. Siegal is such a sharp fellow, then he should pass the test and get licensed, or he can hire a licensed PE, or he can change the name of his firm. If Mr. Siegal wants to continue designing widgets, he could simply change the name of his firm to “Budd Design.”

Les Headly

If you check your biases at the door and read the column more closely, you will notice that Mr. Korane edited the piece. He is not the author. Mr. Siegal submitted the manuscript and checked the edited version before it went to press. — Editor

I’m a degreed mechanical engineer with a masters in environmental engineering, and am a PE in two states. Frankly, the test was trivial, and I’ve used the seal precisely once in the 15+ years I’ve had it.

However, I am sick and tired of project engineers who don’t even have a college degree and are more like administrative clerks. Yes, I’ve seen good designers do 70% of the work my boss sealed. And yes, many PEs are brain dead, but at least they have met a standard. It seems the term “engineer” just has too many meanings, and none of them are correct. Spend 5 minutes looking in a newspaper job listings under “engineer” and you’ll quickly learn that if you actually have a degree in engineering, you should keep looking. The engineering ads are for high-school graduates who know how to program in .NET. If everyone out there wants to be an engineer, I’m fine with letting them, but let’s find some moniker for those of us who can do a simple integral and have taken statics. And that will likely include many people who are degreed, competent design professionals in disciplines or business fields where the PE license is not relevant.

Harry Balmer

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NSPE is just trying to justify its existence, increase its membership, and sustain (or grow) staff salaries. If all engineering graduates were required by law to pursue an Engineer-In-Training certificate and later a Professional Engineering license to perform engineering-related work, it would drive up the labor cost to employers. Soon, much of the engineering work would be shipped overseas where labor costs (including engineering) are much lower. It is instructive to note that China produces more graduate engineers each year than we have working in the U.S. India has more honor students than the U.S. has students of any level of ability.

Wake up and smell the coffee. We don’t need more legal restrictions on terminology usage. We need more creativity and productivity if we are to compete. If a PE license really meant anything, then why wasn’t the PE who signed off on the Thomas P. O’Neill Tunnel (“Big Dig” in Boston, Mass.) roofing design (a section of which failed and killed an innocent woman when a section fell on her car) prosecuted?

Michael Murphy

Mr. Siegal should just spend 8 hours and take the test. If he’s such a good engineer, it should not be a problem.

I wonder if his lawyer passed the Bar, if his company’s accountant is a CPA, if he sends his employees to noncertified doctors, or if he gets his corporate jet worked on by a noncertified mechanic?

Steve Arlen

I fully agree with Mr. Siegal: If you work in a position where being a registered PE is required, become one. If you work on design or engineering projects that do not require it, what is the problem with being called an engineer rather than a professional registered engineer?

Please, no more government involvement in private business.

From the Web

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