A comment over on Jeremy Stretch’s wonderful site touched off a bit of a discussion today about the proper use of the term ‘engineer’. It appears that the “real” engineers in the world have gotten into a bit of a tiff with us computer nerds about why we aren’t allowed to call ourselves engineers. A little background:
According to the font of all knowledge, an engineer is:
...a professional practitioner of engineering, concerned with applying scientific knowledge, mathematics and ingenuity to develop solutions for technical problems. Engineers design materials, structures, machines and systems while considering the limitations imposed by practicality, safety and cost. The word engineer is derived from the Latin root ingenium, meaning "cleverness".
Engineers are grounded in applied sciences and are distinguished from scientists who perform research and artists who create with a focus on aesthetics. The work of engineers forms the link between scientific discoveries and the applications that meet the needs of society.
Hmm, okay. So, that sounds like it could be a lot of things.
– applying scientific knowledge (check)
– Mathematic knowledge (check)
– Developing solutions and systems (check)
– Considering limitations of cost and practicality (double check)
Okay, so far it looks like myself and my brethren are engineers for sure. Ah, but wait…here come the scientists:
According to multiple sources, the “real” engineer is distinguished by holding a 4-year Bachelor of Science degree in an engineering discipline, having 6 years experience, and taking one or more tests. This appears to be the most common set of requirements (more on this later). So, because I didn’t put down civil engineering as my major in college, I’m out. Because I don’t have six or more years experience building sewers or roads or bridges, I’m disqualified. And because I haven’t forked over $1000 or more to the state licensing board, I’m just a lowly technician worthy of engineer nerd scorn.
What I have done, though, is spend my career building complex systems relying on specific scientific and mathematic principles. Knowledge that not everyone who’s ever hit the power button on their laptop has. I make the magical packets flow so you can watch Youtube videos and download dirty pictures. I make your e-mail work so you can get blueprints and site updates. I keep the QoS flowing so your emergency need to check Google Earth to make sure no one built a subdivision in the way of your highway. I do things with my knowedge that would make you cringe and look the other way because you don’t understand them.
I took industry-specific tests from Novell, Microsoft, Cisco, HP, and Symantec to prove my knowledge. Those governing bodies granted me the right to use the titles MCNE, MCSE, ASE, and SCSE (all have the word ‘engineer’). And, for the record, these are the same tests no matter if you take them in Texas or Thailand. I know of engineers that took their tests in other states because they were ‘easier’ and used comity to be licensed in their home state. So, in a sense, I am an engineer for all those reasons. Yet, the professional engineers (P. Eng) get all huffy about it. For the record, I thought P. Eng was Sean Combs’ name this week…
In the US, you are a P. Eng if you take the classes and tests and have enough experience and get signed off upon by other engineers. But you can still use the title “engineer” through the use of a industrial exemption. This means that if I work in industry providing engineering services, I’m exempt from getting licensed. This exemption is pissing P. Eng’s off left and right. Why, might you ask? Because civil, mechnical, and electrical engineers are using it to get past taking the tests. The IEEE is having kittens because they think anyone involved in engineering services that directly impact public safety should be required to be licensed before they use the term. I can see that insofar as it impacts the safety of other people. But yelling at lowly computer nerds because they claim to be “engineers”? Tilting at windmills, in my opinion. And heaven help you if you claim to be an engineer in Canada without a license. I think they dispatch the Mounties to shoot you in the street like a common horse thief.
You wanna complain about me using the title “network engineer”. Okay, let’s switch spots for a week. I’ll spend all day staring at blueprints trying to figure out which way the road is supposed to go. You can head back to my desk and keep the network running and figure out why the boss’s e-mail isn’t lightning fast. You can unclog the tubes and carry my pager to respond to network outages at 3:30 in the morning on a Sunday. You can put up with me calling you asking why I can’t get to Youtube today to watch some cat playing the drums. And if you don’t run screaming back to me within a day loudly proclaiming that I am truly an engineer, I promise I’ll start calling myself something totally different. Like Network Rock Star. Since nobody needs any talent to be one of those.