Why become a licensed professional engineer? (part 2)

Previously, on The P. Eng. Applicant, we discussed the “official” reasons to become a licensed professional engineer in Canada. Essentially, it boils down to the fact that one cannot legally practise engineering without a license. However, we also hinted at a reality where many people are paid to do engineering work, without being a labeled as an engineer. Conversely, we touched upon a common situation in the IT and software realms, where people doing work that is not really engineering, have misleading “engineer” job titles.

So while for engineers in certain disciplines and industries (e.g. civil, electrical, industrial), getting a P.Eng. license is a prerequisite for an upward career trajectory, others who ply their trade in less traditional engineering fields (software, computer, etc.) often have little motivation to become certified. Some would say that this is because those in the latter group often work on applications that do not directly impact public welfare and therefore have little use for the credibility of the P.Eng license. While this is certainly true for the guy or gal working on Angry Birds 3 or optimizing FPGA routing, my first-hand experience is that even in an industry that could not have a more direct affect on “people’s quality of life, health, safety and well-being”, being a professional engineer is optional, if not a novelty.

Well, what is my experience? I have alluded to it several times, but this isn’t going to be much of a blog if I don’t elaborate. Let’s start from the beginning:

I was your average high school nerd in South-Western Ontario. Like many engineers, I was an exceptional procrastinator, but did well enough in maths and sciences that teachers steered me towards engineering (at that age, I had no idea what career I wanted). So I applied and was accepted by a reputable university to study Computer Engineering, whatever that meant. In university, I think my experience was not an uncommon one. First year was a shock to the system, but also the first time in a while I felt challenged. It was also, importantly, the first time that I realized that I was not an engineer’s engineer.

I wish I was making this first-year engineering photo up…

By engineer’s engineer, I mean the uncomfortable stereotype that was reinforced from Frosh week through to the Iron Ring ceremony. Apparently as engineers we were supposed to be loud and proud, looking down upon those who chose a different path, and when we weren’t studying, we should be getting drunk! Unsurprisingly, for many of us, this wasn’t a good fit. You wouldn’t find me participating in the strange, somewhat cult-like rituals that had been passed down from previous engineering generations. You would never see me wearing one of those obnoxious leather jackets (whether I could afford one or not is irrelevant). I wasn’t much of a drinker, so you can imagine how that played. Now, I don’t want to make it sound like I was some sort of outcast. I had plenty of friends, mostly engineers, and in fact my attitudes were that of the large, silent majority. I enjoyed my time in University greatly. The thing is, while this movement existed to make us proud to be engineers, for most people, myself included, it backfired. By the time graduation arrived and we got our iron rings, we were exhausted, proud of our accomplishments, and looking forward to entering the work-force, but we weren’t filled with the kind of engineering “pride” that would have us jumping aboard the P.Eng. train as soon as possible.

Luckily by the time graduation came, the economy had moved on from the tech bubble of the early 2000’s and there were good jobs out there for new grads. I, on the other hand, despite 2 years worth of internship experience at 4 different companies, still didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I did what any self-respecting procrastinator would and signed up for more school. Two years and one Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering later, I can’t say I was much closer to knowing my passion, but the Ph.D. path did not look promising and the idea of actually making money appealed to me. So, I went out and got a real job.

Since then, I’ve worked at 4 different companies of various sizes for about 2 years at each (either I get bored easy, or that’s the way careers go these days). All but the first have been in the medical device industry. You can’t get much closer to impacting people’s health and safety, yet none of these employers showed an interest in me having or obtaining my professional license. Sometimes they labeled me as an “engineer” and sometimes as a “developer”, but it didn’t affect the kind of work I did.

Between the lack of engineering pride and little incentive from the industry, going through the effort to become licensed was never a priority. Yet, here I am. Why? Here’s some (underwhelming) reasons that I’m calling my “motivation”:

  • Compensation: Most private sector employers I’ve had, especially smaller companies, had no policy of a pay increase for a newly-minted P.Eng., but recently I find myself at a public organization with a more structured HR policy, so there is a small monetary incentive
  • Management: I’m in the career stage where we transition from doing to leading. As we’ll discuss more later on, engineers who want to become licensed need experience being supervised by a P.Eng.. Therefore, being licensed boosts your eligibility for a supervisory role.
  • It can’t hurt: Especially now that we’ve confirmed that I can be sued for my work regardless of being licensed. And hey, it’s a few more letters to tack onto those business cards.
  • Something to blog about: Yeah, the last two reasons are a bit of a reach. In all seriousness, this blog is intended to help motivate me (sad, I know).

Weak sauce, I know, but if this was a no-brainer decision, I would have made it a long time ago! Now that we’ve discussed the compelling reasons to become licensed, we’ll move on the all-important How-To’s next.

2 Replies to “Why become a licensed professional engineer? (part 2)”

  1. One reason for me that you didn’t list as motivation is that it’s a a culmination of one’s education in a profession.
    I have a brother who is an accountant, a CA and he shamed me into obtaining a PEng. He said to me “I don’t know much about engineering but if someone doesn’t bother with the designation, why did they bother with the rest of it?”
    Up to that point, I had been taking it easy with respect to professionalism. I’ve found that taking the steps to obtain the PEng has helped me to grow up a bit.
    I’m always curious as to why someone who otherwise qualifies for their PEng has not bothered obtaining it. I do ask when I interview people and they better have a good answer 😉
    Good luck!

    1. Hank, that’s an excellent point! There is definitely an element of finalizing the journey that I didn’t include in my list. I haven’t had that external stimulus that you had from your brother, so this is an exercise in self-shaming/self-motivation. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I’m happy to see that it’s not just Japanese spam-bots that are using the comment feature on this blog 🙂

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