”I also briefly worked under one Civil Engineering PE while I was in between machine design jobs. He had difficulty interpreting measurements taken with dial calipers.”
PE 101 Interesting thing happened to me last week. I got a phone call from someone at the GA Secretary of State who was charged with “investigating” my company practicing engineering unlawfully because I’m not registered as a Professional Engineer with the State of GA. A Professional Engineer, or PE as they are called frequently within the industry is a credential given to engineers that allows them to place their stamp of approval on designs stating that the design meets all applicable codes and governing body requirements for safety etc. Basically, they sign off that the bridge will support the load that will be placed on it, that the foundation of the house is properly designed to bear the weight of the house, that the wind load from the hurricane won’t topple the building etc. In ’96 I graduated from
Southern Poly with a BS MET and found a job quickly working as a “Laboratory Test Engineer” (important to note that that was the title placed on my business card) under the supervision of a group of registered Civil Engineering PEs. I conducted all sorts of tests on their behalf related to building materials- doing everything from wind load simulations, structural columns, staircase evaluations etc. I took the data from the tests, wrote the reports and submitted them to the PE’s for their stamp of approval. In many cases, the products we tested conformed to ASTM standards so the products could be approved to those standards, and in some cases the tests were conducted to provide evidentiary support for some form of law suit. Although the work was mildly amusing to me (getting to load up a 25 ft long fiberglass column structure until it literally blew up under 30 tons of load, for example) I had little interest in Civil Engineering and building materials, and decided I’d move on to chase things closer to my heart within Mechanical Engineering. Over the next decade I worked as a machine designer, designing all kinds of really cool things related to radiation chambers used for life science research, to fully automated machinery used in all kinds of manufacturing. During that decade of experience, I never worked underneath the supervision of a PE. The companies I worked for were relatively small and I found great reward engaging the projects all the way from concept sketches to the machine’s final delivery and support.
What’s an Engineer? Today I am very fortunate to have owned my own machine design company for 8 years. The last two years have been particularly rewarding to me. We’ve morphed into doing more and more scientific and medical related projects. In particular, I was very fortunate to have met and worked with the group from Endure Medical. They started as a small family owned surgical microscope refurbishing company in a garage. However, because of their collective hard work in sales and marketing and with the vision of one particular talented engineer, they innovated a new type of optical lighting system that has revolutionized cataract surgical procedures. Pretty soon the small family owned biz was getting notice from world wide industry leaders such as Leica and Zeiss. In 2011, Endure Medical hired my firm to design a new mechanical balancing stand that would support their innovative microscopes and give them the function and tactile feel that the German-made models had. We developed a terrific relationship together designing many new products related to surgical microscopes. Two years later, Endure Medical was acquired by Alcon Labs, a Novartis company that has more zeros in their balance sheet than the National debt.
The Double Standard So…back to the phone call I got last week from the office of the Sec of State. They’ve asked to voluntarily follow a cease and desist order to remove any and all terms from my website and any other media that uses the word “engineer or
engineering” or any other form of the root word. You see, I never opted to take the Engineering in Training exam straight out of college. Nor did I pursue the requirement to work underneath the direct supervision of a PE for seven years within my specific chosen discipline until I could acquire enough training and the recommendation by other PEs to where the State would then allow me the opportunity to take the Professional Engineer’s License exam. The double standard is that despite me having a ”Bachelor of Science Mechanical Engineering Technology” degree from an accredited and well recognized engineering specific State University, the Secretary of the same State says I can’t actually call myself an Engineer. So let me ask. What allows the universities to use the term Engineer if that term is proprietary to the board of registered PEs? How can schools advertise that they will give you the education to pursue a career in engineering when they know full well, that only a very small percentage of their graduates will actually choose to pursue a PE license? I’m confused now. What box do I check when I fill out any form that asks for my occupation? What about the vast majority of my colleagues? Very few of them pursued the PE license path, but all of them have some sort of title that has the word Engineer in it. How can all the job postings I see on Linked In be searching for Engineers but there’s no requirement to have PE license to fill the job? Does that mean that there are thousands of people currently in non-compliance with the state who perform engineering work daily but don’t have PE licenses?
What about those design innovations made by my friends at Endure Medical, none of them registered PEs? Was there no legitimate engineering work performed there?
The Kicker You know what the funniest part is? In order to get audited by State as I have, someone has to file a complaint. Here’s the kicker. The person who filed the complaint is someone I know. It gets better. I actually referred one of my clients to him because the project involved a wall structure – something that I have zero experience in. We designed the mechanical portion of my client’s patent pending device and then and referred him to the structural PE to have them do a proper evaluation on the wall structure. Evidently that PE was under the mis-guided impression we were trying to conduct our own studies on the wall. So much for trying to do the right thing. Despite the backlash for whatever the licensing board has in mind for us, I’ll continue to take on the projects that suit our level of expertise and call it whatever they want to call it. And yes, I’ll defer other projects that are beyond our expertise to the right groups because ethically its the right thing to do, PE oath or not, friend.
Disclaimer: I can really only claim that I actually know a handful of PEs. Two of them are absolutely brilliant. One was an automotive expert and racecar driver that was essentially my mentor while attending college. I learned more about real world physics and engineering from that guy in 4 years than I would have learned in 20 years of school. The other guy is a terrific hard working friend from Southern Poly. He chose the route to obtain his PE license and makes a very nice living in the HVAC industry.
I also briefly worked under one Civil Engineering PE while I was in between machine design jobs. He had difficulty interpreting measurements taken with dial calipers.