I guess I'm typically more loose with the term. I always considered it someone who is employed based on their skill. This fits with the dictionary definition, but I suspect you and I differ on details.
I think there are many skilled workers out there that are valued highly because of their skills but don't have a formal education to grant them a title.
On the topic of unions, I've seen positions that require certification that fall under union (welders?). Are they not professionals?
A "profession" is simply a paid occupation, which may or may not involve formal qualification. Licenses and certifications on the other hand are largely artificial barriers designed to restrict competition in a given field.
Certifications don't define a profession, and university degrees don't either.
I like the definition from Webster:
a: a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation
b: a principal calling, vocation, or employment
We should also keep in mind the concept of a "professional" that distinguishes it from an "amateur." The word amateur has its origin in the Latin word for love -- an amateur does something because he/she loves doing it. A professional does it for money -- which of course, does not exclude the option of also loving that which one does for money :)
Seems to me that if you get a proper engineering degree from an accredited university, that is the credential you should need. If the university is not accredited, then that should make people wonder.
Dunno. I never doubted that engineering was a profession. My biggest problem is only that many so-called engineers don't have an engineering degree at all. Nor do they keep up with their subject matter.
As to unions, I'm somewhat negative about that, but maybe that's just my own hangup. It does then to make the practiotioners less professional, in my mind anyway.
@bert22306 Bert, I have to disagree with you. I've run into plenty of lousy engineers who have degrees and plenty of great engineers who have no degrees. I think it's more to do with having a demonstrated level of proficiency [from Latin prōficere to make progress] in a field that is gained by training and experience. Whether that knowledge comes through formal programs (university) of self taught or the lucky few that are "natural engineers," seems beside the point.
Well, you know Kfield, I too have run into some good engineers with little formal education, and vice versa, but then again, the same could be said in any field. Even medicine. But in decades at this, it's also clear to me that the ability to move beyond your comfort zone is helped tremendously by education. In part, because formal education is a filtering process. There's no denying that.
I have known many competent people at this, with little formal education, who also had glaring misperceptions. And anyone who has been through engineering school no doubt has noticed this in themselves. Schooling tends to set straight some ideas you thought you had all figured out. So I would never underestimate the value of education.
I think Luka made an interesting point, though. In some countries, including Germany and Italy, engineers are given that as a title. Just like you say Doctor so and so, you say Engineer so and so, or Archtect so and so. You don't use Mr. or Ms. So maybe that little window dressing is enough to change the perception in the general public.
Frankly, though, I couldn't care less if the average joe appreciates what engineering is all about. I'm comfortable in the knowledge that I do this because I love it.
Just because you have a degree, even Phd, Engineers are still just labor, and not a profession in the way lawyers or doctors are professionals. If you wish to change that, pass some laws to establish licensing standards for that discipline. So far, only PE has made it to that bar.
>Engineers are still just labor, and not a profession in the way lawyers or doctors are professionals.
To me a person is a laborer if she she she works in a job where another of the same skill level can jump in and take over immediately, with only a few points on the specific situation. For example, you might call a nurse a laborer because antoerh of the same skill level can jump in within minutes and take over. that happens every day when shifts change. Same goes for airline pilots, carpenters, etc.
But what about engineers? Can you colleague step in an work on your design with just a few minutes of transition or is your knowledge specialized enough so that it requires you and only you? In other words, do you have a skill that;'s unitque within your organization?
When I worked at Varian, there was one engineer that the company kept on because of his unique knowledge of older ion implanters in the field. Nobody else had his knowledge. While he had a job for as long as there wre machines to support, he also had no change for advancement becuase his unique applied to that job and that job only.
Did n't do any analyses. Could have done a lot better.
Traditionally Priests were the Professionals as no lay person could take over their domain/ Since at least the Middle Ages that expanded into the legal and medical professions as those priests and monks expanded into those activities. In our modern times individiuals who are protected by some sort of certificatipn and can practice their skill independent of a third party ( e,g. a financier ) or holds power over others is deemed a true Professional. By this definition even MBAs are professionals.
To create anything useful ( incl. Software ) Scientists and Engineers need Capital and Infrastructure / large Organization and thus become dependent on Management & VCs. Thus they are reduced to hired hands even if some of their inventions might get them a few millions at the end. Most Engr.s who get lucky like that switch to VCs
This scenario is true only in English speaking countries as they do not value honesty, integrity key to scientific achievements but are based on manipulation and extortion that are key to "Free market" capitalism and so govern the Legal, Medical and Accounting professions as well. Germany and Russia on the other hand have always honored their Scientists and Engineers far more.
So ultimately the definition of a Professional is a cultural thing.
I don't understand the question. What is a profession? Let me ask this: What is the oldest profession? Does that profession meet the definition?
Basically, if you get paid for what you do then it's your profession. Otherwise there are hobbies, interests, and "good works" for which you are not likely to get paid. A job has the feeling of menial labor which any number of people could fill in and maybe it only lasts for a short period. A career is a profession which has long term intents with continuous growth. These are the definitions in my head, not Webster's.
Thus if you perform engineering work and get paid for it on a regular basis then I'd call it a profession. If someone asked me what my profession is, I say I was educated as an engineer, but having not been paid to design a significant circuit, I say only that I understand technology and engineering and I certainly think like an engineer to a large extent. Like any good engineer there's not much I look at that I don't think I could improve on.
Now, do engineers bask in the social status that doctors enjoy? No, not likely, and certainly don't enjoy the money - but also not the paperwork and lawsuits. Do we get the respect that lawyers get? I don't want that kind of respect. I do think your common citizen has little appreciation for the great knowledge that goes into all this amazing electroncis that we put together, the heart that engineers put into it, and how highly we regard our own role to assure the functionality and security of what we design. And we don't do it out of fear of lawsuits, we do it because it's the right way to design things. There are the few outliers (sp?) who do things for evil purposes, but such people are rare.
So, are engineers professionals? I say yes in every sense of the word. Are we respected by mankind as we should be? Most are humble enough to not worry so much about that, but yes we could be more-highly regarded. Do women flock to engineers? Eventually, yes. At least we can keep the house and the car running. I don't mind the "nerd" tag at all. But geeze, some of you guys...
You mention the programmers that didn't finish college but made millions. If they're still at the job, I'd call it a profession. They were able to do that thanks to some rather unique characteristics of software engineering.
One thing that sets engineering apart - especially software engineering - is the tool set. Some people can self-learn or self-better software engineering without leaving their desk chair. Hardware engineers have a similar opportunity, but with a bit more equipment needed. Wood workers and machinists have a similar opportunity as well. Some can get into the profession with hard work and a shop full of tools.
While a good education is generally a better start, software and electronics engineering can become a profession without an education or much infrastructure.
Is accountant a profession? They are pretty much like engineers, they held a bechalor degree and write an exam to get certified. In UK, lawyers and doctors only require a bachelor degree, does it make UK's lawyers or doctors not a profession?
What defines a profession is not education or means of accreditation, it all comes down to legal responsbility. Put it in short, If you screwed up your job and you presonally can be sued for tort, then you are a profession.
Using this definition, most electronic engineers or programmers are not profession. Unless you happen to be working on a misssion critical product than you have to assume the legal responsibility of its safety operation.
What about a lawyer who works for a corporation as opposed to a law firm?
>What defines a profession is not education or means of accreditation, it all comes down to legal responsbility. Put it in short, If you screwed up your job and you presonally can be sued for tort, then you are a profession.
Even if most engineers are not licensed in my country (it is considered that university degree qualifies you), I think that whether engineer is considered a proffesion depends on preception of engineers in society.
Although less common as time goes it still happens that people adress someone with engineering degree as engineer and not as mr, especially if the engineer works in an industry related environment. Senior engineers also stress (to younger engineers like me) that being engineer also carries certain responsibilities and norms in manners and work ethics.
So yes, engineering is STILL a proffesion and it will stay so as long as engineering studies remain demanding enaugh to allow only the best and brightest students to graduate and older generations pass the good manners to younger generations.
Engineering is definitely a profession because it requires:
(1) Specialized knowledge not readily known to the public and,
(2) A commitment in time to a standard of excellence.
What is not a profession is something that can be learned in a relatively short amount of time by a person of average intelligence and motivation. That excludes the original profession.
Engineers pretty much create the world economy yet get almost no credit for it. Steve Jobs was a tremendous visionary and a great marketeer, but where would he have been without engineers? All his ideas would have gone nowhere without the people that worked through the technical challenges to make it reality. Yet no one even knows their names.
Whether or not a person has advanced degrees should not really be the determining factor for any profession. It think it all boils down to the specialized knowledge required to get the job done and commitment and attention to detail it takes to get it right.
In Canada there is the notion of reserved acts. Only qualified profesionals can legally perform certain actions, which are defined in the law. Pertaining to engineering, an example would to sign-off on electrical plans. To legally be entitled to do this act, this you need to be a member of a professional engineering association.
I once worked for a manager who had impressive credentials and was a highly paid engineer. Unfortunately, he had no ability to create. He could define a problem with the best of them. He could refine an already existing design. And he could preen and show off his MS diploma hung next to his desk.
But he couldn't read a schematic. He couldn't envision a part he had never seen from a blueprint. He definitely couldn't look at something and immediately know whether it even had a chance of working.
He was paid, so in that sense he was a professional. In my opinion though, a "professional" also implies a standard of excellence that he never met.
I consider engineering to be a profession, but there are several ways of defining the term professional. So when you make your comparisons with doctors and lawyers, you need to bear in mind the aspects of certification, liability, licensing, and self-regulation that those groups operate under. All must be in place for a trade to be considered a profession in the sense of doctors and lawyers.
Certification has been addressed. There are lots of ways to be certified for a given skill level. Liability is a bit more slippery a topic. There is personal liability; you do a bad job and you can be fired or maybe sued. But professional liability holds one to a standard set by one's peers in the profession and poor performance can result in your certifications being revoked by your peers. It is an additional layer of liability beyond what the rest of us must face.
This brings up the aspects of licensing and self-regulation. Licenses are required (not just a good idea) for people to work as doctors or lawyers. For self-regulation, the profession itself determines how one qualifies for certification. The AMA and ABA are the ones who set the standards for becoming certified as a physician or an attorney (in the US). The governmental bodies that require certifications in order to grant licenses yield to their judgement in such things.
Yes, advanced study and specialized skills are part of engineering. But except in some rare instances engineers are not required to be certified in order to practice their trade. Nor are they required to hold a license in addition to that certification. The IEEE does not strip people of their engineering titles and rights if they perform badly or maliciously. The licensing boards do not prosecute engineers who are working without a license.
There are some tasks where a certified professional engineer is required by law. Those working such tasks are professionals in the sense of doctors and lawyers. The rest of engineers are not.
But part of the original question is why engineers are not revered by society the same way doctors and lawyers are. Perhaps the answer there has nothing to do with degrees and certificates, but with personal involvement. Most engineering occurs as a collaborative effort. There is no one person that onlookers can point to as being the lead person responsible for the outcome. But with doctors and lawyers there routinely is such a person. You have a doctor you go to. If you go to the hospital or see a specialist, you are dealing with individuals. When a team is involved, you still deal primarily with one individual. People come to see that individual as representative of the entire group, and so the regard you develop for the individual eventually applies to the entire group.
There is very little in engineering where outsiders can identify and interact with one individual and associate that person with the entire effort. And when they can do so, that person represents not engineers as a group but a company or organization, instead. The regard that Steve Jobs inspired conveyed to Apple, not to engineering.
So, since people do not routinely see individual engineers as the apparent source of praisworthy benefit to themselves or society, then they will not see the group as being praisworthy despite its collective accomplishments, and so will not automatically value an individual who is a member of that group.
RichQ, you make a lot of valid points. In some cases, though, what you say may depend on the company in which you're employed. Where I work, you can't get an engineer rank if you don't have a degree. It's that simple. I know several who have worked their way "up through the ranks," and every single one of them, at some point, had to get their degree.
And if you make a habit of messing up, well, we know where that goes. Plus, you have a tought time finding another job in engineering.
Yes, maybe if every graduating EE were made to get a PE license, like lawyers and doctors have to do, that would help.
I have a niece who is a medical resident now. She didn't have a good idea about what engineering was either. So I explained it to her. I guess she had never heard it explained that way. So recently, in one of her lectures, an attending said to the group, if you guys want to really understand how these machines work, better go to the IEEE and read their articles.
She said that cracked her up, remembering back how I described what we do.
Bert, certainly the job requirements for the title of engineer may vary from company to company, and a company may require that the candidate have a degree before awarding that job title, but that is not the same thing as certification and licensing, which are instruments of society at large to require that workers meet national or even international standards and requirements. Individual company requirements will not affect the general public's perception of engineering as a profession.
@RichQ wrote "So, since people do not routinely see individual engineers as the apparent source of praisworthy benefit to themselves or society, then they will not see the group as being praisworthy despite its collective accomplishments, and so will not automatically value an individual who is a member of that group."
We as a society tend to honor the individual rather than the group. We rarely give awards to groups but we routinely give awards to individuals. Sometimes, we honor the "leader" or "manager" of a group for the group's accomplishments whe n it is fact the team members who did the work.
"But part of the original question is why engineers are not revered by society the same way doctors and lawyers are."
I don't think lawyers are revered by society. In fact, of the professions, the lawyer is the butt of the most jokes. Sure, there are a few engineer jokes, and very few doctor jokes (I know of only one), but I think society's respect for a profession can be gauged by the proliferation of jokes about that profession. In this regard, the engineering profession is far more professional than the legal.
This is quite simple. An equation for you. Engineering degree = Professional Engineer. While there are people out there like Edwin Land, they are few and far between. Low caliber companies will give anyone the title Engineer. That is for one reason alone. Pay less salary, and payoff in title. Usually these people make junk products, leaving the others (Professional Engineers) to clean up the mess. Junk engineers reduce the respect due to the few competent ones, out there. That is EXACTLY why this column came to be written. Dunderheads only make a mess. Their lower salary they are paid, is FAR OFFSET by the immense loss they can create for the company. Well, you get what you pay for, folks. Quality professional enginnering, costs money.
Well, we have to understand that with the development of new technology these days, the traditional job titles that some of us grew up with have changed over the years. Many jobs nowadays have a main category, with sub-titles within each category. Of course you are professional. Now in terms of being away from the job, Martin Rowe, if you go on vacation and win the lottery, trust me... we will understand. But for right now, we hope you will continue to apply the right combination of your engineering education, engineering experience, and technical writing experience to keep us informed about events within the engineering world. Keep up the fantastic work!