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.
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.
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.
@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.
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.
>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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
NASA's Orion Flight Software Production Systems Manager Darrel G. Raines joins Planet Analog Editor Steve Taranovich and Embedded.com Editor Max Maxfield to talk about embedded flight software used in Orion Spacecraft, part of NASA's Mars mission. Live radio show and live chat. Get your questions ready.
Brought to you by