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.
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...
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.
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.
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?