There was a time —many years ago in my state—when you did not need to have a college degree to get a Professional Engineers license. You only needed a recommendation from three PE-licensed engineers to take the fundamentals of engineering test and pass it to prove that you understood the basics. Then, after about four or five years of on-the-job experience, you could take the test that covered your discipline, such as electrical or mechanical engineering. If you passed, you were awarded the PE license.

I remember this because after I graduated from a technical school and received an Associate Engineering degree, I decided to study for a PE license. But, instead, I went on to college and earned a BSEE. After graduation, I thought about getting the PE license again, but was convinced that my degree and experience were more than sufficient to qualify me to do my job. And they were. I never had a desire to work for a state government or company that required their engineers to have a PE license. To me, that was a political issue, and I wanted to stay far away from everything political.

Now, the situation may be changing. It may be that the politicians in your state will pass laws that will force your employer to hire only engineers with PE licenses. The argument is that even if you do not work for a government on public-related projects, you are still likely designing and making products for public consumption. Of course, I understand that. But my argument is that the PE license does not make you a better engineer. It only says that you can pass PE-sponsored tests. Lawyers and doctors have to pass a “professional” test, but does it guarantee they are smarter for having passed the test? That would be our hope, but that is definitely not the way life is.

Here is an example. My subdivision had a history of water flooding problems. I was one of the few that had no problem, principally because decades ago when I moved into my house, I hired a landscaper to work with me and plan an effective drainage system. Using his practical knowledge and my engineering knowledge of hydraulics, plus previous experience, we designed what proved to be a great flood control landscape including underground piping. But two years ago, some of my neighbors who continued to have serious problems forced the city to make some changes to divert runoff differently during heavy rains. So what did the PE-licensed city engineer do? He dug a wider and deeper ditch on my property under the assumption that it would better handle the water from down the street. He also changed the pitch, and plugged the drain under one neighbor’s driveway using concrete so I could not unplug it! I argued with him that what he was doing was wrong, even appealing to his sense of hydraulics, which he seemed to lack! The city engineer went against all common sense and engineering principles; so guess what? I got flood damage big time after the first rain. The city engineer came out after I called him and he took photographs, but I never saw him again. So after two years of this flooding, I ended up having my garage floor and basement foundation replaced. It cost me more than what I paid for my first house. So try to convince me, Mr. Politician, that getting a PE license makes us smarter engineers.

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Comment by Andrew Dreasler on January 3, 2012 at 6:51am

I think PE are more important if you want to work in a big company (like Boeing) or if you're doing Civil engineering.

From what I've seen, you're right on the money, Alex.  The only people who care about PE licenses are Government jobs & Government contractors (only difference between the two are whether or not your paycheck has 'Department of the Treasury' printed on the top), and the' for lack of a better term, 'PE snobs,' who feel that the title and position of Engineer should be reserved solely for those who have gotten a PE license.

Comment by Alyssa Sittig on January 2, 2012 at 11:03am

My husband was going to go back and get his PE, and never did, but that has not stopped him as a mechanical engineer in Silicon Valley. He has had several successful roles in pretty complicated engineering roles. I think PE are more important if you want to work in a big company (like Boeing) or if you're doing Civil engineering.

Comment by Tad AC Forsythe on December 31, 2011 at 9:43am

I have an engineering technology degree, that being said a PE I don't believe a PE is attainable unless I go back to school for an engineering degree.  What do employers think of PE's?? Employers meaning private, not government. Do they recognize the value of a PE and the potential to hire those that are motivated to do their best and take the time to manage a design correctly?? Does the PE added increased cost in terms of salary??


I see the subsequent conversations being focused on internal motivation and one's understanding of the moral/ethical compass.  No one has spoken about the business aspect and whether or not it improves one's ability to be hired or ask for an increase in pay. Also, no one has spoken about how some employers are intentionally looking to release hard-working and motivated engineers with many years of experience and credentials to reduce over-head. I suppose what a PE is worth should be discussed elsewhere.


I am in favor of more education requirements being made available and made professionally attainable for everyone in an engineering discipline.  This unfortunately is driven by the individual seeking this type of education/certification and also by the favorable outlook in the job market.

Comment by Bill Redd on November 18, 2010 at 11:50am
Hi John,
Deja Vous. This was my experiences in the '70's in Ohio. I moved out to Colorado and could not transfer my PE. I even had to wait for a promotion back to engineering in the 80's. Now Colorado has adopted the same philosophy. At 62, I can no longer advertise as an engineer, everybody wants a "store bought", young fresh grad instead of us "Old Timers" with many years of experience. I have often worked with many of the Over educated over pedigreed types, and had to save their butts when they can't perform. Is it my age creeping up on me, or is there a graph that proves increased book education causes a direct decline in engineering capability of many ? The Inverse law of Engineering Preparation, I call it. Why don't they just look for us folks that have done physical feats in engineering instead ? It would save a lot of time and money.
Bill Redd
Comment by KANUBHAI P. VAIDYA on November 5, 2009 at 1:11pm
I have PE in Illinois. What I should do to acquire PE in Newyork and or Texas?
Comment by John Turner on June 8, 2009 at 1:20pm
You don't get to drive without a driver's license; yet that driver's license doesn't make you Mario Andretti.

In most states, structural engineers are required to be licensed, either as structural engineers or professional engineers, having taken FE and Structural I exams, and frequently, the Structural II exam. (24 hours of exams for those who are counting.) These are minimum criteria.

No matter where the bar is set, people will complain. Too high, and those unable or unwilling to license will complain about it being unfair, too costly, or overly burdensome. Too low, and the public doesn't get what it (thinks) it needs.

NCEES & ABET have been discussing raising the minimums to "master's degree equivalent" education, simply because may BS/BEng programs do not have enough engineering coursework. The exams are changing, too. Partly for politics, but also to promote professionalism among engineers.

We shouldn't be advocating eliminating the need to a "PE", we should be making the designation more valuable, and a better indicator of quality. It is far more important to protect the public (who the laws are written to protect), than to allow people who cannot/will not meet minimum criteria practice the chosen profession.

Either that, or we should eliminate the PE designation and simply tell everyone who buys engineering services caveat emptor. And if we do, you will simply see private evaluation services, like the SECB, step up, and private rules and private clubs will then have control of our profession.
Comment by Frank Hinde on June 8, 2009 at 9:52am
Hi I am a Chartered Engineer in the United Kingdom. I have been working in the US for 12 years. I have not got my PE license here.

Recently we have decided to start doing our own internal designs. That means those without PE licenses will be more at risk than those with. I started going through what would be required to get my PE license. I was a little shocked at my Board's attitude..I.e the University of Bath is an equivilent of an Ivy league University and I have excellent references for the last 14 years for my high levels of performance and responsibility.

In order to get my degree accredited it would have cost $400...Wow!..Fourtunately I can apply based on experience, which I have done. But there is no quick path for me no matter what my qualifications are..In other words I am currently studying for the FE in October. After 25 years out of school its tough to spend 2 hours per night in the books..But I have been at it regularly for 6 weeks and its gradually coming back to me..I do enjoy the challenge.

As to the what are PE's worth..its more of a case of it might help me keep my job or help me find another one in this economic downturn.

I just wish engineering paid more money..From what I can see the PE license qualifies me for a job for what we pay technicians here (about $60k)..Where specialist physicians can easily take home $300k after malpractice insurance...Seems way out of balance to me.

All the best

Comment by Eric Hielema, P.E on June 8, 2009 at 8:50am
First of all, I am surprised by the number of respondents (licensed or unlicensed engineers) and their poor use of grammar and poor spelling. Wow, whether one became an engineer via on-the-job training or through an ABET accredited college, many of you write as poorly as a high school graduate. I hope your professional documents are well written.
Secondly, the first couple of pages of respondents sound (as referred to in a previous post) like whiners too afraid to take the test(s). The possession of a PE shows that one has the veracity, the motivation, and the wherewithal to follow through. I agree that the possession of a PE does not make one a responsible engineer. It does however mean that a person in possession of his/her PE should understand the great trust and the responsibility that come with affirming a design. I take great pride in maintaining my PE. I would never stamp something which had not passed my review or something for which I have no business affirming. Without it I certainly would not hold a valuable role implementing a $250M Capital Improvements Program and ensuring that our community receives the highest and most appropriate value for its utility dollars.
I would never let my PE lapse by depending on a reminder letter from my state. I don’t mind paying the renewal fee. In fact I take pride in it. My employer is willing to pay for the renewal but I prefer to pay it myself as it does not belong to my employer. If one is late in paying a renewal fee, most states have a process for reinstatement that might be bureaucratic but certainly is not ridiculous. Additionally, many states provide reciprocity for the PE. I suggest to the poster that complained about having to go “through all the same BS” that he or she may have other options.
And finally to Mr. Gyorki, I worked as the Water Resources Engineer for a small jurisdiction for 8 years. During that time, I resolved endless flooding problems (although many more went unresolved). I worked for and against “drainage experts” (it is amazing how most people with a flooding problem in his or her yard are also drainage experts). If you truly had such a horrific result from the activities of your jurisdiction, it would be a painful but straightforward process to file a claim with the jurisdiction for damages received. While I worked for the City we paid for or repaired several claims that had nothing to do with our activities. However in those cases the claimants were able to present defensible cases to their local representatives. I suggest you do the same. Remember: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” One thing for which I think most people are unaware, your local jurisdiction is not your enemy. They will generally work with citizens who use a sensible, friendly approach. If the “old curmudgeon”, always believing the jurisdiction is up to something comes out of his house and yells at me, one can imagine the service and respect he receives.
Comment by Jarrett Terry on June 7, 2009 at 4:15pm
This is great. I teach an Introduction to Engineering course at a two year institution and often find it difficult to sell the importance of the PE to students. I personally feel that it is important for a variety of reasons, many discussed here. Most of those reasons are related to the idea that some (perhaps false) sense of reliability should be expected of us. I took the EIT when I graduated (it was basically required) and was told after passing that a PE was really only necessary for government work and signing drawings. The insignificance attached to that idea was overstated in my opinion and as a small business owner as well, I am finding it very tough now to go finish the PE process due to the reference requirement. My experiences are in the automotive and defense industries and although I qualify in terms of "time served" those references cannot be found.

But to the point, I believe in the PE, not as an indicator of engineering ability, but of engineering capability. I've gone to the limits of the academic path for engineers and hope that we all realize that the best engineer isn't manufactured in that environment (the PHD) either. The combination of practical experience and academic experience that the PE attempts to assess for engineers is what is often what we see in the best and our industries and colleges are failing at preparing us. The funny thing is though that, in the short view, we never see it, because we pass the requirements of our jobs and or degrees not trying to extend beyond them. This all may sound philosophical, but think about how many times we industry folks have had to use "make it work logic" because we really didn't fell we had the time or other resources to really apply the theory to the correct answer. Whereas, on the other hand, I spent way to long trying to find a theoretical solution to something that barely made sense and had very little practical importance in my opinion.

We should consider requiring the PE but restructuring the requirements. Perhaps requiring the EIT at graduation and adding a recommendation (by 3 or 4 others including at least one PE) system in all industries at some level of promotion. Upon receiving that recommendation take the PE and have a regional agency (regional division of NSPE maybe) review the history. Pass the test, satisfy the review committee, and perform proudly. If you don't want to take the test or go for it fine. In crisis, EMT's are just as valued as DR's......just not as well paid or socially respected.
Comment by Juan Barreneche on June 7, 2009 at 1:52pm
Since nobody else has tried, I will try and play the role of Mr. Politician and provide some insite from a Civil Engineer's prospective as to why a licensed P.E. is necessary to perform the drainage design for flooding areas as in John's example.

Without a City hiring licensed Engineers who understand Hydraulics, Hydrology, and Geotechincal Properties, the flooding in your neighbors houses would have persisted. However, if this was my City and I felt that damage was caused by his design, I would hold him responsible for fixing the design and the costs associated with the damages. I could use the fact that he has his P.E. in court (if necessary) to support my claim of neglegence. If P.E.'s are not held responsible for their actions, then what is the purpose of a license. If instead, as a City, I hired someone to perform this design who did not have a P.E. and it failed, I would be negligent.

From the clues in your blogs it sounds like you and your landscaper may have built up your swale area and run a conduit under it to have the water pass through your property and on to your neighbors (just a guess). Part of being an Engineer who is hired by a City is having to consider the drainage system of the entire neighborhood as a whole. It sounds like he may have had the swale in front of your house dug down into a valley and probably reworked the slope of your neighbors driveway apron to reflect the same. Typically the purpose of this is to use the swale and driveways to move the water to a downstream disposal system (outfall, pond, exfiltration trench, well, etc.) and to utilize the swales for storage and retention (water quality purposes). If the downstream collection system is faulty then flooding can still occur. Some of the problems that many Engineer's in this situation run into is that they are limited in the scope and area that the City hires them for and they aren't paid to design the entire system, including disposal, or any areas outside their scope which may impact the performance of their design. I blame both the City and the Engineer for not making this a requirement. THIS is an issue that needs tackled. Engineers should not allow their clients to limit the quality of their work need to be held responsible as it only hurts the public and the industry as a whole.

Now I don't necessarily know that a license should be required for other fields besides Civil and Environmental Engineering because other industries such as Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering are highly regulated by other agencies. Civils and Environmentals have far too many case-specific factors that they are responsible for considering in their designs without any other enforcement besides their licensure. I would not want my City to trust anyone without a P.E. for these purposes. But I agree, a P.E. is not enough to say someone is qualified, we need more strigent and more specific licensure to help avoid this problem, not the elimination of this criteria.


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